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Decoding CEO Excellence: Mindsets and Practices Unveiled

Unlocking the Secrets to Exceptional Leadership in the C-Suite

Leadership is not about being in charge
It is about taking care of those in your charge
- Simon Sinek

Despite the extensive scrutiny surrounding the role of CEOs, there remains a significant gap in our understanding of what it truly takes for CEOs to excel in their positions. Marvin Bower, a longstanding leader at McKinsey, regarded the CEO's role as highly specialized, suggesting that individuals could only truly prepare for it by assuming the role itself. This sentiment has been echoed by numerous other CEOs.


Unlocking the Secrets to Exceptional Leadership in the C-Suite
Decoding CEO Excellence: Mindsets and Practices Unveiled

To address the question of "What are the mindsets and practices that distinguish exceptional CEOs?" McKinsey undertook comprehensive research aimed at identifying these key differentiators. This research drew upon data from 7,800 CEOs spanning 3,500 public companies across 70 countries and 24 industries, covering a quarter-century of data. The research yielded insightful findings on outstanding CEOs, encompassing their mindsets and practices across six primary elements, each comprising 18 specific responsibilities. These elements collectively form McKinsey's Model for CEO Excellence, which can be summarized into three overarching categories: self-leadership, organizational leadership, and stakeholder engagement.


1. Self-Leadership

a. Ethics and Working Norms: Focus on What Truly Matters: Effectively managing one's time and energy emerges as a pivotal aspect. Exceptional CEOs establish a structured environment that clarifies priorities and meticulously manage their energy. They prioritize authenticity in leadership while guarding against overconfidence.

b. Hubris: Embracing Humility and Trusted Advisers: Outstanding CEOs maintain a circle of trusted colleagues who provide unfiltered advice, ensuring they stay grounded and humble while navigating their roles.


2. Organizational Leadership

a. Strategy: Rethinking Success: Exceptional CEOs redefine success, extending their objectives beyond industry norms. They make bold strategic decisions early on, actively reallocate resources, and balance agility with stability.

b. Alignment: Balancing Performance and Well-being: Talent takes precedence for these CEOs. They methodically match talent to value, adopt a systemic approach to their workforce, and go beyond merely engaging employees to ensure overall organizational health. They understand that agility and stability are not mutually exclusive, implementing dynamic elements in their organizational structure while preserving key stabilizing features.

c. Team and Processes: Prioritizing Dynamics Over Mechanics: Exceptional CEOs ensure their management teams operate cohesively and actively address individual and institutional biases that may hinder team effectiveness. They strive for coherence across processes.


3. Stakeholder Engagement

a. Board Engagement: Empowering the Board for Business Success: Effective CEOs promote a forward-looking agenda for their boards, cultivate relationships beyond board meetings, and seek balance and development in board composition.

b. External Stakeholders: Emphasizing the Long-Term 'Why? Exceptional CEOs center their companies on their social purpose, prioritize interactions with stakeholders, and proactively build resilience to minimize exposure to risks.


Exceptional CEOs excel in certain areas, display competence in all others, and face no insurmountable challenges. Their focus on individual responsibilities evolves over time as they adapt to the changing needs of their organizations.


Leadership remains a pivotal factor, and CEOs can enhance their capabilities by embracing the mindsets and practices that define CEO excellence. This blueprint serves as a valuable resource for CEOs, both novice and experienced, seeking to elevate their leadership and drive success in their roles.


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