As companies face new challenges in a rapidly changing world, leadership has never been more important. Business owners and boards are looking for strong CEOs, but what’s the best way to find them?
One study shows that CEOs hired from outside a company don’t perform as well, on average, as those who are internally promoted to the top spot. A benefit of grooming a CEO in-house are that person’s familiarity and alignment with the company’s culture and growth processes, but today’s demands and disruptions require special leadership qualities that need to be honed and observed at every step up the corporate ladder, says Benjamin Breier, ForbesBooks author of Intentional Disruption: Leadership lessons in Healthcare, Business, and Beyond.
“Company owners and boards of directors can be ahead of the game if they grow and produce C-suite leaders, especially CEOs, from within,” says Breier, formerly CEO of Kindred Healthcare LLC. “Targeting that potential early on, providing the necessary experiences and promoting professional development leads to a CEO who can transition smoothly to what will be the company’s most challenging role.
“Soft skills such as emotional intelligence, authenticity, communication, and empathy are paramount in today’s CEO. They have to figure out how to grow the business, how to be strategic, and how to mix the business with the mission.”
Breier offers the following tips to business owners about grooming a CEO from within the company:
- Challenge them in different roles. Breier says one way to identify and build high-potential leaders who can become CEOs is to challenge them with tough assignments in different jobs and give them minimal support. Those who produce consistent results will gain confidence and valuable experience.
“Any young person with leadership aspirations has to be willing to perform any job that they as a leader might ask somebody to do,” Breier says. “No job should be beneath you. See what you can learn, how different jobs work, how to problem-solve, and what people in that space are going through.” The result, Breier says, is that when one who has traveled that path becomes CEO, “they can talk to anyone at any level and have credibility as a leader. They can relate to all employees and make a connection.”
- Give rising leaders broad authority. “The buck stops with the CEO, so on the way up to that role, it’s important for the company to provide top managers who are CEO candidates with wide decision-making authority,” Breier says. “Create opportunities where your leaders oversee budgets, strategy and people. You want to breed leaders who are decisive. Encourage them to think like CEOs, with a strong focus on metrics and value creation.”
- Look for resilience. Climbing the corporate ladder virtually guarantees some falls along the way, Breier says, and owners or board members looking for strong leadership need to find people with resilience – a proven ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks. “When you’re the CEO and times are tough, everybody in the company is looking to see what your body language is going to be, and what your attitude is,” Breier says. “Part of your job as CEO is to be optimistic, courageous, and forward-looking when the big rock needs to be pushed up a high hill.”
- See if they can disrupt in a direction-changing way. Breier says today’s ever-changing world demands CEOs who cannot only handle disruption but prompt it in a way to move their company forward. He calls this intentional disruption, which he defines as “a bold, purposeful, personal and business strategy to create opportunities and kindle successes while counteracting the inevitable disruptions wrought by external forces in volatile times.”
The most successful leaders, Breier says, are proactive rather than reactive and make the best positive disruptors. “Intentional disruption means going on offense and letting the problem weigh your company down. Top leaders must develop skills and tools to counteract forces that are capable of destroying their companies and their future leadership opportunities.”
“The long journey to becoming a CEO does not come from a straight line of victories,” Breier says. “It comes from an accumulation of experiences, good and bad, that expand the knowledge, sharpen the focus and strengthen the conviction of a well-developed leader who’s earned everyone’s trust.”
Benjamin Breier is the ForbesBooks author of Intentional Disruption: Leadership lessons in Healthcare, Business, and Beyond, and the former CEO of Kindred Healthcare LLC. He serves on the board for the Federation of American Hospitals, is a member of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, and a founding member and chairman of the board of the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council. He oversaw multiple acquisitions that turned Kindred into the largest provider of post-acute healthcare services in the country. Modern Healthcare magazine named Breier one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare on three occasions and, in 2010, recognized him as one of the young leaders aged 40 and under making a difference in healthcare. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, Breier received an MBA and MHA from the University of Miami.