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The CEO Fast Track, The Discard Pile, & Widening Your interests (Reading Notes 7.3.18)

Resource: The Fastest Path to the CEO Job, According to a 10-Year Study


Great leaders are not necessarily the most credentialed. The people who rise to success within a company are the people who are willing to take big risks, handle messy responsibilities, and accept less glamorous opportunities for the sake of having future leverage.

Look for messy situations that everyone else runs away from. Seek them out. Be the one who can get to the bottom of hard problems or who can handle complexities with composure. This is what leaders have to do.

Don’t reject opportunities just because they’re small or new or pay less. See opportunities for what they can become. See them for what they can teach you. Optimize for knowledge, experience, and leverage.


On how CEO’s are not determined by credentials:

“Sprinters don’t accelerate to the top by acquiring the perfect pedigree. They do it by making bold career moves over the course of their career that catapult them to the top. We found that three types of career catapults were most common among the sprinters. Ninety-seven percent of them undertook at least one of these catapult experiences and close to 50% had at least two. (In contrast, only 24% had elite MBAs).”

On why starting small or stepping back can lead to big success:

“The path to CEO rarely runs in a straight line; sometimes you have to move backward or sideways in order to get ahead. More than 60% of sprinters took a smaller role at some point in their career. They may have started something new within their company (by launching a new product or division, for example), moved to a smaller company to take on a greater set of responsibilities, or started their own business. In each case, they used the opportunity to build something from the ground up and make an outsize impact.”

“More than one-third of sprinters catapulted to the top by making “the big leap,” often in the first decade of their careers. These executives threw caution to the wind and said yes to opportunities even when the role was well beyond anything they’ve done previously and they didn’t feel fully prepared for the challenges ahead.”

“If you don’t expect this kind of opportunity to fall into your lap, you are not alone. However, what we heard from these sprinters is an attitude of “You make your own luck.” Seek out cross-functional projects that touch numerous aspects of the business. Get involved in a merger integration. Ask your boss for additional responsibilities. Tackle tough, complex problems. Above all, make a habit of saying “yes” to greater opportunities — ready or not.”

On the value of messy situations:

“It may feel counterintuitive, and a bit daunting, but one way to prove your CEO mettle is by inheriting a big mess. It could be an underperforming business unit, a failed product, or a bankruptcy — any major problem for the business that needs to be fixed fast. More than 30% of our sprinters led their teams through a big mess. Messy situations cry out for strong leadership. When faced with a crisis, emerging leaders have an opportunity to showcase their ability to assess a situation calmly, make decisions under pressure, take calculated risks, rally others around them, and persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, it’s great preparation for the CEO job.”

Resource: The perils of the discard pile


There’s a distinction between “this didn’t work in the past” and “this cannot possibly work in the future.” This distinction applies not only to ideas and plans, but also to people.


“if you and your team are in the habit of putting ideas, “that will never work,” in a permanent pile of discards, you’re almost certainly missing great opportunities. There’s a difference between, “that didn’t work once, under certain conditions,” and, “that will never work.” Alas, we do the same thing with people. Errors in both directions. Be careful with your discards.”

Resource: How to Grow Old: Bertrand Russell on What Makes a Fulfilling Life


Always be learning. Learning expands your interests, makes you open to more things, widens your sense of personal identity, and causes you to age well.


On expanding your field of interests:

“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

On living with curiosity and dying with dignity:

“The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.”

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