2018 CEO Survey: The CEO: A Personal Reflection: Adapting to a Complex World

We found that Chief Executives are, in general, quite confident in their skills and abilities. At the same time, they also admit that certain parts of the role have proven more challenging and isolating than anticipated. Being CEO, they say, is a position that one can partially prepare for, but that one must also inhabit and embody to truly understand.

CEO respondents shared the obstacles and the opportunities they face—something that’s incredibly diÿcult to do in a role that often requires the projection of total confidence. They wrote honestly about the ways in which they felt prepared for the role and the ways in which they have struggled. They discussed the state of succession planning in their companies and how some processes could be improved. And they generally—across countries and sectors—expressed the importance of taking the time to pause and reflect while in their role.

This need to pause and reflect, as existential as it may sound, goes straight to the heart of what it means to be a Chief Executive today. Our work as leadership advisors, along with the results of this project, underscores the diŸerence between “being” a CEO—meaning embodying leadership—and “doing” the job of CEO, or executing the operational requirements of the role.

These are two equally important sides of one coin. Yet they require completely diŸerent mindsets, approaches, and skills, and are sometimes at odds with each other. Our CEOs say that they have had to transform themselves while at the same time transforming the business. They are on what we call a dual journey, and navigating it correctly is critical to success.