Great CEOs and How They Are Made

"This is not a tome for your living room bookshelf. This is a guide to be kept on your desk, dog-eared and highlighted"

- Hugh MacKinnon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bennett Jones LLP, Great CEOs and How They Are Made, page v

John Wilson is passionate about helping business leaders achieve success in their family, personal and professional lives. He does not profess to be a great writer, but rather a lifelong learner who is authentic, pragmatic and optimistic in delivering his perspective. The content of Great CEOs and How They are Madeis focused around 7 critical imperatives. These imperatives are not just chapter headings.  They are calls to action and even unavoidable obligations. This book reads like the greatest hits summary of key business books, assessment tools and actions.

Also included in the book are numerous references from business leaders who have adopted John Wilson’s approach and willingly and candidly share their journey.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Greatness is not given

"Greatness is not given; it is learned and earned"
- Great CEOs and How They Are Made, page 11

It is the ongoing leadership debate: nature versus nurture. The author does acknowledge that you do require some fundamental skills, knowledge and experience to be successful; however many of the key ingredients can be learned and developed. You learn and develop these imperatives by soliciting feedback from others who will help you see your blind spots.

Also inherent in this comment is a sentiment of gratitude and generosity. Seth Godin in his blog talks about the generosity boomerang. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that success makes us happy, and this happiness is what permits us to be generous. Perhaps a more accurate and compelling thought is that generosity and gratitude make us happy, and happy people are more likely to be successful. While John Wilson does not come out and tell the reader to be grateful for the opportunity he or she has been given or to give their time generously to others, you feel it in his words, his definition of GREAT and in the words of people who have worked with him.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"You can’t do business sitting on your butt!"
- Great CEOs and How They Are Made, page 67

W4C (Walk the four corners) is not a new concept, but John Wilson puts his actionable spin on it and integrates the practice into two of the key imperatives. Don’t just be visible. Take the time to stop walking and recognize the success of someone along your path in an individual, personal and authentic way. Recognize that you do not know the detailed actions that support the business as well as those who do the work. Take the time to stop walking and ask curious questions such as “What did you see that I didn’t?”

Many people see the value of being visible, but John uses the tactic as a call to action and so can you.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Check my back swing

"To learn from an elite, private brain trust that stands for your success is powerful."
- Great CEOs and How They Are Made, page 143

We all have bosses and key stakeholders who provide direction, demand results and evaluate our success; however, this dynamic has an element of hierarchy and power distribution to it. John Wilson compels those who strive to be GREATto participate in a peer group or network outside the four walls of their business. This is a group of business leaders you can talk to who will give you honest, unbiased feedback. These are also individuals from whom you can learn and benefit from their success and challenges. This approach resonates with the trend we are seeing in Learning and Development of peer based programs. Learning from those who have walked in your shoes, faced your challenges, but in their own organizations.

John is the founder of CEO Global Network, an organization that matches CEOs with peers groups that meet their needs. The testimonials in John’s book tell us this works in a formal, structured environment. I think this can also work in a less formal way as well. Seek out your own advisory board of competent, committed people you trust who will help hold you accountable to your goals, give you honest feedback on your course of action and support your success.

I loved the book. It was concise, practical, actionable, honest and authentic, but it leaves me with a question. Why should being GREAT only be a goal for CEOs? Why can’t more of us strive for this, develop our own private brain trusts to check our back swing and why can’t we spend 20 minutes a few days a week walking the halls of our offices or the plant floors, asking curious questions and listening to the insight of those who know those parts of the business best. Do you really need to be a CEO to want to have this impact and be willing to take action to achieve it?

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Erin Gordon

ABOUT Erin Gordon

I am an avid advocate of the essential role people play in delivering outstanding business results. As a career HR professional with over 10 years experience managing HR functions within the private sector, it is the identification and development of talent and collaboration of talent across all facets of a business that leads to innovation and excellence...
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