Should there be a CEO school?

“We had never thought of it as a profession.” This is how faculty members at INSEAD (a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and Abu Dhabi) reacted when they encountered the question: “Is it time for a CEO school to train leaders for the top job?” This mindset illustrates what is wrong with current thinking about the CEO role. Not taking it seriously as a profession like any other in business negatively impacts professionals and organizations across the globe.

As I’ve written about extensively, most people are not prepared for the chief executive job no matter how successful they’ve been in other roles. This lack of preparation results in dysfunctional organizations that ultimately experience low performance and high CEO turnover.

To answer the question, the INSEAD faculty members interviewed CEOs worldwide about the job and the need to codify a set of standards for it. They found agreement that the job is very situational, so having a standard qualifying exam is not ideal. However, as I have been saying, there are “essential traits and competencies fundamental to CEO success” no matter what the geography, industry or type of organization. The professors rightly conclude that business schools do not do enough to identify these traits and develop these competencies in future CEOs.

So it should come as no surprise that my answer to the question of whether a CEO school is needed is an unqualified “yes.” CEOs CAN learn the job, and it’s absolutely essential to success. One of my long-term goals is to open a school where CEOs can learn the basics of the job – which are unique in business – and prepare to hit the ground running from day one.

I agree with the INSEAD authors that “Development of future CEOs requires a competency-focused cross functional approach.” This includes instruction in skills essential to every CEO, such as developing vision, selecting talent, enabling performance, making decisions, managing in crisis, communicating well with all constituencies, and cultivating a discipline of life-long learning.

The authors conclude by urging business schools to do more to ensure they are addressing the needs of future CEOs. That is all well and good, but I also say we need schools that focus solely on the CEO position. I’ve outlined the foundation for my future CEO school in my new book “The CEO Tightrope: How to Master the Balancing Act of a Successful CEO.”

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