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Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths: What Leaders Need to Hear but are Rarely Told, by David Fubini

Overall impression

The title of this book is somewhat deceptive. I thought that the book was going to be general advice for leaders, however, “Hidden Truths” is primarily targeted towards CEOs. The author, David Fubini, describes the skills that CEOs need in order to be successful, and he provides examples exclusively using CEOs. There is a lot of name-dropping that gets irritating and comes off as elitist. Overall, I thought that this was a good book if you are interested in learning more about the CEO role. However, I think it is a niche book. “Hidden Truths” is mainly applicable to CEOs, and I think that most people will find it boring. At one point, the author says that retired CEOs generally do not make good authors, because the general public is not interested in old war stories. I might argue that “Hidden Truths” falls into this category. Although the book provides some interesting insights, it sounds like a retired executive who is reflecting on his past successes, trying to draw conclusions and advice, and doing a lot of name-dropping in the process.

Some things that I learned

Most significantly, CEOs need to maintain humility and authenticity. This is hard. Many CEOs achieve their positions because of their insatiable drive and desire for control, and the allures of money and prestige are difficult to suppress. However, for long-term success, CEOs need to practice humility and maintain their authenticity. Nobody likes a controlling, inauthentic, washed-out leader.

A few pieces of information that I found interesting:

  • Current CEOs need to make time to mentor the next generation of CEOs. They need to mentor their replacements.

  • Being a CEO is an isolating job. The author uses the phrase, “it’s lonely at the top” to describe the isolation. To me, this phrase comes off as pompous.

  • Isolation comes because CEOs only receive biased, manipulated, and massaged information. Subordinates want to impress the CEO and consequently tell their stories in ways that sound compelling. CEOs rarely, if ever, receive the full truth.

  • To gather more truthful information and understand what is actually happening within their companies, CEOs should have more informal types of conversations with their subordinates. These conversations can happen at the water cooler, in the break room, on the manufacturing floor, during meals, or during informal office visits. To facilitate these conversations, CEOs need to get out of their office and visit their facilities and offices. It is good practice for CEOs to regularly meet the workers in their company.

  • CEOs are role models, and they need to act accordingly. This means that there is zero room for immoral behavior. In the past, a CEO might be able to get away with an affair or drug addiction. Not anymore. Everything that a CEO does, can and will, get scrutinized by the media: activities they do in their free time, how much time they spend at work, how much time they spend with their families, where they give their money, etc.

  • The CEO’s relationship with his/her board is complex. However, it is in the CEO’s best interest to get on the same page as the board. Hopefully, the board and CEO are both interested in the success of the company. Yet, just like CEOs can fall victim to the allures of money, compensation, and prestige, people can also accept board positions for these corruptible reasons.

  • CEOs should know when they have made their difference and it’s time to leave. Often, CEOs will overstay their welcome and ruin their legacy. The same thing happens with successful athletes who compete in their sport too long and end their careers on low notes. Knowing when to leave is an invaluable skill.

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