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#33—Adam Bryant: Good vs. GREAT CEOs—500 Interviews Reveal What Makes the Difference

#33—Adam Bryant: Good vs. GREAT CEOs—500 Interviews Reveal What Makes the Difference

Adam Bryant is managing director of The ExCo Group, a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm. Prior to this, Adam worked for 30 years as a journalist, including 18 years as a reporter, editor and columnist at The New York Times. He interviewed more than 500 CEOs for “Corner Office,” a series on leadership that he created in 2009. He also writes a monthly column for Strategy+Business magazine and is the Senior Advisor to the Reuben Mark Initiative for Organizational Character and Leadership at Columbia University.

Adam is the author of three books: His new book is THE CEO Test: Master the Challenges that Make or Break All Leaders, published by Harvard Business Review Press, which he co-authored with Kevin Sharer, the former President and then CEO of Amgen during which he grew the company to $16 billion in revenue from just $1 billion.

Adam’s first book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, was a New York Times bestseller, drawing on insights from CEOs to identify the qualities that help explain why certain executives are promoted over others to become CEOs. In his second book Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, Adam distilled the wisdom of hundreds of business leaders to identify the secrets to a high-performing corporate culture.

In this podcast he shares:

  • The seven most critical tests that determine the success of a CEO

  • Advice on how to simplify strategy so that everything can get on board

  • Why we should be thinking about strategy as “making bets” rather than plans

  • A compelling metaphor for strategy and leadership—think of it as keep bunnies in their boxes


  • "I think that is one of the things that set effective leaders they have the skill of simplifying complexity. So take all the complexity in the world, in your industry and your company, and boil it down to a simple framework because I always say it's one of the leader's tests is to be able to stand on a stage at an all-hands meeting...and answer the questions that little kids 'Where are we going? How are we going to get there? '...To be able to do that takes a certain habit of is a muscle that you need to develop."

    -Adam Bryant


    Episode Timeline:

    00:00—Adam Bryant + The topic of today’s episode

    2:32—If you really know me, you know that....

    3:24—What is your definition of strategy?

    6:10—Can you explain more what you mean about leaders lacking "shared language"?

    6:40—What has been your biggest surprise in interviewing so many CEOs?

    9:07—Could you tell us about the seven key attributes that you discovered throughout your work?

    11:40—Is the skill of demystifying and clarifying the complex a skill that can be learned?

    14:00—Why do people have a tendency to overcomplicate ideas and use hundred-dollar words?

    15:10—Getting people accept ideas is more than just simplifying; can you explain the importance of repetition?

    16:48—You talk about business being about bets—could you elaborate on that?

    18:40—How can people follow, find and learn from you


    Additional Resources:

The 4th Option Junto
The Outthinkers podcast is a growth strategy podcast hosted by Kaihan Krippendorff. Each week, Kaihan talks with forward-looking strategists and innovators that are challenging the status quo, leading the future of business, and shaping our world.