The INSEAD   in an article dated September 2014 asked “Can You Learn to Be a CEO?” And consequently, “Is it time for a CEO school to train leaders for the top job or is it even a profession one can be schooled in?”  the answer could partly that of Steve Tappin who published a piece on The Learning of how to be a CEO on LinkedIn of 11 March 2016.

Here is the full version of The Do’s and Dont’s of Learning to be a CEO :

There are no real training courses for CEOs so how do you learn if you want to become one?

As any CEO will tell you its not easy to get to the top and it can be very lonely. There are no MBAs for being a CEO so you have to learn on the job and the risk of sink or swim.

Most new CEOs are typically learning from working with the previous CEO or a small network of CEOs that they know from earlier in their career which can be a narrow perspective. Many CEOs are looking for a trusted sounding board but end up frustrated with generalist Coaches who try and Coach CEOs but this is often detrimental as they lack the real expertise and understanding of how to be a CEO confidant.

Some of the worlds most successful CEOs and world experts shared their views on learning to become a CEO.

  • Richard Branson – Founder Virgin Group
  • Andy Penn – CEO Telstra
  • Dominic Barton – CEO McKinsey

You can watch the BBC CEO Guru Episode on learning to be a CEO at the end of this post.

So how do you best prepare to become a great CEO?


1/ Do learn by being it and establish legitimacy quickly

Many CEOs fail because they are afraid to make important decisions fast and with enough confidence to drive the company forward. Great CEOs have the courage of their convictions and move through their agenda with great pace and momentum especially in the first 3-6 months after taking over the reigns.

“It takes a while to establish legitimacy.
“Even if you’ve been appointed or elected, people, are saying how is this person going to work?”
“Time goes by quickly so you can’t wait to get moving through things, you have to be taking actions and driving an agenda you might have.” – Dominic Barton, CEO McKinsey

2/ Do get through the tough times

In any CEO’s reign there will be ups and downs and it’s important to believe that you can get through the downs, and the key lesson is not to do it alone but to bring the organisation through it with you.

“When you’re going through tough situations it’s as important how you conduct yourself through the process as it is in terms of the actual decisions that you make in the process.
“Ultimately what people will remember more than anything, is how you behaved and how you conducted yourself and how you acted as a leader as much as whether or not you actually made the right or the wrong decision.” – Andy Penn, CEO Telstra

3/ Do Learn from other CEOs and other trusted mentors

40% of the FTSE 100 use a Coach or a Mentor.

“If somebody else has already done it in a clever way, why should I try to reinvent the wheel?

I don’t want to make the mistakes they’ve already made” – Filipa Neto, co-founder of Chic by Choice

4/ Do Learn from the school of hard knocks

Every CEO makes mistakes even the great ones. Some of the best learning is from the mistakes and the difficulties that come with them.

“A Director once told me I needed to take a few hard knocks and I needed to be involved in things that went wrong. I was involved in a couple of projects that went badly wrong and I’ve learnt from them and I’m better as a consequence.” – Andy Penn, CEO Telstra
“There are learning opportunities everywhere if you look for them, but sometimes the lessons can be tough” – Steve Tappin

5/ Don’t fly solo and work well with others

Above all else a CEO has to be good at working with others. The sooner they learn this the better.

“If I ever hear people gossiping about people I’ll walk away. As a leader you’ve just got to get out there and look for the best in people and that’s really really important.
“Let them get on with it, not criticise them when they make mistakes and praise them when they do good things.” – Richard Branson

6/ Don’t be a rockstar or a superhero

It is impossible for any one CEO to have all the answers

“The days of the rock star CEO are long gone. The CEO is just a member of a team and it’s about bringing together a capable team,” Andy Penn
Many bosses fall into the trap of trying to be a CEO superhero. They pretend to know it all, they don’t listen and most of all don’t admit to their own mistakes. The best CEOs are absolutely not like that, they know that great leaders are great learners. – Steve Tappin

The BBC Business programme CEO Guru series can be viewed at