Top 10 Reasons Why NOT to Join a CEO Peer Advisory Board

Artie IsaacA note to CEOs from Artie Isaac, my Ohio-based Vistage Chair colleague:

Some high-potential candidates raise obstacles, rather than applying for membership in Vistage. Here are some of their reasons.

10. “I can’t make the time to join Vistage.”

You think your time is precious? No Vistage member has any more time than any other member. We all have 168 hours each week. That’s it. The question: how do we choose to spend our time?

Vistage members don’t participate in Vistage because they are bored or because they are trying to find some way to spend time. They are among the most productive business people anywhere. They are very conscious of how they invest their time.

Vistage doesn’t take time. Vistage nets time. Vistage members report — within 45 or 90 days — that they stop doing other people’s work, start getting home earlier, and devote more time to the most important relationships in their lives.

9. “I need to wait until I get over this hump (or project or initiative or fiscal quarter).”

Anyone who thinks, “I’ll have more time after I get over this hump,” isn’t accurately predicting the future. There are always more humps to follow this current hump.

Were you humping 24 months ago? 12 months ago? 6 months ago? If so, humping is not the cure for humping. Vistage lets you live without constant humping.

Generally, Vistage members wished they had joined six or 12 or 18 months earlier.

8. “I’m too busy in my business.”

Vistage members report that spending time on their business (rather than in their business) with a group of peers makes them more effective leaders.

Within months of joining Vistage, members are doing more in less time.

7. “I can’t afford Vistage.”

What is your budget for your own professional development? Surely it’s not zero. You must be willing to invest in your own growth as a leader. If your budget allows, Vistage might be your very best alternative.

Vistage members don’t belong because they need to find some way to spend money. They do it for the ROI.

6. “No, really: I have no cash. We’re on the verge of bankruptcy.”

Oh, that’s too bad. We don’t have a persuasive counter-argument for that.

If you want to have a quick brainstorm on ideas for getting out of your cash crunch, call one of the local Vistage chairs. Otherwise, let us know when cash flow exceeds your cost of doing business.

Vistage members need to have the wherewithal to fund productive change.

5. “I already have a peer group.”

Is your current peer group highly functioning? If so, great. If not, does your peer group have a professional, trained chairperson?

Vistage chairs receive hundreds of hours of training each year. Meetings are productive — and members leave with new methods for leading their own meetings back at the office.

4. “I already have an executive coach.”

Executive coaching is an excellent resource. In Vistage, each one-on-one session with a Vistage Chair is put to the test of the peer group. Peers hold one another accountable more powerfully than a single coach can.

The coaching and peer group combination at Vistage amplifies the call for leadership, maximizing growth of each member.

3. “I already have an advisory board.”

You have friends, trusted advisors, a spouse, and buddies. They all give you advice. But none of them give you agenda-free advice. Their advice always has an agenda: their love and affection for you, their desire to impress, their ax to grind. Their advice might be good, but it isn’t free of some agenda.

Vistage groups offer agenda-free advice. Members give each other their best thinking: take it or leave it. The highest performing members listen hard to what they are told at Vistage.

2. “I can’t trust others with my secrets.”

What’s the deal? Are you a loner? Are you on the lam? Can you even trust yourself?

Vistage members learn how to trust by being trustworthy. Groups immediately study how to maintain confidentiality, because that is the necessary ingredient for true sharing.

Vistage members reach adulthood, marked by a developmental milestone: knowing what stories are ours to tell, and what stories are not ours to tell.

  1. “I can’t possibly learn from other people.”

Is that your plan: to walk lonely to your grave? Rest in peace.

Some Vistage members arrive ready to learn. Others are reluctant to learn. But they all learn that they are not the smartest person at the table.

Every Vistage member will tell you: I have learned fundamental lessons from each person in my group.

11. “Vistage is a pyramid scheme.”

No, it isn’t.

Vistage is an appropriately funded vehicle for professionally led and resourced leadership development peer groups.

10 CEO Nuggets for Finding and Keeping Your “A” team

gold-nugget-2A note to CEO’s from Theresa Torseth, my executive search professional friend:

1. Hire for attributes; train skill.

Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

This advice from Dee Hock, founder of Visa, will serve you well.

2. Be seen and seeable.

You’re the leader. Prospective employees will look to you to see what you believe, where you are going and if they choose to follow. Google your name and your company name; see what comes up and create an action plan for creating your image—for telling your story.

3. Create learning paths.

Lateral moves are yawners. A clear chance to take on impactful projects, be mentored, or to grow into a dream job raises a prospect’s heart rate.

4. Give back.

…and allow your employees to do the same. People want to make a difference. Providing or allowing time for community contribution is a benefit that is more attractive than ever.

5. Be flexible.

Allowing employees to work flextime to match traffic flow or childcare schedules is a plus. Not doable in your company? Survey employees to see if a slight change in start/end times would be beneficial.

6. Make your company career page a magnet.

Take that magnetic vision, those appealing benefits and your compelling people create a career page that makes you stand out to the right perspective employees. Go here to see 10 sites that work!

7. Toss out traditional job descriptions.

Articulate the prioritized RESULTS you need the new hire to produce in the next 3, 6, and 12 months. Do you really care if the person has 10 years experience – not 20 – if they can produce the results you need?

8. Create an employee referral program.

The No. 1 source for successful future employees is current employee referrals.

The number No. 2? Professional recruiters and search consultants.

9. Reward the behavior and results you want to see.

Establish and communicate clear expectations; structure compensation accordingly. People are more willing to commit to a company when expectations and rewards are clear.

10. Resist the urge to hire people like you.

That would be redundant. Best decisions are made with input from various perspectives and abilities, even when they are radically different from your own.

And a bonus:

11. Employ the 1% Rule.

When an employee doesn’t work out, ask yourself: “What part of this failure do I own—even it’s one percent?” Adjust > Get Feedback > Repeat…

Vistage Named Seventh among Training Magazine’s 2016 Top 125 Organizations

03-People-Excited-224x150 VistageSAN DIEGO (Feb. 17, 2016) — Training Magazine, the leading business publication for learning and development professionals, has ranked Vistage Worldwide Inc. as the seventh leading organization among its Top 125 organizations for training and development.

For Vistage, a global organization that assembles and facilitates private advisory boards for CEOs, senior executives and business owners, training and career coaching is the core of their business:

  • Ongoing training for employees at all levels
  • Peer to peer training for those in leadership roles
  • Workshops, events and resources available for all employees on a regular basis
  • Yearly analysis to make sure employees at all levels are a good fit for their role

“Our investment in learning and development programs are at the core of Vistage’s business strategy, and we focus on making these the best programs possible from analysis to evaluation,” said Martha Oxley, vice president of learning and development for Vistage Worldwide. “It is an honor to be ranked so highly on Training Magazine’s list, recognizing the importance we place on development.”

Vistage invests heavily in training peer advisory group leaders, known as Chairs, to ensure they are prepared to support members through support these groups through group development, meeting facilitation and one-to-one coaching.

Chairs are provided with continuous education to support growth and executive coaching skills, so they can address issues and solve problems specific to senior level professionals. All Chairs are required to complete and pass a six-month learning and development program when they are hired on, and attend workshops periodically throughout the year to ensure they are serving their peer groups effectively.

“We have embedded numerous touchpoints throughout our learning development programs and processes, and thanks to the feedback-rich culture we support, we are able to shape learning at Vistage in flexible ways,” said Oxley. “All of our programs are enhanced through the use of qualitative and quantitative data, and we’ve cultivated a collection of Chair contributors who are constantly feeding Vistage feedback from the field on the impact of its programs.”

The Training Top 125 ranking is based on statistics such as total training budget; percentage of payroll; number of training hours per employee program; goals, evaluation, measurement, and workplace surveys; hours of training per employee annually; and detailed formal programs.

core-values-2016About Vistage Worldwide, Inc.
Vistage Worldwide members get results. Founded in 1957, Vistage assembles and facilitates private advisory groups for CEOs, senior executives and business owners. An exclusive community of more than 21,000 business leaders across a broad array of industries in 16 countries, Vistage provides powerful networking opportunities and allows members to tap into different perspectives to solve difficult challenges, evaluate opportunities and develop effective strategies for better professional and business performance. Vistage groups are facilitated by successful independent leaders who provide valuable professional insight, executive coaching and corporate training based on their own extraordinary achievements. Vistage: Leading executives to achieve more than they ever imagined possible. Visit for more details.

Media Contact
Cybil Rose
| KemperLesnik
312.755.3537 |


Generating Rapid, Repeatable Revenue: Seattle CEO Workshop

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 10.04.05 PM

This is just a quick reminder about the private CEO breakfast/lunch meeting I’m hosting at Escala on June 21 from 7:30 AM to 12:30 PM. At this private peer advisory board meeting, we’ll hear from Vistage speaker Greg Winston. He’s talking about Generating Rapid, Repeatable Revenue.

Greg explains how to improve sales and how to hire and manage processes and people more efficiently. Greg’s talk is not a lecture but an interactive workshop. His goal is to propel you to faster and higher growth.

Why listen to Greg?

  1. Top-rated Vistage for 14 years now
  2. He’s increased sales in two companies right here in Seattle
  3. I select speakers based on the scores they get from other Vistage groups and Greg routinely gets all 5’s

Greg Winston Photo 2Key issues Greg will cover:

  • Recognizing and hiring the best talent
  • Internally motivating your team to sell at 100%
  • Establishing the mental advantage that accesses your team’s full potential
  • Developing skills that keep the sales energy going and growing
  • Selling using social media and LinkedIn

Registration closes on Monday at 5 PM. Seats are limited. Click here for details.

If you’re an invited guest, you will also experience how a Vistage private peer advisory board, led by me can help you evaluate opportunities, gain new perspectives and discover a renewed sense of direction.

Dollar signs repeatingVistage is an exclusive CEO and business executive organization with more than 21,000 members internationally. Our members meet one day per month with a non-competitive group of their business peers to work on their most pressing business issues, opportunities, and challenges.

The atmosphere of trust and accountability created in these groups provides an environment where you can recharge your thinking to work “on” your business instead of “in” your business.

Please contact me with any questions: (206) 890-6858 or For more about my Vistage Chair Practice: LinkedIn and here.

Start Your “Mutual Selection Journey” into a CEO Peer Group…

Accelerate Growth Peer Advisory

You lead. You found. You own. You hold the President and CEO title. That seat is hot. You drive hard. You don’t take a break. You achieve big. Your energy is boundless. You are exhilarated. You also feel lost, drained and disengaged. Sometimes you get stuck IN the weeds of the business. That’s the paradox. Real leaders:

  1. Feel isolated and are looking for a source of agenda-free advice
  2. Struggle with a balance between work and personal time
  3. Are frustrated by slowing, stagnating business
  4. Have difficulty managing rapid growth
  5. Wish to be held accountable

The reality? You don’t get to wear your frustrations or anxieties on your sleeve.You don’t get to have a bad day.You have to show up every day. You still have to make the key decisions for the company. You have to inspire active participation in your vision. You have to build culture. You have to manage change. So,


…for businesses seeking to achieve profitable growth and for leaders feeling secluded as they deal with critical decisions…


Vistage brings together CEOs, executives, and business owners into confidential peer groups, forming a trusted advisory network that when combined with a proven, issue resolution process led by an experienced Chair,…


…enables leaders to hear diverse perspectives on their issues and opportunities and make better business decisions that lead to positive results….

Proof imageProof

…For example, Vistage helped an electronics distributor experiencing stagnant growth define and communicate a compelling strategy and market position, leading to over 50% growth. In fact, a 2015 independent analysis revealed that companies that joined Vistage over the past 5 years grew 3 times faster than the average U.S. company.

If you are:

  • Eager to develop and grow personally and professionally
  • Intelligent, self-aware, coachable and a lifelong learner
  • Prepared to check your ego at the door (humble)
  • Rewarded by contributing to others’ success
  • Energized by networking with other leaders
  • Interested in other people’s perspectives
  • Ready to challenge the status quo

And, ready to work “on” your business instead of “in” your business then I would like to talk with you. You may be a candidate and potential member for my chief executive group. The Mutual Selection Journey is a guided process:


The Mutual Selection Journey is an opportunity for you to get to know me and the group I chair. The selection process requires that we:

  1. Connect by phone for 10 minutes to exchange information,
  2. Meet for 20-30 minute to explore interest in experiencing Vistage, and;
  3. Have a private, 90-minute conversation to determine if Vistage is right for you and if you’re right for my group.

The next opportunity for you to experience my Vistage Group 4807 meeting is on Tuesday, July 19. You’ll gain also insight into issue resolution process and speaker workshops (special guest planned). Please read my post on Member Attributes for a sense of the quality of my members.

Save the date 2Save the date:

  • What: Chief Executive Group 4807 Meeting 
  • When: Tuesday, July 19 from 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM 
  • Where: Escala (Theatre Room), 1920 4th Avenue (and Virginia Street), Seattle, WA 98101

To join Group 4807, you must be selected as a candidate or referred by a member, and:

  1. Be the decision maker for your company (P&L responsibility),
  2. Generate more than $5 million in revenue, and;
  3. Complete the Mutual Selection Journey.

Call-Me imageIf you would like to talk or have questions:

How Do You Triple Your Company’s Growth Rate?

Vistage ValueMaking a habit of getting unbiased counsel on your most important business decisions triples your company’s growth rate.

As leaders, we often feel trapped in own businesses. Instead of working ON the business, we get stuck working IN the business. I’m also sure your management team and advisors serve you well but very often don’t have the experience or perspective to provide the advice and counsel you need as a CEO. In fact, such people are rarely found within your enterprise.

Companies don’t go beyond the boundaries set by the CEO. Growing CEOs (leading from the head down) move the boundaries. They push outside their comfort zone from a position of strength.

So where do you go to get unbiased advice?

Backed by Vistage Worldwide, I lead private advisory boards for chief executives, presidents and business owners. Non-competing peers help you step out of the day-to-day and think differently, make better decisions, take bold action and generate meaningful results. The upshot? Vistage members experience new levels of intention, freedom, power, creativity and fulfillment. When you are firing on all these cylinders, you earn back the luxury of time, our most precious commodity.

The power of Vistage is in the layered experience and built-in accountability: thoughtful, honest feedback from leaders like you + dedicated one-to-one advisement + expert-led workshops.

Seattle Skyline (Vistage)I bring some distinct experience to the table. My business career focused on commercializing the Internet as a business developer, executive, founder and owner. My background cuts across e-commerce, digital music, interoperable communications, social media marketing and law. I view the world from the digital native’s perspective. Underpinning all of this? Leadership in the trenches and a deep passion for guiding leaders to achieve more than they ever imagined possible. My calling:

I am called to influence the few that influence the many. I’m an eye-level, ripple maker. The few turn those ripples into tsunamis of positive change. It’s not about me. It’s about the CEO board that I facilitate. This guided process forges a powerful peer advantage for the 16 appointed CEOs. 

I’m currently looking for one or two new members to join my board of CEOs, presidents and business owners in the Seattle area. If you are looking to become a better leader and grow your business in the process, let’s see if we’re a fit for each other. 

Please register for my Chief Executive Breakfast Forum on April 19, 2016, in downtown Seattle. Questions? Kevin McKeown, Chair (Seattle): (206) 890-6858 or

Seeking Real Leaders (CEOs) Desiring Brobdingnagian Awareness

Successful leaders combine good business sense with inspiration, guidance and unwavering authority. The Vistage Chief Executive Program creates a unique environment that provides each member with the individual insight, coaching, strategies and leadership skills needed to achieve better decisions and results for their company.

Brobdingnagian is Vast, Huge, Big, Immense, Mammoth…

The CEO superpower we all want in our arsenal? Mega self-awareness. Why? This is the basis for solid decision making. The best decisions rarely come from the CEO pondering in deep isolation. High-quality decisions and decision-making excellence happen when CEOs:

…learn from and draw on the experiences of others. In this process, success depends greatly on the quality of social exploration—and on whether your information and sources of ideas are diverse and independent. –Decision Making: Beyond the Echo Chamber (Harvard Business Review)

Imagine connecting with up to 16 CEO peers from a diverse range of businesses and backgrounds. Picture a private peer advisory board that is guided by an expert facilitator (Vistage Chair). Envision harnessing the power of your fellow CEOs to assist you in making your most difficult decisions. This is more than peer influence. This is about creating a peer advantage.

If you’re a CEO ready to break the habit of dwelling and deciding in isolation then we should talk.

I’m currently interviewing for two open seats on my Vistage peer advisory board. I seek life-long learners. I’m looking for people who are receptive to change. Companies led by growing CEOs create enormous value on a consistent basis.

Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in. –”Lonely at the Top” Resonates for Most CEOs (Stanford)

My peer advisory board is limited to noncompeting chief executives, presidents and business owners who are final decision-makers and P&L responsible with $5 million or more in annual revenue–in the Seattle area.

Social explorers…seek to form connections with many different kinds of people and to gain exposure to a broad variety of thinking. –Beyond the Echo Chamber

Big Picture:

You’re in a ready-state for a peer advisory board when you are:

  1. Willing to face your problems, challenges and opportunities head-on.
  2. Ready to bring your private issues before a trusted group of peers.
  3. Comfortable listening to and accepting input from others.
  4. Motivated to act on the feedback shared.
  5. Ready to reflect, grow and develop.

You also align with and possess these member attributes (overlap intended):

Member Attributes:

Accountable – The CEO must be willing to take action on issues (problems, challenges, and opportunities) processed in the Group and commit to moving forward.

Autonomous – The CEO must be able to make high-level, important decisions about their business and have the ability to act.

Bias – The CEO must be willing to work closely with other CEOs regardless of their gender, age, race, religion, national origin, etc.

Confidential – The CEO must be sworn to the secrecy of all confidential matters discussed in the Group. What’s discussed in the Group, stays in the Group.

Dedicated – The CEO must be steadfast in their commitment to doing what is in the best interest of the Group and its members, both individually and collectively. This includes helping to keep the group full (16-18 members). A full Group ensures exposure to broad, diverse perspectives and ideas.

performance-management-solutions1Green and Growing – The CEO has experienced long-term growth in recent years and has a burning desire to promote future growth.

Non-Judgmental – The CEO should realize that what might be easy for them might be very difficult for another CEO.

Open Minded – The CEO should be willing and able to consider new or alternative ways or methods of resolving issues brought before the Group.

Pain – The CEO will likely be experiencing pain relating to being Green and Growing or regarding their desire for continuous personal and professional improvement.

Participative – The CEO must be willing to engage in meaningful dialog with genuine interest.

Respect – Each CEO must show empathy and RESPECT for all fellow CEOs in the group.

Skills/Competencies – The CEO has specific skills or unique competencies that help the Group be well-rounded and capable of addressing all issues raised.

Venerable – The CEO should be able to ask questions that tug at the emotions of others, as well as their own. Vulnerability begets vulnerability creating a trust bond.

Next Step:


To experience the peer advantage in action, register for my Chief Executive Breakfast Forum on April 19, 2016. Seating is limited.

To learn more about me and my Vistage chair practice: LinkedIn and here. Contact me with any questions: (206) 890-6858 or email:

Recommended Reading

(Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Terry BowenVistage Chair – Fayetteville, Arkansas – for graciously sharing his outline on member attributes. He did the heavy lifting. I edited and revised to suit the purposes of my chief executive group in Seattle. Also, deep thanks to my mentor and colleague, Tom ZahniserVistage Group Chairman – PNW – for helping me identify CEO candidates in a ready-state for the peer group experience.)

The Essential Traits of Effective Leaders? Predicting CEO Success…

Leadership QuoteWe know from Daniel Coleman in the HBR article – What Makes a Leader – that effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence in five areas: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Coleman’s findings are based on research at nearly 200 large, global companies.

We know from the McKinsey article – Decoding Leadership: What really matters – that the secret to developing effective leaders is to encourage four types of behavior: being supportive, operating with strong results orientation. seeking different perspectives and solving problems effectively. McKinsey’s global survey includes 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations.

And now we know, according to Spencer Stuart, a global chief executive search and leadership consulting firm, that CEO success can be predicted. Spencer’s “Executive Intelligence” assessment approach quantifies a candidate’s critical thinking, conceptual thinking, social and emotional intelligence, and dynamic learning.

CEO Brief–the crux of the Spencer Stuart article:

  1. Learning intelligence is an especially powerful predictor of executive potential.
  2. Individuals who are strong in this area recognize and accept new information, even when it contradicts their own assumptions.
  3. They pursue constructive criticism, recognize their personal biases and flaws, and change their ideas and actions based on these sources of new or contradictory information.
  4. CEOs, in particular, benefit from learning intelligence.
  5. Because of their position of authority, CEOs tend to be insulated from ideas and information that contradict their thinking.
  6. This happens either because they are farther away from the sources of new information or because others are more guarded about sharing potentially contradictory views.
  7. The CEOs who are best at learning intelligence not only seize spontaneous opportunities to learn but also build channels to enable learning, for example, creating their own advisory councils to keep their thinking fresh.

To experience a private, peer advisory council of noncompeting CEOs and business leaders in action, click here.


Developments in Predicting CEO Success: new perspectives on identifying and assessing the essential traits of effective leaders

Senior executive decisions are incredibly high stakes and challenging. Especially at the highest levels, the difference between selecting the right leader and the wrong one is stark: The right leader sees changes in the world and market that can affect the business and mobilizes the organization to pursue the best opportunities. The wrong leader is more likely to miss the market developments that could be fatal to the business, or be unable to translate the threats into action. Complicating these decisions is that, far more often than not, they involve executives who have not previously served in the position, so by definition they lack a track record in the role that can be assessed.

To put this challenge in context, consider that in the U.S., for instance, 80 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are first-time CEOs. The conundrum for boards: how to assess candidates for a position that is larger in scope, highly dynamic and vastly more complex than any of their previous roles, no matter how big or important, and where there is no “boss” to serve as a backstop.

This challenge is not a new one, but the tools for assessing executive talent have evolved. In the past, boards typically chose the next CEO by assessing candidates against a set of executive capabilities such as “ability to drive results” or “ability to lead people” as well as categories of experience in the relevant industry, market or geography. This approach provided useful insight about executives’ knowledge, experience and current ability, but left an important gap in the board’s understanding of the candidates. Namely, it shed little light on whether the individual could stretch beyond his or her current capabilities to deal with the complexities of the new role — whether he or she could grow into the job and change with it and with the company.

Spencer QuoteSpencer Image

More than a decade ago, Spencer Stuart pioneered a new assessment approach to close this gap and get at individuals’ executive potential. This approach measured individuals’ Executive Intelligence (ExI), quantifying their critical thinking, conceptual thinking, social and emotional intelligence, and dynamic learning. Years of data and experience have since demonstrated the predictive power of these traits on executive performance — and their link to the performance of the business.

The idea of an executive’s “potential” has gained traction more broadly, but too often the discussion pits executive potential against executive capabilities. With more than 10 years of data and real-world assessments behind us, we know that potential and capabilities both matter when assessing senior-level candidates. Further-more, we have advanced our assessment so that we are able to not only evaluate individuals’ current capabilities but also understand their overall executive potential and the specific capabilities they have the capacity to build.

The power of potential

How can a board really know whether the head of the company’s most important business — who has exceptional operational skills and a track record of turning around troubled units — will excel as CEO, where defining and evolving strategy and interacting with the board and shareholders are top priorities? Or how can a CEO be confident that a successful regional CMO who excels at building relationships with regional and local leaders will become an effective global CMO, where the ability to drive innovative programs at the enterprise level and influence the C-suite defines success?

When assessing proven capabilities alone, leadership questions such as these can be difficult to answer. That’s because most successful executives have built significant domain expertise, a strong skill-set relevant to their roles and solid relationships with the key players in the organization — all of which help the leader accomplish goals. But knowledge and capabilities are not enough to predict how a senior leader might do in the next role or other future roles that are more complex and ambiguous or very different in nature. As executives move higher in the organization, past knowledge and relationships become less effective tools for accomplishing business objectives. The context changes and executives must make sense of a much wider set of issues with less concrete information, and then conceptualize a clear plan, inspiring, engaging and motivating a large organization to act.

The difference between executives who can continually develop and excel at the highest levels of a business and those who can’t is their Executive Intelligence. An Executive Intelligence assessment measures individuals’ capacity to be successful in new, unfamiliar and complex situations — exactly the type of situations in which CEOs and top team leaders are tested. Higher scores equate to greater potential to take on these roles. CEOs, in particular, have to be able to stretch further and faster as they become less expert about any particular business or functional area and their purview continues to expand.

Executive Intelligence assessments measure five key dimensions: business intelligence, contextual intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, learning intelligence and conceptual intelligence. Executives with strong business intelligence are able to apply analytical judgment in complex and ambiguous situations. An executive with a high degree of contextual intelligence is able to see situations from multiple perspectives, while someone with highly developed interpersonal intelligence has the ability to read and respond to others’ emotional state to ensure a constructive interaction. Conceptual intelligence enables leaders to produce big-picture insights from complex and disparate information. Finally, a high degree of learning intelligence allows individuals to change how they think and act in light of new information.

Executive Intelligence: Impact on ExecutivesOur research has found that learning intelligence is an especially powerful predictor of executive potential. Individuals who are strong in this area recognize and accept new information, even when it contradicts their own assumptions. They pursue constructive criticism, recognize their personal biases and flaws, and change their ideas and actions based on these sources of new or contradictory information. CEOs, in particular, benefit from learning intelligence. Because of their position of authority, CEOs tend to be insulated from ideas and information that contradict their thinking, either because they are farther away from the sources of new information or because others are more guarded about sharing potentially contradictory views. The CEOs who are best at this not only seize spontaneous opportunities to learn but also build channels to enable learning, for example, creating their own advisory councils to keep their thinking fresh.

Research has proven the connection between Executive Intelligence and the ability to grow into more complex leadership roles and have a positive impact on the business:

  • Executives with high Executive Intelligence scores have far more room to grow. Over time, executives with high potential will bypass others who don’t score as well, and high ExI scores correlate with faster executive promotions. An analysis of more than 700 CEOs, managing directors, COOs and CFOs globally found that executives with high ExI scores were promoted 22 percent faster than executives with low ExI scores. In other words, these executives were promoted one year earlier on average than those with lower scores. These traits are especially important for CEOs who have to stretch more than any other executives. Not surprisingly, CEOs score distinctly higher than “CXOs” — as much as 15 percentage points higher — and CXOs score similarly higher than the next level of executives.
  • Businesses with higher-scoring CEOs perform better. Another study examining the influence of top leader Executive Intelligence on business performance looked at measurable, publicly available data for 82 companies or large business units, finding that the CEO’s ExI score at time of appointment predicted 16 percent of the variation in profit performance two years later.

Executive Intelligence: Why it matters

Putting insight into action

Today, we are able to measure executives against a far more nuanced set of Executive Intelligence traits, revealing in much greater detail an individual’s raw potential to develop beyond current levels of experience and know-how. As a result, our assessments look not just at the executive capabilities a leader has today, but also which capabilities he or she is most able to develop and in what time frame. For example, we know a leader must be strong in business intelligence and conceptual intelligence to develop the highest levels of strategic thinking, while weakness in these will make the development of strategic thinking difficult or even impossible. An executive with great interpersonal intelligence is more likely to be able to collaborate effectively across the organization and influence others to achieve goals.

Put another way, executives’ ability to develop certain executive capabilities will be enhanced or constrained by their degree of Executive Intelligence. Someone who is strong at conceptual intelligence will be able to find and communicate big-picture ideas from chaotic information, but without a similarly high level of business intelligence, they may be unable to recognize all the steps required to implement the vision. A leader who excels at analyzing situations and problem-solving where he or she has a built-up knowledge base but has little patience for fact-finding or sorting through the details may not be the ideal choice to place in a completely new situation where quickly learning a new industry or geography is required for success.

The ability to predict long-term executive capability and identify the best opportunities for growth enables organizations to truly manage and develop their leadership talent as strategically as they manage and develop their business. Being able to evaluate the current and future readiness of succession candidates allows boards and CEOs to plan for succession with more precision — and more accurately consider who is the most ready today, who could be ready in a year and who has the most potential, even if he or she needs more time to develop that potential.

Knowing whether or not a succession candidate has room to develop certain capabilities may flag potential limitations that could be addressed by surrounding the leader with the right team or suggest that the person would be better placed in a different role. By contrast, the ability to see potential in individuals who have not yet been tested in the most senior roles may help to uncover exceptional leaders who would otherwise have been overlooked.

Consider the example of the CEO succession candidate with a track record of turning around troubled business units by cutting costs and headcount and rationalizing the supply chain. Because of his success in turnarounds — and because he was a less skilled communicator — he was viewed by the board as a superior operator, but not as a strategist. Yet, his Executive Intelligence scores indicated that he had the capacity to be much more strategic, despite a lack of experience. We encouraged the CEO and board to let the executive run the strategic planning process the following year, giving him access to more information about the business and enabling him to forge closer relationships with other senior leaders. Most importantly, it provided the opportunity for him to showcase his skills — and for the board to see him in a completely different light, giving directors the confidence in this leader’s ability to develop into the CEO role.


Spencer Image 2Few business decisions matter as much as the choice of leader, and the stakes of leadership decisions are greatest at the most senior levels of an organization. Traditional assessment methods that examine executives’ capabilities and track record provide an important but incomplete view of candidates’ readiness for promotion. Understanding an executive’s readiness to move into the next role — and future leadership roles that require dexterity amid complexity and ambiguity — requires an assessment of executive potential.

More than a decade of research has demonstrated the predictive power of Executive Intelligence on executive performance as well as the performance of the business. Measurements of critical thinking, conceptual thinking, social and emotional intelligence, and dynamic learning reveal executives’ potential to excel in new, complex and ambiguous roles. Today, we can be even more precise about an executive’s potential, pinpointing the specific areas where he or she has room to grow. The ability to identify the best opportunities for growth enables organizations to truly manage and develop their leadership talent.


Recommended Next Step

Learning intelligence is a powerful predictor of executive potential. Discover why CEOs who are best at learning intelligence create their own advisory councils to keep their thinking fresh.

coffee-and-croissant imageI invite you to attend a complimentary breakfast event organized exclusively for Seattle area chief executives, presidents, founders, and business owners like you:

My event gives you a visceral sense of the Vistage CEO peer advisory experience, how you can talk about anything — big or small — and receive support, suggestions, tactics and strategies from business leaders just like you. The event will start with breakfast. Registration is by invitation-only.

RSVP by registering online or calling me directly at (206) 890-6858 or emailing me at or LinkedIn.



Thank you to Spencer Stuart for granting me permission to post and cite this article. For information about copying, distributing and displaying this work, contact

A Memory Triggered by Nelson Mandela…

Mandela imageThis quote takes me back to my first leadership position:

A leader … is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind. –Nelson Mandela

I came to Seattle as a young newly appointed managing director for a large Japanese equipment maker. My head was spinning. My footing unsure. Leading was new. I had to build a technology team capable of interfacing with the software and mechanical engineers in Japan. I needed to assess whether we could import this company’s technology “as is” or whether modifications were required. We had a lot to do in a short period of time.

I also needed to build culture. I remember doing a team building exercise with my new team. This exercise was lead by a HR professional.

The HR person drew a boat on a whiteboard. She asked us to place ourselves on the boat based on our position or title. She asked me to go first. I drew myself behind the boat on water skis. I colored outside her lines. I got a long stare. My feeling at the time? What’s that stare for? I trust the team I’m building. I believe in my team. They are working hard. They are propelling the company forward. They’ll increase or decrease engine power based on my cue–or hand signals–so leave them be and let them lead from their strengths.

Later, the HR person counseled me that I should have put myself in the drivers seat. She said I need to see myself as in control. I never bought that. A leader’s touch is light–a nudge here–a question there–some encouraging talk or even a positive push or suggestion. Sure, some circumstances require a stronger approach–I get that. Still as General Dwight Eisenhower quipped, leadership is “…the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it.” That’s about inspiring not commanding.

Leadership advice is never one-size-fits-all. Be wary. Be skeptical. Go with your gut. Trust your instincts. Lead from your heart. Move your tribe into the future like Mandela’s shepherd.

Agree? Disagree? How do you view the art of leadership?


CEO Snack: Value of Outside Peers…

spreekbeurt-tips-onlineMake sure to keep your energy up today. Here are a couple snacks to chew on:

9 Reach out for support. It’s lonely at the top and having a couple trusted advisors or peers outside your company who you can run things by will help you learn new tricks, see things from different perspectives and avoid costly errors that others not caught in the thick of it can see.

8 Get objective feedback about your own performance as a leader. Rarely do you see yourself as others do. Be actively involved in continuous self-improvement as top executive, like a professional athletes are. Be a model for continuous improvement by doing it yourself.

Reading: What You Can’t Learn at Harvard about Leadership: 100+ Tips Learned in the Trenches by Carl Robinson, Ph.D.

I find that the most effective CEOs are life-long learners. They schedule time for ongoing personal development. Are you dying to learn, grow and develop?

Please share your approach with me.