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by Graham Alexander

Nelson Business © 2005, 228 pages, $22.99 (ISBN 0-7852-1335-X).

How CEOs Can Overcome Doubts, Fears And Other Anxieties

The men and women who successfully climb to the pinnacle of an organization would not seem to be the kinds of people who saddle themselves with fears and doubts. To their peers and subordinates, they are decisive, ambitious, smart and tough. Not easily overwhelmed, they are daunted neither by the importance of the problems that land on their desks, nor the speed with which they must find solutions.

In return for the pressure of their positions, CEOs and other company leaders reap the benefits of being at the top: the power and authority to fulfill their visions for the organization; work that is meaningful and important; and generous compensation, along with a high standard of living. Rewarded financially, rewarded emotionally — once you’ve made it to the top, who could ask for anything more?

Graham Alexander can answer that question. As an executive coach for more than 25 years, Alexander has coached thousands of CEOs and other occupants of the C suite. In Tales from the Top, he reveals the dreams, needs, fears, doubts and even despair that can overwhelm those who have been so successful professionally. It’s not just lonely at the top; it can be downright scary.

Ten Crucial Questions

Most top managers would never reveal to their employees or even their peers that they are scared or confused or overwhelmed. Not surprisingly, the phrase that Alexander hears over and over when he first starts working with his clients is, “I’ve never talked to anyone about this before.”

Another often unspoken sentiment is, “I don’t want to think about that.” For many C-suite clients, concerns, fears and doubts are pushed deep inside an outer shell of confidence and certainty.

Alexander’s job is to draw those concerns out, identify what is at the heart of any concerns or doubts, and thus lead troubled executives to effective solutions that will restore the confidence and joy that once drove them to success.

To find the right answers, Alexander explains, you have to ask the right questions. Through his experience and his interactions, Alexander has pinpointed 10 crucial questions that leaders must ask themselves if they are to achieve and, most importantly, maintain their success:

1. What’s life all about for you?

2. Who are you, and who do others say you are?

3. What’s the point for you and your people?

4. What would happen if you did less?

5. What can only you do?

6. Would you do anything differently if you knew you only had a year to live?

7. If people are your biggest asset, why don’t they know who you are?

8. Who pays your salary, and why are you ignoring them?

9. Are you running your business, or is it running you?

10. So now how will you live your life differently ... or is it business as usual?

Action Items

In Tales from the Top, Alexander lays out these 10 questions in 10 chapters, drawing real-life (disguised for confidentiality reasons) examples from his consulting practice, and peppering each chapter with “action items,” “million-dollar questions” and “wake-up calls.”

“What’s the point for you and your people?” is a question, for example, addressed to executives who have forgotten the meaning and purpose of their work as they struggle with the demands and stress of their day-to-day responsibilities.

The first million-dollar question of the chapter is, “What is your underlying purpose in life?” The action item that will help answer this question is for executives to pick out six or eight times in their lives when they felt successful and satisfied, dissect and find the common qualities of the different events or accomplishments, and use this learning to craft a personal mission statement that reflects their passion.

As everyone else, leaders always have e-mails to answer, meetings to lead, numbers to crunch, and memos and reports to prepare — there’s no time to stop and ask oneself the simple but profound questions of life. As a result, it’s too easy for leaders to bury lingering personal issues until those issues begin to impact their performance and their psychological well-being. ~

Why We Like This Book

Alexander’s 10 questions are hardly revolutionary. By identifying these important questions, however, Alexander offers a framework, almost a map, to help executives stay on a course for success by addressing and resolving any deep anxieties and doubts that can arise. Taking a few hours to read Alexander’s book might finally pull the focus of the harried leader from the urgent to the important. – Chris Murray ~

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