May 2019 | 

Global CEOs: A Cure for Being Lonely at the Top

Global CEOs: A Cure for Being Lonely at the Top

“It’s a cliché to say it’s lonely at the top,” says Luis Casas, “but it’s true. When you’re the CEO, people tend to tell you what they think you want to hear.” Casas says the lack of honest advice and feedback isn’t good for senior leaders or their organizations. That’s an important reason three of the world’s top business schools — Wharton, IESE, and CEIBS — came together to create and deliver the Global CEO Program: A Transformational Journey.

Casas, who has been the program director since 2014, says the program gives participants an opportunity to take a step back from their day-to-day responsibilities, be with peers from different countries, and have important discussions about their most pressing organizational and personal challenges. “The impact this experience can have on your decisions can be tremendous for your company,” he says.

Global CEO is held over three non-consecutive weeks on the business schools’ campuses in China, Spain, and the United States. Wharton management professor and academic director Mauro Guillén says there are three key elements to the program that set it apart: “First, you get an immersive view of the Chinese, European, and North American markets and business landscapes. Second, you interact with people who are operating in at least one of those regions, and you learn from each other. Third, you are exposed to cutting edge knowledge about frontier practices in business from three of the world’s top business schools.”

“The week at Wharton,” he says, “focuses on anticipating global trends and exploring new fields with major breakthroughs including digital disruption and neuroscience. We also cover new developments in marketing, operational excellence, finance, innovation, and governance.”

Guillén shares his research on global market trends in one session. “Many of the participants have heard about some of them,” he says, “but they don’t always realize how quickly these trends are unfolding and how they interact with one another. For example, they might know which geographies will grow fastest, but not about which market segments, age groups, and consumer habits are going to experience tremendous changes and what those changes could mean for their business.”

Although some senior executives consider developments such as digital disruption, new business models, the internet of things, robotics, and new neuroscience applications to be threats, Guillén says each represents potential. “Yes, there are rapid technology advances, new competitors, and new challenges in attracting talent. But CEOs need to be able to view these as positive opportunities that their organizations can seize on.”

Casas points to the cross-program project as a highlight of Global CEO. The class is divided into small groups (with no conflicts of interest or competitive interests), and the participants each share a personal challenge, “something that keeps them up at night,” as Casas describes it. They work on those challenges during the program, receiving peer coaching from fellow group members. That coaching is anything but the “tell them what they want to hear” feedback they tend to get at work. “We break that dynamic completely,” Casas says. “Participants love it because they know they need this kind of candid, sometimes blunt, advice, but as CEOs they rarely get it.”