Book Review: Hidden Truths by David Fubini

For those of us who are not in business consulting, it is sometimes hard to truly understand what sets apart top strategy firms like McKinsey, BCG or Bain. The book ‘Hidden Truths’ by David Fubini, former senior partner at McKinsey, is a perfect example of the kind of project such a firm usually does.

The aim of the book is to provide an overview of facts that are often hidden from new CEOs and that can make or break any CEO tenure. The book provides advice that is both actionable, easy to digest and well-structured - all hallmarks of top strategy consulting. Moreover, the author has multiple decades of consulting experience under his belt and a wide range of insightful stories to underline the concepts he’s trying to convey. There are 15 hidden truths in total (you will find the full list in the table of contents). Some of the hidden truths might feel like common places. However, I found most them very enjoyable and this book does not fall into the fluffy self-help business literature type that abounds nowadays.

Some ‘hidden truths’ I could relate more to than others. Firstly, it is always crucial to do your homework and arrive prepared. This is especially true for a CEO, who has to hit the ground running. For an CEO candidate it is pretty much impossible to be prepared by themselves. They are completely dependent on their own network and, yes, also management consultants (who expect to reap the benefits of any help in the form of future projects). Secondly, it is frightening to which extent CEOs become isolated just by the nature of their job. They have to work very hard to access the information that they need and also to make people comfortable to share their true opinion. Thirdly, it’s a red flag if you are spending most of your time in your office as a senior executive or manager. You have to push actively against losing touch with what is truly happening in your company. It is necessary to go outside to talk to employees, customers, middle management, and other stakeholders that can give you different perspectives on your company that allow you to have a fuller picture. Finally, CEOs need to keep a healthy distance between themselves as persons and the role of the CEO. CEOs that only play the part of an assertive leader and that love the power of the position will not necessarily have the success of the company and its people in mind. There is a huge difference between having a healthy ego and being a narcissist.

The recommendations in this book are tailored not just to senior management but explicitly to CEOs. Why CEOs? Well, it can be quite lonely being at the top of the organization and, at that level, it will be more difficult to be exposed to the true state of affairs than in other positions. And that’s what top strategy firms offer: bright minds that fill in the role of truth tellers, discussion partners and analytical workhorses that support senior executives under severe time and attention constraints. (Of course, this comes at a premium.) Coming from a McKinsey senior partner, the book can also be read as a marketing blueprint for strategy consulting projects, which gives you tools to better understand the interests of such consulting firms.

Even though you may not be interested in becoming a CEO or in strategy consulting, this book is a window into how companies work at the uppermost level and what it takes to run them. In that sense, it reminded me of Barack Obama’s book ‘A Promised Nation’, in which he shares the hidden day-to-day life of a president. In summary, ‘Hidden Truths’ is a worthwhile book with plenty of valuable lessons for managers and team leaders at any level.