Leaders at all levels can learn from the CEO Report compiled by Saïd Business School in partnership with Heidrick & Struggles and launched this month at Davos. The report that focuses on 152 interviews with current CEOs identifies several critical capabilities senior leaders need to succeed in a changing and complex global environment.
Asked how senior executives can develop the competence to lead in a changing world, few of the CEOs mentioned better technical skills. Rather they spoke about the gaps in their preparedness and the need to keep developing, particularly when it comes to dealing with heightened scrutiny from an array of stakeholders.
To set the context the authors point to the changing role that business plays in society, and the shift in society’s expectations of the CEO. They say that the declining tenure rates and levels of public trust suggest corporate leadership has not kept pace with the increased expectations.
Based on the interviews, the Saïd and Heidrick & Struggles team identified these key capabilities required by today’s senior leaders:
Leading at the intersection: The CEO’s changing role
The capability to lead at the intersection of outside and inside influences and drivers, where company ambition and stakeholder demands blur, contradict, and sometimes compete with each other.
Change: Understanding speed, scope, and significance (S3)
Instant connectivity can make everything feel urgent. But not everything demands equal CEO focus. The S3 approach to understanding change helps leaders delegate, conserve time, and prioritize the truly urgent.
Ripple intelligence: Building a CEO early warning system
The capability to anticipate and judge how, when, and why contexts may interact to fundamentally disrupt the business. To anticipate distant threats or opportunities, CEOs need to rise above the clutter, keep an eye on emerging trends, but avoid acting prematurely. Continual learning and enlisting divergent viewpoints can help.
The power of doubt: Finding comfort in discomfort
As the report says “Doubts are to CEOs what nerves are to elite athletes: a source of focus and insight when harnessed constructively, a threat to peak performance when not.” Embracing doubt requires emotional intelligence, an essential capability of the ‘humanized’ leader the future demands.
Authenticity and adaptability: Bridging the master paradox
“Authenticity is top of mind and adaptability top of agenda.” Being genuine and authentic is essential to maintain stakeholder trust. Adaptability is also critical but can a chameleon be trusted? Senior leaders need the capability to manage this paradox.
Finding balance: Choosing between “right … and right”
The CEOs interviewed continuously seek to balance seemingly irreconcilable demands such as the ‘quarterly rat race’ and long-term goals, profit and social responsibility, decisiveness and humility, work and life. CEOs need the capability to make effective decisions when there is no ‘right’ answer.
Today’s CEO: Embracing continual growth and renewal
If all leaders need to grow and renew their outlooks and skill sets, for CEOs and senior leaders it is critical and key to sustained success. “CEOs need to create environments that feed their curiosity, challenge their orthodoxies, and fuel their continual learning—and unlearning.”
What’s next: Ensuring success beyond succession
Next generation leaders will need all of the above in spades. As organizations embrace collaborative leadership, qualities including self-awareness, humility, purpose, adaptability and authenticity will all critical requirements. And continuous learning “will not be an option, but a must.”
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