Overview - CEOs: Leadership Skill Sets for Today
Over the years, industries have seen quite a change in how the C-suite executives ran companies. Decades ago, an individual would be able to become a CEO only by launching a company of his own. Today, however, we have a seen a shift in the landscape of corporate business, where C-suite executives are being hired to run various businesses based on specific desired skill sets. From large conglomerates to small startups, the leadership skill sets they look for in a CEO include the ability to understand new technology, dexterous decision-making ability, power to inspire, capability to assemble a great team of talent, a high tolerance for ambiguity, competence, service, communication, relentlessly reliable, and a master of relations.
The highest-ranking executive of the C-suite team in a company is a chief executive officer (CEO). Most often the CEO of a company has a position on the board of directors or can also hold the position of the chair. Their responsibilities include, and are not limited to, overseeing the entire company’s operations, managing the company’s resources, incharge of making all the major corporate decisions, and is the main voice of communication between the corporate operations department and the board of directors. CEOs are also responsible for the company’s overall growth and success. Every CEO’s profile varies according to the industry and organization, due to the nature, structure, and framework of the business.
Internal VS. External hire
According to an article published by the Chief Executive, the CEO1000 Tracker revealed that companies today lean towards promoting individuals to the post of CEO from within rather than hiring from the outside. It has been found that over 78% of the CEOs hired today is through promotions. Data suggests that this trend varies by industry, where companies belonging to retail, technology, and media prefer recruiting their C-suite executives from the outside.
Those who have been promoted to the position of CEO, would have mostly been in the position of executive vice president, president, or COO (Chief Operating Officer) and working in the organization for over 22 years and over. However, research also shows that the companies whose performance has been in the lowest segment, have had their CEOs appointed with the highest number of years of internal experience. This goes to show that CEOs today, should not only have internal experience but must have significant leadership skills.
CEO Leadership Skill Set
1. Ability to understand and adopt new technology
Technology is the main force of growth in the world today and almost every single business depends on or is partially driven by technology. With every passing day, there are new developments in the various fields of technology that provide organizations the ability to get ahead of the rest. CEOs would have to be up-to-date with the advancements made in the technology that their company relies on. According to Kumar Parakala, a senior executive advisor, a CEO must inculcate a strong and deep understanding of the progression made in technology that would benefit his/her company.
2. High tolerance for ambiguity
This is a quality that experienced recruiters look for in a CEO who is to run a large company. Rather than believing that they are qualified to know all there is to know, recruiters look to test CEO candidates on making unbiased decisions based on evidence and facts.
3. Dexterous decision-making ability
CEOs must have the ability to make fast and agile decisions under any and all circumstances to ensure that a swift, safe, and reliable course of action takes place to benefit the company. However, a CEO should know when it is best to consult with his team members. This will help provide the CEO with certain perspectives that he wouldn’t have noticed.
4. Ability to form a great team of talent
One of the primary responsibilities of a CEO is to recognize and gather talent, according to Andrea Jung, who is the CEO and president of Grameen America. This is considered to be a very important leadership quality — the keen aspect of recognizing, evaluating, and assembling talent. A good leader must value positive quality and skills that can be molded to improve the growth of the business. CEOs must also have the ability to encourage his talent pool to work on improving themselves further for their own betterment.
5. Power to motivate
Motivating the team to do better today than what was done yesterday is an important skill. It is vital for CEOs today to be able to inspire, motivate, and encourage their team members and the entire organization as a whole, by providing a new and exciting direction for the company to head into the future, or by providing a “compelling vision of hope”. This quality must come to the forefront especially during moments of crisis.
A vital aspect of the success of any company is communication. Good leaders must not only have the capability of forming the right team of talent but must also excel in correcting, coaching, and at times changing members of the team. CEOs should be able to provide their team members with precise, clear, and frequent feedback and must be able to hold “difficult conversations”. They must have the ability to clearly communicate ideas, solutions, and problems with the company’s various departments and the board of directors.
Not every individual is “wired for service”. It is natural to assume that a CEO would probably expect his team to do most of the work and “serve”. However, a quality that expert recruiters are looking for today is a CEO with the characteristics of a “servant-leader”.
CEOs would need to foresee the company’s future in order to take appropriate steps to ensure the future is bright. They would have to understand the different implications of the many situations their companies’ face, read between the lines, and anticipate different outcomes to take the right measures. This is a difficult aspect to acquire but important nonetheless.
A significant quality that leaders ought to have these days is competence. The CEO must understand the marketplace of the company’s industry, the organization’s values, the competition, their advantages and their liabilities.
10. Relentlessly reliable
Expert recruiters have claimed that they look for candidates who are reliable leaders who can take control of any situation and at the same time know when to “defer to your managers”. The CEO should not only be reliable but must also have the skill of building reliability among his team members.
11. Master of relations
According to an article by WhartonMagazine, “being a CEO is a balancing act”. A CEO should be able to not only manage various departments of the company, but must also be able to satisfy the company’s employees, customers, and shareholders. A good CEO must be able to keep the company moving forward in growth as the primary goal rather than keeping everyone happy.
Apart from the skills stated above, companies today are looking for a CEO who is a visionary leader, a transformational leader, a pacesetter leader, and an affiliative leader. He should also be able to find solutions when no one else can. Other skills include being decisive, thinking big, thinking out of the box, have a touch of humility, care of his people, building alliances, and raising the standards.
To wrap up, the desirable leadership skills that are looked for in a CEO today include competence, service, communication, relentlessly reliable, master of relations, capacity to understand and adopt new technology, the power to inspire, ability to gather a great team of talent, and a high tolerance for ambiguity.