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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.

6. Communication

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.

7. Service

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”.

8. Wisdom

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.

9. Competence

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.

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F500 Companies - New Kind of CEO Hires

For this request, I have identified 10 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, who have been promoted to the position within the past five years. Specifically, I focused on CEOs for whom something about their appointment stands out as being "unique" or "out of the box." In some cases, this means I have chosen individuals who were internal promotions (based on the example provided in your request), individuals who served as the first female or openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, etc.

I have provided a deep dive of my findings — including each individual's name, the company they work for, when they were appointed to CEO, and why they have been included in this report — on the attached spreadsheet.

In order to ensure the individuals included in this report work for Fortune 500 companies, I have attached Fortune's latest list of these companies.
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Top MBA Programs - Evolution

Using US News’ refined rankings, we took a look at seven of the top ten schools in the country: Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania — Wharton, Stanford University, University of California — Berkeley, University of Michigan — Ann Arbor — Ross, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College — Tuck. By analyzing these schools, we were able to see that there are three areas today's best schools are focusing on: the global experience, soft skills, and hands-on experience.


As the world has become more interconnected than ever, these pioneering MBA programs have taken note. Schools are making it easier than ever to engage in study abroad programs or global internships. There are few notable schools, however, that are taking truly innovative steps to get their students out into the world.
Harvard University’s Field Experience for Leadership Development course, or FIELD, requires students to utilize many skills, but it notably requires students to study abroad in their second semester in order to establish the global market.
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania allows students to create experiences for themselves and their classmates through Ventures, a program where students lead their classmates on outdoor trips nearly anywhere on the globe.

Stanford began instituting a more global curriculum in 2007, when it began requiring its students to engage in a global experience. This could "be fulfilled by a study abroad, an international internship, an overseas service-learning trip, or a student exchange."

Every student at Dartmouth College at Tuck is required to complete one of four experiential courses before graduation through TuckGO. In one of these options, students are encouraged to get involved with a Global Insight Expedition over spring break, where they are “led by faculty with deep country and/or topical expertise” on the year’s distinctive topic.

All the schools we looked at offered some kind of study abroad option, and although many of these programs have been offered for many years, it is only recently that these are being made graduation requirements at some schools.


Universities have recently learned the importance of soft skills, especially as they relate to people. This typically reads as "leadership" courses on their websites, but leadership is about people — talking to them, motivating them, and influencing them, skills that have been neglected by schools over the years in favor of book-based learning.
Harvard requires students to participate in experiential learning through groups. Students are forced to work with each other and learn to cooperate as they pursue intense weeks of study abroad over winter break and evaluate existing organizations. Its year-long course, Field Experience for Leadership Development, also focuses on developing small-group learning experiences in their first year.
At the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, students are given opportunities for leadership training at any of 25 research centers on campus with access to nearly 150 student organizations. Students even get opportunities to lead their classroom’s on outdoor trips, where they must demonstrate their leadership skills for an entire week’s trip. When it comes to leadership training, Wharton is also working to implement methods that will emphasize the self-analysis side of leadership development.


Rather than have students wait until graduation to get their hands dirty, many schools now choose to have engagement or field studies as requirements for the curriculum.
Harvard mandates that its students complete a year-long course called Field Experience for Leadership Development, or FIELD. This program requires students to live abroad in their second semesters while working directly with a company in their field. The MBA program overall has seen increased flexibility in terms of curriculum, too, which means that students must take a hands-on approach with their education and craft their personal journeys.
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has also implemented a more flexible curriculum, allowing students to tailor their program to their specific goals with access to a wider variety of classes.

The TuckGO requirement at Dartmouth College offers students an OnSite Global Consulting opportunity, where they "offer professional quality consulting services to a host of worldwide clients." Here, students get full-time fieldwork and extensive experience with advisers, consulting, and project managing.

While many of these examples highlight program flexibility, this flexibility actually encourages students to take a hands-on approach with their education, which will then transfer to their experiences in the business world. As students craft their personal journeys, they not only ensure their personal needs are met, but they line themselves up to get involved in practical experiences later in their programs.


The innovative MBA program emphasizes three areas: global experience, soft skills, and hands-on experience. In the top programs in the country, we see these areas emphasized over and over again while making it easier than ever for students to get global and hands-on experiences while forcing courses that teach students the soft skills that take a business leader from good to great. Much of this has existed for years in one way or another, but it was not until recently that schools began mandating and pushing their students in these areas.

From Part 03