Shaping your future: The skills / attributes you need to become a leading CEO

The CEO role is the most crucial position for a successful business. It’s the captain to your ship, the conductor to your orchestra, your leader and face to the public. In an ever-changing world, choosing the right CEO is more important than ever. As the leadership advisory and CEO search firm Egon Zehnder points out, “the Chief Executive role is unique, particularly in the current atmosphere of complexity and volatility”. These uncertain times require a more pragmatic eye for business and a CEO needs to have excellent leadership skills that are regularly reviewed throughout transition periods.

But the task of hiring the right person for the job is difficult. There’s no one-size-fits-all –– it depends on the nature of your business, your goals, and your culture. However, there are a few attributes that are particularly sought after in any CEO. Here we explore four of them.

(Calculated) Risk Taking

Being a Chief Executive is all about decision making and making bold moves at the right time. When faced with an industry change, a good CEO should make a swift decision about how to navigate and work with the changes, rather than ignoring them. These decisions can set the tone for the future of the business, so it’s important to get them right.

That being said, a CEO can’t be careless. The data is still important and taking a risk just for the sake of it is never a good idea. There has to be a balance between agility and thoughtfulness. This also applies to your CEO’s personal career –– a person who chose to help manage a company in bankruptcy possesses skills that are useful even for an incredibly successful business. What’s more,  it shows their willingness to take on challenges and resolve in the face of turmoil.

Foresight

No one has a magical crystal ball, but a good CEO should be able to predict what is going to happen –– to the business, to the industry, and to the economy. Being able to suss out what’s coming allows the company to take precautions and prepare in advance, as well as lead the wave.

This quality is particularly significant in a Chief Executive. As the person who is sailing the ship, they navigate through so many different tasks, deal with many stakeholders and need to make decisions that will set the tone for the company in the long-term. Without the ability to make out which way the wind is blowing, they might rule the wrong way. This, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean always getting it right –– just having the wisdom to prepare for the possible, probable and preferable outcomes while being able to discern which one is which.

Adaptability

Foresight is important, but acting on it is just as crucial. In these highly volatile times, CEOs need to be capable of adapting the business to any change, both on the macro and micro levels. COVID-19 was a prime example of this, and we saw strong, adaptable leadership signalling the difference between sinking and rising above the new situation the pandemic has created.

But even before the Coronavirus took our lives by storm, CEOs had to deal with many transformations, such as the digital revolution on the one hand, and the 2008-09 financial crisis on the other. Whether it’s a disaster or a new way of doing business, a successful Chief Executive will embrace it as a way of making a company more indestructible. This also includes internal problems, workplace conflicts, and client disputes.

It’s not just about waiting for something to happen and adjusting to it –– it’s about proactively utilising their foresight and making sure there’s a plan for every scenario. A prosperous CEO will focus on the long-term while also considering the short and medium-terms.

Teamwork

Right now, 38% of the workforce are Millennials and Gen Zers. By 2030, this number is estimated to reach 75%. This may seem like a random factoid, but the reality is that as the makeup of your company changes, the expectations of employees change along with it. For example, Millennials believe that collaboration, flat structures, and positivity are important for both their willingness to stay in a role, but also to produce more work of higher quality. That means your CEO needs to be able to play within a team.

Your business is like a machine, and every cog and bolt are absolutely necessary for its running. A spectacular Chief Executive is one who understands that anyone –– from their fellow C-Suites all the way to the weekend cleaner –– are crucial for the success of their company. It’s about mutual trust and transparency. At the same time, there’s a fine line between decentralised leadership and full democracy, which no business can properly function under. A successful CEO ensures that everyone feels heard, but ultimately manages according to their beliefs.