Company boardrooms and executive leadership worldwide have evolved naturally into much more diverse entities – we are finding that, more and more, multi-national companies are led by a person of a different nationality to where they were founded. This is of course not surprising, given the nature of the global economy and the impact of the digital era we live in.
Diversity in the boardroom and on the executive floor brings a set of unique challenges. It has transformed what executive search firms look for in a good CEO. The ability to manage diversity in the workplace requires highly developed personal interaction skills, as well as a strong dose of emotional intelligence. It’s no longer good enough just to bring the right job skills to the table – our CEOs today are not judged only on their performance, but also on their behaviour and their values. Also, they are constantly in the public eye, and in our ‘switched on’ world, they are expected to be available 24/7.
We find that the highest performing leaders today are those who are self-aware – they are interested, are good listeners, seek feedback and are able to change behaviour. But crucially, they have emotional and social intelligence, and a well-developed sense of compassion for others. I believe that up to 85% of the skills required by CEOs today are related to emotional intelligence, and the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
Over the next 10 years, the challenges facing CEOs are likely to increase even more. The speed of change will be faster than it was over the past decade, as internet availability and connection improves and air travel expands further. This will generate more creativity and innovation, which will lead to even greater competition.
The CEOs of tomorrow will also have to take into account the so-called millennial generation, or Generation Y – young people born during the 1980s and early 1990s. They live in a completely different world to the previous generation. They’re not particularly brand loyal, and they’ve grown up with constant access to technology. Remaining in tune with the world-view of this generation, both as employees and as customers, will require our CEOs to have even greater self-awareness, as well as a clear understanding of the direction companies need to be steered in.
I believe the main challenge for tomorrow’s business leaders will be how to remain relevant and connected, and yet find the time for freedom of thought to find focus, creativity and innovation. Most importantly, they need to find simplicity – and time to breathe – in a world of increasing speed and complexity.
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