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Global CEO Market Snapshot: Key Leadership Skills & Market Demand

In part two of our global CEO market snapshot, our leadership experts in Singapore, India, Sweden, the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and Spain, discuss what boards need in new CEO hires, as well as the key leadership skills and experience gaps.

Our thanks to global contributing authors Anthony Batchelor, Kim Stangeby, Bengt Starke and Alasdair Spink

Boards are looking for true leaders with a combination of vision and operational agility; they also expect stronger results and stable, long-term growth. Yet critical skills gaps exist; those capable of building a real strategic vision are in short supply, with many CEOs operating as ‘managers’ not ‘leaders’.

CEO market demand

The type of CEO and the qualities desired among boards depend on the size and structure of the organization, and the influence of geo-political factors.

In certain regions, mid-size companies favor candidates with experience in both larger and smaller companies, so they bring experience in processes and working ‘hands-on’. Understandably, high-growth companies want candidates from companies twice their own size.

Demand for general management experience is clear, while PE firms naturally seek CEOs who possess prior experience in leading PE-backed companies, accompanied by a track record of successful growth. Given the current climate of change, there is also a heightened emphasis on the importance of transformation experience when selecting CEOs.

A combination of strategic leadership and operational expertise is noticeable but it could be argued this is what boards have always looked for. A collaborative, consultative approach, combined with strong communication and interpersonal skills is desired.

The ideal candidate is decisive with a clear cultural quality and business model experience.

Key skills, particularly in Western regions, are emerging. These include digital (particularly AI) and data acumen, strong awareness of both ESG and DEI, familiarity with information security, and the ability to drive inorganic and organic growth. The latter is increasingly important with shareholders becoming less patient and looking for stronger returns. ‘Sustainable growth’ is a watchword in certain regions with more boards looking for stable results over a longer period.

APAC is influenced by a greater mix of risk and opportunity. Companies are ‘de-risking’ from reliance (predominantly on China) and are looking to new markets (most notably Southeast Asia and India) within which to produce and sell. In addition to the above qualities, strong candidates now require a greater and more nuanced knowledge of the region and its constituent operating environments and consumer markets. 

Key leadership skills and experience gaps

Broadly, a narrow career background among CEOs is a critical deficiency, while geopolitical issues present novel challenges for a generally untested CEO market.

The combination of large and small company experience is both searched for and hard to find in certain regions. Likewise, large swathes of the CEO population have spent the bulk of their career in either business or operations, therefore lacking the practical expertise in working the balance sheet, as well as comprehensive experience in mergers and acquisitions or divestments.

Many company leaders are operators by background and don’t build a true strategic vision; they have the ‘manager gene’ rather than the ‘leader gene’.

This often manifests in a lack of agility, as CEOs must possess the ability to objectively deconstruct and reimagine traditional business models.

APAC CEOs have the specific challenge of presenting a well-calibrated range of options to a board that may hold either overly optimistic or pessimistic views on Asia. The CEO's role is to facilitate a middle ground that strikes a balance between risk and opportunity. Consequently, and like elsewhere in the world, a genuine strategic vision is needed but not always found among company leaders.

There are also several key skills gaps including: digital transformation, the ability to exploit AI, genuine empathy, authentic self-reflection and self-management, and the capacity to question existing business practices and priorities effectively.

If you missed part one of our global CEO market snapshot, exploring the hiring landscape and market composition, you can read it here.


Contact our authors for more information on the CEO hiring landscape in your region, get in touch with us here, or you can also find your local Odgers Berndtson contact here.

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