What it Takes for Today’s CEO

The 2020 CEO is no longer a two-dimensional, mythical figure bundled into a corporate boardroom enclave. The new decade has arrived and with it a new level of expectations for more dynamic leadership.

In a study from global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, “A Route to the Top” focuses on what constitutes the “right CEO for the right time,” by combining data analyses and interviews to “assemble a profile of what it takes to become a global CEO today,” as well as how the picture is changing in context of transformative economic and business shifts.

The report shares that the majority perception of what a CEO is expected to shoulder, includes the previous organizational management duties, in addition to inspiring, motivating and acting as a communicator in chief. With more public awareness and news-sharing, comes the expectation that there be more representation in CEO roles and that leadership is inclusive, sensitive and transparent, exuding confidence and versatility. CEOs are coming into their first appointments at an older age than previously surveyed, with more experience and areas of specialty (such as a CFO or COO role).

While Heidrick & Struggles acknowledges that “potential CEOs are expected to have led to-line growth and cut costs, like traditional CEOs, while also showing a proven ability to think and plan digitally about the business and to lead the transformative change required as expectations for delivering new products and services quickly ramp up,” there is a lack of information in this article about how CEOs can meet these  “radically different responsibilities” especially in the area of spearheading digital transformation.

A CEO must be able to drive digital transformation and understand the technology involved. Organizations’ primary focus should be developing a C-suite that can understand digital technologies, digital platforms and digital transformation. The ideal CEO operates with digital dexterity, nimbly navigating the ambition and ability to work digitally.

As I wrote about in a post about Digital CEO (link to digital CEO post), this type of executive can support this transition by rising to challenges around developing a shared motivation and vision; making faster and better decisions; re-orientating IT teams to partner closely on digital business outcomes; making digital part of behavior-driving metrics and goals, and overcoming aversion to risk or failure.

Sectors, such as hospitality, retail, logistics, transportation, healthcare and agriculture, and supply chain, consumer/retail/grocery shopping, pharmacies, automotive industry, media/entertainment and security that are under threat can especially benefit from chief decision-makers that are able and willing to lead integral digital initiatives. Their experience can help drive the industry forward. In the case of Kodak coined the “corporate bogeyman” by Harvard Business Review — Kodak was so comfortable and blinded by their “Kodak moment” success, that the organization completely missed the boat on digital disruption and investment in new capabilities, subsequently filing for bankruptcy in 2012 and emerging a much smaller, less influential corporation the following year.

CEOs must be many things, but by focusing on digital-first, the byproduct will be fostering key priorities across an organization that brings it successfully into a new decade. The world will only continue moving faster and faster, and those that have their head stuck in the proverbial legacy sand will lose the most.