Redefining the CEO

As we have often written, soft skills have become as important as technical skills. This has become especially true in the C-suite. CEOs are no longer able to operate as the smartest or most powerful person in the room. The idea of, “I’m the boss, do as I say,” is outdated. Today’s CEOs are operating in an environment of heightened sensitivity, increased scrutiny, and faster decision making. Today’s business landscape is redefining the CEO.

There’s no doubt that CEOs and CEO candidates are highly accomplished leaders. They have run entire divisions successfully. They have demonstrated that they are capable of handling more responsibilities, and they are eager to take the next step in their careers. What they don’t realize is that moving into the CEO role is a complete career change according to a recent Korn Ferry piece.

In it they describe their Chief Executive Institute, where they work with soon to be appointed CEOs on their deficits around self awareness and reflection that will be required to achieve success at the next level. “Each executive engages in deep inquiry into themselves, their impact on others, how much time they spend thinking about strategy, or how the company is developing the next generation of leaders. There isn’t a lot of room on their schedules. They begin to see how transformative the CEO job is, and it makes some of these normally high-powered executives really anxious. “That’s when people are starting to see how different things are,” Kevin Cashman, global leader of CEO and executive development at Korn Ferry says. “That urgency or anxiety needs to be converted to ‘What am I going to do new and differently?’”

According to the article, “The toughest new skill, leadership experts say, may be developing a relationship with the board of directors. Before they became CEOs, most senior executives will have given presentations to directors. But they never worked with them as a team, says Cashman. It isn’t easy, since the people on the board are usually strong, independent leaders themselves. “You have to appreciate the nuances of each of them, help them coalesce around core issues; be responsive and sensitive to their issues, and help create an environment that’s inclusive and leads to good outcomes,” Dona Young, the former CEO of Phoenix Companies says. The board will challenge a CEO, and the CEO cannot be defensive about it.”

The article highlights the importance of soft skills, not just with your team of direct reports, but with your board. As noted, they are far more likely to challenge your ideas and thinking about the business. How you handle the anxiety and pressure of these situations will go a long way in determining your ability to handle the CEO role.

Another important point is finding a confidant. Whether you decide to hire an executive coach, connect with peers at other companies, or stay connected to executives you’ve worked with previously, it’s critical you have an outlet where you can speak freely, without judgement, and have a high degree of trust. Being in the CEO’s seat can feel lonely at times, a confidant reminds you that you’re not alone.

If you’re considering CEO training and better preparing your executive team for today’s leadership requirements, send us a note. Through our partner, Hogan Assessments, as well as our own proprietary process, Sheer Velocity can help you manage the challenges you’ll face in taking your company to higher levels of success.