July 18, 2024

What makes a good C-Suite Leader?

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Globalization is evolving rapidly; so is technology. In today’s environment, sustaining peace, security and stability is demanding and complex. Recurring and emerging issues interconnect and require collaboration across the whole of society.

We must all increasingly think, connect and collaborate across boundaries and adapt to remain relevant in a landscape of multiple factors and challenges. Yet prevailing beliefs about leadership are siloed and often linked to distant authoritative roles or functions, causing many people to not see themselves as capable of leading. Consequently, we are experiencing a leadership deficit and a lack of trust in the traditional role of ‘the leader’.

Exactly what abilities are required in leaders – now and in the future?

Leadership is linked to cultural approaches to authority, an organization’s legacy, and growth possibilities. Understanding multicultural team has different views, will bring value and support strategic decision-making utilizing that diversity to boost innovation.

One strikingly consistent finding is that today technical and functional expertise matters less at the top, than business acumen and “soft” leadership skills do. Members of senior management now have more in common with their peers than with the people they manage. To thrive at the C-level, one must be a strong communicator, a collaborator, and a strategic thinker. They need a global mind-set and will be expected to offer deep insights on key business decisions.

C-suite, or C-level, is a widely used vernacular describing the upper echelons of a corporation’s senior executives and managers. They are deemed to be the most important and influential group of individuals within a company. Reaching this high echelon typically requires a plethora of experience and finely-honed leadership skills. While many C-level leaders formerly relied on functional know-how and technical skills to climb the lower rungs of the corporate ladder most have cultivated more visionary perspectives needed to make sound upper-management decisions.

In other words, the C-suite refers to a company’s top management positions, where the “C” stands for “chief.” Various chief officers (e.g., CEO, CIO, CFO, etc.) are the occupants of the C-suite. These individuals, while highly paid and influential managers, are still employees of the firm.

Once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals. Chief information officers need to know how to create business models; chief financial officers, how to develop risk management strategies; chief human resource officers, how to design a succession plan and a talent structure that will provide a competitive edge. A CEO would now count on a CIO, for instance, to weigh in on a discussion about expansion into a new market and how the firm’s systems could support that expansion. What would the challenges be?

What would be the long-term impact of the IT expenditures required to support the expansion? The CIO would be expected to provide answers to those questions.

So, what are the qualities of the ‘C-Suite Leaders’?  

From CEOs to CMOs, CIOs to CFOs, C-suite executives share some common leadership traits: the ability to inspire and align others around shared objectives, an agile mindset and a robust understanding of the overall business, to name a few. While these core qualities have withstood the test of time, it is also true that different times call for additional skills. Subsequently, what does effective leadership look like in current and future context? What more qualities should the C-suite embrace?

A strategic vision for the medium-long term, balancing prudence and practicality. The ideal C-suite elite is like a chess master, never simply making one move at a time, but plotting out different versions of the game within their heads. This ability is one of the main qualities that set them apart for others.

Being capable of motivating, inspiring and aligning the entire team behind a shared goal. Crucial to this, is emotional intelligence, which has two sides to it: first, the ability to recognize, understand and effectively manage one’s own emotional state; and second, the capacity to engage empathetically with others and appreciate their emotional states. Leaving this textbook definition aside, the maxim “People join companies; people leave bosses” perhaps best captures the essence.  

Solidarity, closeness, modesty, optimism and courage are values that have gained traction in society and in companies. Highlighting the need for humility and a willingness to listen to dissident voices, it’s also important to define humility as a concept since some mistake it for passivity or submissiveness, according to Edward D. Hess, a professor at UVA-Darden. “Rather, it’s the ability to tame one’s ego and connect with others creatively. This is the gateway to an open mind, partly because it allows you to process new information without reacting fearfully or defensively”. IESE Prof. Sebastian Reiche agrees: “Research supports the positive notion of humility, linking it to inquisitiveness and openness towards learning and being taught by others.”   

The C-Suite leaders should be resilient and capable of managing adversity, by focusing on the available resources and what’s possible. Alongside, armed with a good decision-making process and data that are appropriate for the question at hand. They should also be efficient and results-oriented since the business environment is increasingly competitive. 

Innovative behaviors are closely related to superiors’ leadership style because leaders are the ones who establish organizational goals, make decisions on adopting and applying new ways of doing jobs and motivate employees’ profound changes that were already afoot pre-pandemic are now accelerated by the crisis.

They must be able to work as part of a team and humanize the company. According to Prof. Reiche, “Successful leadership is the result of a collective and collaborative effort, so there is a little of ‘Batman’ in this concept. Batman didn’t have any supernatural powers like flight, laser vision or lightning-fast speed but he was smart enough to surround himself with others that did – and still hold his own. No leader alone can battle the crisis without the collective effort to physically distance, wear masks, take responsible decisions and seek collaborative efforts to develop treatments, save small businesses and adapt to virtual realities”.

Never the last, they must be transparent in communication and open-minded. Not only must corporate goals and values be clear, but they must also be conveyed, which is why C-suite leaders need to communicate clearly and empathetically and create forums for connection, not oneway channels. In this regard, IESE Prof. Yago de la Cierva says overcommunicating is far better than a lack of communication: “Silence never works. Don’t be afraid to say- ‘I don’t know’. Even if we think we’ve said everything we know, keep insisting. Transparency is the only element that works”.  

In short, C-Suite Leaders are the cornerstone of any business. They help the business to achieve goals and flourish, through their leadership and management. To thrive in the future, companies will need to focus on leadership by embracing future demands.

Article received on Mail from Omega Exim Limited

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