Today CEOs are expected to serve as experts in a wide range of areas – by their investors, their boards, their employees and the public.
Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group, which advises global organisations, their boards, and leadership teams, looks at the many hats CEOs must wear in today’s environment.
“The CEO position is more complex than it ever has been, and CEOs must have a much broader and deeper skill set to tackle this complexity,” Stephen says.
“The incredibly fast paced and demanding market means that leaders must take on different roles to address the needs of multiple stakeholders – and that’s not easy.”
1. Strategic multi-tasker
The biggest challenge for CEOs in 2016 is being able to deliver on the company’s core business – where the earnings and cash come from – while also transforming the business to be relevant in the future. So while CEOs must maintain the core base of their revenues, they have to adapt to whatever the macro factor is that is affecting their business, including changing customer preferences, technology shifts, disintermediation, and more.
We have entered a world in which even the best and the brightest cannot predict the biggest things happening around us: crude oil dropping below $40, the Arab Spring, currency fluctuations, what Russia and China will do next. Even if CEOs cannot predict events and trends, the market still demands that they react immediately and opportunistically in the face of incredibly complex and surprising events – and to be prepared before they happen.
3. Tech CEO
Tech pundits have been saying for at least the last 10 years that every company is a technology company – and this is now becoming a reality. Every CEO is now a ‘tech CEO,’ or at least must act like one. Whatever sector you’re in, technology is the future of your business.
4. Growth hacker
Since 2008, we have been trying to respond to the world in crisis by focusing on taking out cost. But where is the growth? It’s still elusive. We have trained a huge cohort of people since 2008 to be bottom-line cost-out executives and this is the playbook everyone is still using. But what the market is now demanding is growth, which is a different skill set. Many companies are still void of high performing growth-oriented executives, and the CEO must help create a whole new growth agenda for his or her company.
5. Activist investor handler
Activist investors are redefining the landscape and what it means to be a CEO and a board member. They are very smart, well read, and usually have a good perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing a company. CEOs must figure out how to best engage with them, as well as when to hold their ground on what is truly unreasonable.
6. Inspiring storyteller
In a world full of data, nothing speaks to people – even investors looking at your hard numbers – more powerfully than a story. A leader who brings along stakeholders on the company’s journey is able to help define how the ‘audience’ is reading the data.
Developing a compelling strategic narrative becomes the bridge from today’s reality to tomorrow’s opportunities.
7. Inclusive leadership
We now have four very different generations in the workforce, and each is distinctive in terms of how they want to be led and what they value in a leader. CEOs and their leadership teams need to be good at developing and leading high performing and inclusive teams.
8. Crisis manager
As a CEO, you are going to be constantly stress-tested by events inside and outside your company, and how you respond to that stress will define you as a leader. It is important for a leader to understand their response to a stress event so they can define their leadership in a strong and powerful way rather than being run out of the company.
9. Information seeker
The days of being a high performing company that is focused internally are gone, as are the days of being led by a CEO who stays too inwardly focused. The world demands a CEO who is always looking outside and bringing new insight and ideas back into the company – and challenging everything the company is doing every day.
10. Board engager
The days of six easy board meetings per year are gone. Directors are working harder than ever and the issues facing companies and boards have gotten more much complex. So the CEO must develop a meaningful relationship with his or her directors and develop a trusting and transparent dialogue. The number one way a CEO gets fired is by losing control of his or her agenda, and the boardroom is typically where this happens. CEOs must be prepared for this and engage with the board at a much deeper level in this new era of board governance.