Critical Competencies CEOs Need to Navigate Changing Markets

Photo credit: iStockphoto/RobertBreitpaul

A good leader is important for any company to achieve success and respond to changes. With the global economy weakened by the pandemic, companies are in need of good leaders across all levels of the business to manage a crisis. But the question is, how do they determine a good leader? 

Some professionals, or even human resources managers, may consider that having an outstanding academic background makes a good leader. Admittedly, an outstanding academic background is a testimony to an individual’s overall capabilities, but does this necessarily translate into becoming a good business leader?

A recent analysis published by Forbes suggests a different view — academic achievement is not a prerequisite for becoming a C-level executive. A majority of Fortune 100 company CEOs (89%) who obtained an undergraduate degree graduated from non-Ivy League schools. Only 11% attended an Ivy League School, and some, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Dell’s Michael Dell did not complete college.

Not all their first degrees were directly relevant to their company’s industry. Nike’s Mark Parker, and Target’s Brian Cornell, both studied psychology, while Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan both have degrees in history. Whilst these degrees are not directly linked to the fields of footwear, merchandise retailing or banking, they equip prospective business leaders with employer-valued transferable skills.

In reality, education is one way to get a head start in the career path of a high-level corporate role. Prospective CEOs must spend the time to identify and cultivate their unique capabilities. This is particularly critical to the current society, with crisis management, business transformation, and political unsettlement happening on a local to global scale.

Competencies that help CEOs succeed

Based on our extensive experience working with C-level executives of local, regional and global corporations, there are critical competencies that leaders often equip themselves with, especially when faced with great challenges: Strategic vision, aligns execution, be persuasive, adapt to the situation, and navigate networks. We have seen many organizations led by CEOs with these key competencies achieve successful business outcomes.

Great CEOs intertwine competency with business strategy to achieve solid results. To rejuvenate a traditional coffee business that was starting to lose its market competitiveness, the CEO of a reputable coffee brand, for example, led their team to successfully reshape the public view of their product by adding emotional value to the brand’s trademark. The CEO was able to anticipate future trends and implications accurately, successfully deciding to change the company to a provider of consumer experiences beyond just the product. By breaking down objectives into actions, staging activities with relevant milestones and adjusting contingency plans, the CEO effectively drove the implementation of new business models, sourcing models and product designs. Through creativity and shifting brand positioning, the CEO led the business out of a difficult situation to expand its market share and become a leader in its sector.

Aside from driving internal transformation efforts, CEOs must be sensitive to the macro-environment and recognize opportunities for growth. Many traditional logistics companies, for instance, are expanding their service offerings to tap into e-commerce and beyond. The CEO of a respected express delivery company capitalized on the trend, investing a tremendous amount of resources into elevating the company’s capabilities and helping to expand aggressively to global markets. The CEO also demonstrated the ability to drive sustainable growth in an ambiguous business environment by leading the industry through different stages of business model transformation. This allowed the company to win the trust of its customers and eventually diversify to become a general logistics solution provider. Because the CEO could adapt accuracy, efficiency, reliability, and safety into the company’s service, the company now holds dominant market share and provides offerings worldwide.

CEOs need to be prepared to face the challenges of radical disruption

The world is currently facing an urgent need to adapt to rising global challenges. Disruption caused by public health, political, social, economic and technological factors is here to stay, and constant evolution is the only way that businesses can stay relevant in the increasingly competitive climate. Having basic leadership skills and a degree to prove your ability does not cut it. Academic skills may be outstanding on paper, but a proven track record of problem solving with successful business outcomes truly shows a CEO’s worth. Only when equipped with the skills needed to succeed in disruptive times, will leaders be future-ready and able to tackle mission-critical challenges.

Korn Ferry Hong Kong’s office managing director, Jimmy Ho, and senior client partner, T.T. Ho, wrote this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/RobertBreitpaul