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Here Are the Skills Tomorrow’s CEO Needs, According to PwC CEO Survey

Continuing our discussion earlier today about why there aren't more women at the upper levels of corporations and government, let's talk about the type of person that makes a great CEO. First, they have to want to be one. After that, though, we'll let PwC take that one. The following is early intelligence gleaned from the firm's 18th annual CEO survey, which will be officially "launched" at Davos next week.

They asked CEOs from around the globe "what capabilities tomorrow’s leaders will need to succeed in this evolving business environment," and these are the 7 skills the group most identified:

  • An ability to see around corners – a number of CEOs mentioned the need to identify trends early (avoiding temporary hype) and stay ahead of the fast-moving competitive landscape.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity – many said tomorrow’s  leaders need a constant readiness for changing business dynamics and an ability to work towards unclear goals and outcomes.
  • Agility in decision-making – being flexible-minded and a curious life-long learner who’s open to testing and measuring new ways of doing things was the message from many others.
  • Adaptability in execution – the most often-mentioned response was adaptability – the power to  drive near-constant renewal inside their organisation.
  • At ease with technology – CEOs told us that technology plays an important role –  both as an accelerator of change, and as the key tool at their disposal to remain agile, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to stay close to consumers and influencers.
  • Surrounded by a great team – CEOs must have talented staff in place to compete in the marketplace. The ability to attract great people was one aspect, but being able to cultivate a positive culture with a happy workforce, centred around trust with staff, was also key. One respondent felt that, “A CEO must always surround himself with people better than him.”

We know you guys are known for your number-crunching skills, in which case you may have noticed that was only 6 items.

The elusive seventh was "a bit of a surprise" to PwC: humility.

The CEOs naming this capability said it was important to maintain a modest opinion of your own importance and be open to listening and learning from all that’s happening in the global environment. And, of course, humility highlights the importance of CEOs knowing the limits of their own 'superpowers'.

Just for kicks, let's look at the results from the 10th Annual CEO Survey back in 2007 on the same question to see how much (or how little) things have changed in 8 years:

  • Possess vision – Exploiting the potential of ever-expanding markets and harnessing the power of technology and innovation requires vision. Global executives must possess the vision required to redefine their business models. They must also be able to inspire, motivate and empower their people to fulfill that vision.
  • Demonstrate agility – The successful global executive will be agile enough to react to rapidly changing business conditions and to collaborate in support of new business models.
  • Become global citizens – In the global marketplace, parochial or territorial thinking will not suffice. Global business leaders must embrace diversity, understand and be able to reconcile cultural differences, and contribute in meaningful ways to the communities in which they do business.
  • Show courage – Important at any time, courage is even more necessary in an environment defined by uncertainty and increased risk. The courageous business leader boldly embraces new opportunities, responds to new risks and takes on new responsibilities. Such a leader is prepared to make tough decisions to ensure that the needs of sometimes competing stakeholders are fairly and equitably met.

Mind you, this was right before the economy took a dump on all of them.

It would be interesting to hear from you all if you recognize any of these qualities in yourselves — even if you have absolutely no desire to become CEO one day — and if you need them in your own leaders. Talk amongst yourselves.