You’re an accomplished senior-level professional, well-connected, in the hunt for your ideal CEO job. You’ve crunched the numbers and you’re the ideal candidate. Time to crack open the Champagne.
Well before you take a victory lap, if you want that dream CEO job, you also need to be a good communicator. Relatable. Someone who connects on a personal level with most everyone within an organization; from the security guard at the front desk to middle managers to VPs and Board members.
At least that is the findings of the editors at Harvard Business Review, which mid-way through the pandemic, studied company succession planning and identified key traits that hiring companies should weigh when considering candidates for a CEO job.
After analyzing nearly 5,000 CEO job descriptions, turns out that companies need candidates with strong social skills, often referred to as “soft skills,” for their top leadership position as much as traditional industry experience, expertise and financial acumen.
Today’s CEOs, they contend, face more public scrutiny than ever before, and with social media instantaneously disseminating information, one ill-advised step could go viral within minutes or hours. So a premium should be placed on good communicators with a high level of self-awareness, empathy and the ability to listen.
These important characteristic also apply to other C-Suite positions like the chief financial officer, chief operations officer, the chief information officer, the chief marketing officer and head of human resources. Hiring managers and executive recruiters will look for volunteer experience with nonprofits, heart-felt recommendations, and published personal essays to validate the “good guy” status for those seeking a CEO job.
Presumably, you’re already an accomplished communicator if you’re up for a CEO job, but your mettle may be further tested by placing you in social situations or be asked to give a presentation as part of the hiring process.
So why has this come about? How have soft skills become as valuable as hard ones?
The Harvard team points to the growing size and complexity of today’s companies, which may be multinational organizations involved with mergers and acquisitions and require a deft touch. Disparate groups of professionals may also convene to problem solve or to work on an issue, so to have a CEO who immediately cultivates relationships across departments, or even states or countries, and is able to seamlessly navigate varying stakeholders, proves to be exceptionally valuable in most cases.
Additionally, the Harvard group notes that ubiquitous information technologies and platforms that have automated many of our business processes – think Amazon Business Services, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google, Workday, Slack – creating something of homogenous workforce that requires creative, ethical and expressive leadership. These leaders will be spending more time relating to their increasingly diverse workforce, evaluating successes and failures, modeling new products and services, addressing external and regulatory factors that impact business and other issues where soft skills are at the forefront.
If you feel like you need to work on a few skills before throwing your hat in the ring for a coveted CEO job, contact a career coach or one of the Forbes.jobs recruiters on this website and prepare to lead one of America’s great companies.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki