Persistent inflation, a nascent recession and even trickle-down damage from FTX’s collapse are serving as stress tests for the C-Suite, exposing leaders’ skills for better or worse. As boards decide whether to retrench or approve major new growth initiatives, they’re also deciding whether current executives are capable of navigating either path.
Since technology and recent events keep the world spinning at ever-faster revolutions, the acumen of yesterday may not be enough for tomorrow. Here are the critical skills that will measure success in 2023 and beyond:
• Stakeholder management
There was a day when executives could largely confine their stakeholders to investors, employees and the board. No more. Shareholders are demanding diversity and green initiatives, as well as profits. Communities and local governments are pressuring companies in all kinds of values-driven ways. Employees seek better work-life balance—with the threat of a talent drain if companies come up short.
Simply building a great product isn’t enough. The best of companies can be sabotaged by a cyberattack, a social media faux pas or even an undeserved assault on their reputations.
This leaves today’s leaders addressing an ever-widening target audience, each of which speaks a different language. Bringing all aboard requires lateral thinking, superb communication skills and often selling your vision to competing constituencies.
If you see your current leaders don’t have the intellectual capacity to juggle all these balls at once, it’s time to consider a change at the top. And if you’re considering new C-Suite candidates who appear to lack the multitasking skills needed to address ESG, cybersecurity, social media crises, along with other modern-day mission critical issues, keep looking.
• Managing regulators
Regulation was once the burden of industries like banking or oil. Now it touches every sector of the economy. Look no further than the FTC’s $100 million settlement with Vonage or its security and privacy warnings to Twitter.
No matter what your company is selling, you have to prove it’s safe, that labels or websites are accurate, that advertising hasn’t overreached actual services. And you’ll need data at a moment’s notice to prove it.
This requires someone skilled in managing regulators. They need insider knowledge of labyrinthine government agencies, as well as established relationships and the kind of rapport that allows your company to see what’s coming—and provide that data before anyone asks. Litigation and reviews are expensive. If no one’s excelling in this role, you’re vulnerable to costly surprises.
To bolster defenses, at least one of your top executives should have regulatory experience. Boards should consider hiring directly from agencies or poach talent from competitors. Companies should also support robust mentoring programs that can build expertise from within.
• Getting back to the office
Over the past few months, I’ve heard a clarion call for a return to the office. If you’re trying to team-build and create a unifying culture, executives are finding that Zoom won’t cut it. Information is coming in faster bursts. It doesn’t wait for a video conference in Microsoft Teams or Slack.
As the economy tightens, restoring the equilibrium between management and employee, now is the time to ask whether you can afford those who can’t commit to a daily commute. When leaders are unavailable for impromptu strategy sessions or the sharing of ideas, you’re not nearly as nimble as you need to be. Encourage a return-to-office policy starting at the top.
• Selling the board
CEOs must be able to sell their visions to their boards. Economic uncertainty brings the greater need to be on the same page.
High-performing executives know this relationship can’t be left to formal meetings. They should be continually reaching out informally, allowing parties to come together on issues and concerns.
After all, board members are now being held to the same scrutiny as executives. The good ones aren’t waiting for the board package to arrive. They’re actively discovering on their own. Both sides have the motive to communicate like never before. The smart CEO will take the initiative.
How to find these traits
Mass layoffs at Amazon, Twitter and Meta means thousands of highly skilled people are now on the market. We may be looking at the richest talent pool since the outbreak of Covid. Here are a few tips for finding the skills you need:
• Tech company attrition should be your gain. These employees are action oriented, used to breaking new ground. Where some of your current executives may be averse to sticking their necks out, tech veterans see risk and inventiveness as essential tools of success.
• Use interviews to test how applicants think on their feet. Take a page from Google, where they’re asked to solve problems that the company’s spent a decade trying to master. Some actually do it. The technique can be applied to any position to separate the innovators from those who rely on the rote. At the same time, CEOs and boards will receive a bounty of insight and ideas.
Upheaval brings out the best in many people and provides an opportunity to pivot to new ways of doing business. Take this period to reassess what’s needed in your leaders for 2023 and beyond.