Once you get into the C-Suite, leadership skills will not only be important but essential. However, what would have made a good leader twenty years ago isn’t necessarily what makes a good leader today.
An illuminating way in which the pandemic has highlighted the skills leaders today need is in how female world leaders are outperforming male leaders in this crisis.
This gender gap shows that some of the things that women leaders tend to be better at are considered more important nowadays. We’ll discuss what these are later in the article.
Along with the reasons behind the gender gap, we’ve put together insights we’ve gathered from business leaders and identified the 4 most important that C-level leaders need today.
Read on for what skills leaders - regardless of gender - should develop to lead their organizations to success.
The pandemic has shown how the kind of leadership we value has changed
The COVID-19 crisis has shaken up preconceived ideas of how we do business. This is especially striking in the changed traits that we now most value in our leaders.
When the pandemic first started, quite a lot of media attention focused on how female-led countries have fared better. This is supported by researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of Reading who found that the pandemic outcomes were systematically better in women-led countries.
To find out whether this trend of women leaders outperforming men is also observed at the workplace, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman conducted organizational research which revealed that women were seen as more effective leaders than men during the pandemic. This indicates that women perform better in a crisis.
Respondents to Zenger and Folkman’s survey placed more importance on interpersonal skills including “communicates powerfully,” “inspires and motivates,” “relationship building” and “collaboration/teamwork”. Women leaders were rated higher on all of these soft skills.
This shows that as we begin to emerge out of this pandemic, we are looking for more than traditional leadership strengths. Instead of simply being told what to do and looking up to the hierarchical, command and control structures of the past, people today look to be motivated and inspired. The very best leaders are able to motivate and engage their employees through exceptional communication skills and empathetic leadership.
Leaders from all organizations - regardless of gender - need to take the learnings from this crisis and better meet their people’s needs.
What are the top skills for C-level executives?
When we ask C-suite leaders what are the most important attributes that C-level executives need, our respondents often list the pandemic as one of the key reasons behind their choices.
Read on for what business leaders say are the top 4 leadership skills that C-suite executives need post-2020.
Top Skill #1. Inspire and motivate others
Zenger and Folkman’s research shows that people regard the ability to inspire and motivate others to be a particularly important trait for effective leaders.
Peter Hannaford, founder and senior partner at Portman Partners, believes that “the CEO should have the ability to communicate a vision to inspire, motivate and lead others to contribute to the organization's success.
“Great CEOs are admired and respected by their people who are inspired to follow their example,” Hannaford says. “They are followed by people because they want to, not because they have to.”
Top Skill #2. Demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence
Respondents to Zenger and Folkman’s survey share that they value a leader who can be sensitive and understanding of the stress, anxiety and frustration that people are feeling. In short, they value empathetic leadership, which can be developed through emotional intelligence training.
Zarina Bahadur, CEO & Founder of 123 Baby Box says, “Emotional intelligence or EQ is the capacity to manage your own emotions and those around you. Empathy, relationship management, and social awareness are key features of emotional intelligence. Developing emotional intelligence requires being open to constructive criticism and being self-aware.”
Moreover, marketing consultant Bethan Vincent observes that good leaders need to be able to empathize with people from different backgrounds. Vincent says, “Gone are the days when a leader could sit issuing commands from an ivory tower without fear of being questioned. Leaders now have to be able to understand multiple points of view and experiences, alongside having the ability to influence stakeholders from a diverse range of backgrounds.”
To ensure you have the skills to build a culture of inclusion and equity in your organization, explore the diversity and inclusion training courses listed on our site.
Top Skill #3. Communicate powerfully
Unsurprisingly, exceptional communication skills is one of the vital skills that business leaders across a range of industries believe C-suite executives need.
Justin Nabity, CEO at Physicians Thrive, suggests adopting an open communication approach. Nabity says, “It’s important that the communication done with your employees or coworkers should be constructive and the information shared during that communication should be accurate and relevant.”
“Having open communication will help the employee feel that he is a part of the company,” Nabity continues. “Engage with your employees especially when they are online and make sure they understand what the company's objectives are and what they have to achieve. When these points are communicated with them clearly they will feel valued and included.”
James Lloyd-Townshend, CEO and Chairman of Frank Recruitment Group, also emphasizes the importance of strong communication skills during this period in history. “During these past months, we’ve all seen the negative effects poor communication can have on organizations in times of crisis,” Townshend says. “If you want to inspire trust and resilience amongst your workforce, knowing how to communicate with your teams is just as crucial as knowing what to communicate.”
Top Skill #4. Being adaptable and resilient
Given the uncharted waters that most companies found themselves in over the past 2 years, it’s unsurprising that our respondents say that adaptability and resilience are particularly important qualities that C-leaders need.
According to an EY report, “companies that are positioned to sense change and adapt to it quickly – or, even better, proactively – are the most likely not only to survive, but to thrive in the face of disruption.” Ford Motor Company is cited by EY as a successful example as the company managed to transform its plants to produce PPEs almost overnight.
Christen Costa, CEO of Gadget Review, says that we all have to learn the need to be flexible. “COVID should have taught everyone the need for adaptability, especially as a CEO or other C-suite exec,” Costa says. “Adaptability, to me, is the ability to think on your feet and react to big changes for the good of your company.”
Furthermore, Rita Kakati-Shah, CEO of Uma, says that “resilience is the ability for leaders to maintain focus, stay calm and react quickly under pressure to sustain their companies’ goals, through turbulent times. An example is being able to pivot quickly and redirect company goals during the pandemic.”
Final thoughts: The best leaders respond to changes and inspire people to action amidst uncertainty
Good leaders need to be alert to the changing and complex nature of our world and respond accordingly. The most successful leaders are the ones that can inspire people to action in the face of uncertainty.
I’ll leave the last word to Christine McGuire, Director of Consulting at Talent Plus, who says, “If this last year has taught us anything, it’s the resiliency and positive attitude a leader has to have in order to be successful. In order to inspire, be convincing and move people to action you have to have a positive, optimistic outlook; one that approaches people and problems with a ‘can do’ attitude that there is nothing we can’t do or fix together.”