We are in a period of immense change. New waves of technology are being introduced to speed up and modernise processes in our workplaces, whilst growing consumer demand for purpose-led brands has driven companies to reconsider their corporate strategies to gain a competitive advantage.
But what skills will CEOs need to lead their organisations into this increasingly digital world, and how can we develop them now to ensure that we’re choosing the right path?
Here are what I think will be the top traits and competencies of the successful CEOs of the future, plus some tips on how to improve them now to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.
Given the rapid digitisation of work, digital literacy now goes beyond turning on devices and using technology to communicate. In fact, if the basics are what we need to be able to navigate everyday life and do a job competently, understanding the potential of next-level technology trends like AI and the metaverse are what we need to really excel in the workplace.
You don’t need to be a tech expert, but grasping the potential of technological change, and understanding how it will impact your work and life, are key skills for the CEO of the future. Those who can keep abreast of what is new and are open to implementing digital literacy training in their workplaces will see the benefits, including improved productivity and performance. Acting now to prioritise digital literacy and create a culture of lifelong learning will put your organisation in a great position to face the rapid transformation coming our way.
For years, the demand for people with good interpersonal and communication skills has been on the rise. Research by Harvard University found that, over a 30-year period, jobs requiring a high level of social interaction grew by 12 percentage points, whilst the number of less sociable jobs shrank. Being a good communicator as a CEO is key to clearly and precisely explaining decisions on behalf of the company, and in the age of remote work and new digital communication tools, it’s imperative we don’t let our communication skills slide.
It’s important to recognise that we don’t all communicate in the same way. If you can identify your style and those of your peers, you’ll be better placed to tailor what you say to your audience. Active listening is also a huge part of good communication. Improving this skill requires you to filter out conversational distractions and focus on the speaker. This way, you’re engaging with what’s actually being said, rather than the conversation you think you’re having.
New information appears every day, and with the rise in fake news and social media filtered lives, not all of it is what it seems. Taking an active, independent approach to analysing the validity of the information we’re consuming, and how our biases influence us, enables better-informed decision-making. For this reason, I think critical thinking is one of the most vital soft skills to cultivate for future success.
Whether it’s decisions about new contracts, teams, or office locations, critical thinking will help you figure out the right path for your organisation. It isn’t about making the quickest or easiest choice, but the right one for that specific situation or issue. Being curious and questioning the origins of data can also help improve your ability to think critically. Avoid taking everything at face value and remember that critical thinking is about being objective, not negative.
A good leader is a bit like being a sports coach. You select strong players who perform different roles and shape them into one cohesive team, united behind a shared goal. Each person will bring their own unique skills and experiences, be motivated by different things, and have different working styles. Strong leaders embrace this, ensuring their people understand how their role and competencies contribute to the company’s vision, as well as giving them the autonomy to act on this along the way.
Being a good leader draws on the ability to communicate, build teams, and think strategically. However, a key part of leadership is encouraging people to be the best they can be. As part of this, CEOs should look for potential, rather than simply judge performance, and let people know that failure isn’t always a bad outcome. This is all part of inspiring people to take risks, step outside their comfort zone and test new ideas – actions that will be cornerstones of the new digital world.
We end on an especially important – though not immediately obvious – quality to develop: humility. It’s a trait that garners trust and respect from those around you because, at its heart, it’s the belief that none of us knows everything.
Humble people aren’t under the illusion that they’re the smartest person in the room. In fact, they’re the ones who are asking for feedback, listening to others, and ensuring that teams are built around the strengths and weaknesses of all their members. As a CEO, you should never be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’. Rather, you should be honest about your shortcomings and use these moments as opportunities to learn from others, whether that’s through reverse mentoring or your own research.
If we’re to surf the wave of transformation, we must be open to learning and ready to embrace the changes ahead. The most successful CEOs in the workplace of the future will be those who can develop skill sets and create cultures that relate to how we think, work, and connect with those around us. Whatever the industry, a CEO who can use their knowledge to inspire and lead a team through uncertainty will always be highly in-demand, whether that’s now or in the future.
About the author: Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling business author, world-renowned futurist, keynote speaker, CEO, and strategic advisor to many of the world’s best-known organisations on digital transformation strategies, technology trends, and business performance. He is ranked as one of the Top 5 Business Influencers in the World by LinkedIn. His new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World is out now (Wiley, £18.99).
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