What Skills Do You Need for the C-Suite That You Didn’t Need Before? -Velma Deleveaux, PhD
Seeking a seat in the C-suite? As stakeholders rethink what they’re looking for from leaders in a post-pandemic world, your skills may need a tune-up.
An article by Gartner profiles the hard skills and soft skills most in demand for top executives, while commentary from HBR illuminates the non-traditional pathways that can lead to acquiring these skills. One truth is clear: the pandemic has brought in its wake an era of rapid digital transformation — and the need for executives who can lead with agility across an ever-shifting landscape.
Hard skills: embracing emerging technologies
Gartner TalentNeuron data show that C-suite executives are expected to have a bevy of technical skills in an “increasingly digitalized terrain awash in emerging technologies.” Leading the list is expertise in artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning techniques, and cybersecurity — skills essential to driving digital business strategies and automating processes for increased efficiencies.
Soft skills: engaging in social issues and growing a supportive culture
Gartner points to design thinking, adaptability, and strategic management as the most critical soft skills for executives on the new horizon. Equally important in my experience is a deep understanding of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and preparedness to address such ESG challenges as environmental justice, diversity, and systemic inequality.
Yet I maintain the most important soft skill continues to be the well-honed ability to communicate effectively, coupled with a keen understanding of workplace culture. My article “Culture Is the Uniform” speaks to the post-pandemic shift in mindset, as people are now less inclined to change themselves to fit into an organization’s culture — and more insistent on finding a culture that supports their personal needs. Executives will need to understand the criticality of creating an open and honoring work environment where employees can be who they really are.
Many pathways: experiencing multiple disciplines
HBR’s recent article on digital transformation cites that some of the most compelling executive candidates have experience in multiple disciplines, with career trajectories that are non-traditional and non-linear, and involve stints across varied industries and functions.
Some people know from the start how they want their career to unfold, and they follow a strict path; others, like me, are more eclectic and experimental. I’ve followed my passion for solving large problems that matter and built a cadre of leadership skills in a variety of venues, from government and technology to engineering, manufacturing, and higher education. In my current role leading my own executive advisory and management consultant company, this mixture of varied experiences has enhanced my value as a senior advisor — bringing a range of perspectives and solutions to those I serve.
The more relevant the skills and experiences you bring to the table, the better. Find your way off the beaten path. Develop a wide swath of capabilities that surpass the limitations of a linear career. Strive to stay on top of trends, and continuously adapt to the changes ahead. Seek out learning and rotational opportunities that will consciously enhance your hard and soft skills in the areas most critical to today’s leadership — and will continually ensure your value in a vibrant yet volatile world.
Velma Deleveaux, Ph.D. is an independent board director and strategic advisor to corporate executives, with distinct expertise in corporate growth strategy and business development.
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