Demand rockets for CEOs with excellent people skills

A sea change is unfolding in executive recruitment, where strengths sought from CEOs include new and often "softer" skills with less reliance on the traditional indicators of managerial potential.

An analysis published in Harvard Business Review explored the change by examining nearly 5,000 senior executive job descriptions from an executive search firm from 2000 to 2017.

"Our study yielded a variety of insights. Chief among them is this: Over the past two decades, companies have significantly redefined the roles of C-suite executives," the authors wrote. Management of financial and operational resources remain highly relevant. "But when companies today search for top leaders, especially new CEOs, they attribute less importance to those capabilities than they used to and instead prioritize one qualification above all others: strong social skills." 

Social skills include a high level of self-awareness, the ability to listen and communicate well, aptitude in working with different types of people and groups, and "theory of mind" — the capacity to infer how others are thinking and feeling. The authors found the shift in recent years toward prioritizing these capabilities was most significant for CEOs, but also pronounced for CFOs, CIOs, chief human resources officers and chief marketing officers. 

Two drivers for the growing demand on "soft skills" are firm size and complexity — with larger and more complex organizations needing leaders to effectively orchestrate internal communication — and reliance on information processing technology increasing the need for leaders with especially strong social skills. 

Companies still have a long way to go in acting on the value placed on excellent people skills in the C-suite. They have made little progress in creating processes that evaluate a senior executive candidate's social skills and aptitude for further growth. 

"In their executive development programs, companies today need a systematic approach to building and evaluating social skills," the authors wrote. "They may even need to prioritize them over the 'hard' skills that managers presently favor because they're so easy to assess."

Read the article in full here

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