Softer CEOs are in demand

For decades, hard skills have dominated the CEO search. In the post-pandemic world, recruiters are digging for something softer, Fortune reported Nov. 16. 

The corner office once felt impenetrable to many employees. "CEO" conjures images of Steve Jobs-like leaders: admirable for their brilliance, but famously egotistical and unapproachable, according to the publication. 

When COVID-19 struck, workers began to ask questions that leaders could not answer. The mirage was shattered, and it became clear that CEOs did not have all — or even most — of the answers. Those who shined during the pandemic admitted what they did not know or where they might fall short, and had a knack for connecting people on a deeper level. 

As a result, more companies are prioritizing empathy, humility and self-awareness over administrative, financial and technical hard skills, talent leaders told Fortune. This is the case at the world's largest private equity firm Blackstone, according to Courtney della Cava, its global head of portfolio talent and organizational performance. 

"We're realizing that success and failure hinge primarily on these skills," Ms. della Cava told the publication. "The hard truth is, there is nothing soft about soft skills." 

There is recent research to back the trend; a study out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., examined "intellectual humility." Researchers found that people who recognize the limitations of their own beliefs can better differentiate between strong and weak arguments, scrutinize misinformation and make good decisions. They're also more likely to receive praise from employees: "Leaders who are higher in intellectual humility are also higher in emotional intelligence and receive higher satisfaction ratings from their followers," according to the report. 

A gentle, compassionate nature does not come easily to many go-getter CEO types, so more of them are hiring personal coaches to help foster soft skills, according to Fortune. One such coach told the publication that self-reflection has become a vital task.

"There's a hierarchy," said Dick Patton, a CEO expert at the search firm Russell Reynolds. "Many CEOs listen to win. As they become more comfortable and more successful leaders, they listen to fix. And the highest form is listening to learn." 


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