By the time an executive reaches the top job, they are likely to have had several years of experience in executive roles. They have been sharpening their skills for the CEO role. However, very few can transition to the top without facing unexpected challenges. For all the experience and planning, they won’t have CEO experience. Which means, as CEOs have told Korn Ferry, that role is different to any other.

A CEO stands at the intersection of 2 challenging stakeholder groups. There is the executive team, sectors of the business, and people who make up the enterprise. And then there are customers, the board, investors, stakeholders, and the media.

New CEOs and those in the pipeline for the role must quickly learn what it means to reside in this high-performance juncture between internal and external stakeholders. Scrutiny begins even before a new CEO takes the reins, and the need to ramp up quickly is critical.

Leadership development tools for CEOs

Many CEOs seek out coaches or mentors, or speak to people with experience who they trust. They might also participate in formal leadership and development programs designed specifically for CEOs. For example, Korn Ferry’s Chief Executive Institute offers new CEOs or CEO succession candidates a transformative experience. It better prepares them for the top job.

Specific skills they require:

  • Developing the self-awareness and the skills necessary to manage the personal accountability that accompanies serving as the CEO.
  • Creating a personal legacy of leadership that helps to ensure the enterprise’s long-term viability. Delivering enterprise-wide leadership that will move the entire organisation toward common goals.
  • Developing the skills to manage the expectations of external constituencies, such as market analysts, shareholders, institutional investors, the media, the board, and customers, within the context of the organisation’s objectives.

Leadership development is the CEO’s most effective tool to accelerate an ambitious strategic agenda. So, developing leaders from within is essential for driving change in this complex and highly competitive global environment. CEOs interviewed by Korn Ferry noted that while technical excellence and specialist experience are important attributes for a C-suite role, hiring predominantly on these parameters is a risky proposition.

10 attributes CEOs look for in their executives

  1. Cultural fit within the organisation and the leadership team
  2. Possessing both sector and function experience
  3. Learning from a challenging or failed experience
  4. Adaptable to change – agility
  5. Ability to build relationships and a track record of establishing trust
  6. Understanding that how something is done is as important as why or what is done
  7. Being accountable for their decisions
  8. Ability to work for the betterment of the team, rather than just their area
  9. Respect for different views and ways of working
  10. Resilience, resilience, resilience.

Reaching the holy grail of a business career is not for the faint-hearted, as pathways to the top are ever changing. The skills and experience that equip a talented manager for the C-suite can quickly become obsolete, and so leadership development and workforce planning are essential components to managing people risk. The best way to ensure there are sustainable pathways and roles for talented executives is by supporting and developing the top team.