Today, anyone with some academic qualifications, ambition, industry knowledge, work experience, and in some cases, the right networks, can easily catch the eye of a board to be appointed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or to any senior executive positive in an organisation.
This practice is even common when you rise through the ranks of the organisation with such an enviable performance track record.
However, being appointed to any C-level executive position with your previous track record (job related performance or industry expertise), is just not enough for you to succeed as the best CEO or manager in any modern organisation and become a sought- after -strategic leader like the Jack Welch of GE, or David Novak of YUM! Brand.
In my 22 years of strategic leadership and entrepreneurship coaching/consulting, any manager or leader in today’s fast-paced and disruptive competitive world, largely driven by technology and innovation, needs more than just industry knowledge and job-related expertise to become effective and lead people to achieve bigger goals for stakeholders.
Before going into the different characteristics that the modern top-level strategic C-level CEOs possess, let us contextualise leadership. What is leadership in the first place?
A review of the literature about the definition of leadership will result in many different types and forms. But I consider leadership as one’s ability to create a mental future state (vision) with the capacity to inspire, influence and work with others to achieve that vision and even surpass it when the leader is no longer around.
In that context, leadership, rather than being seen as something we do to others, becomes a relationship between the leader and the led. The goal of every strategic leader, then, should be to strengthen this relationship by developing the skill to continuously reframe situations for the benefit of the led and not the leader.
So, what are these core characteristics? I will summarise them into four must- have traits if you are to be a modern strategic leader.
Create people first culture. A leader must develop a conscious effort to seek first to know very well, the people they lead and strive to serve them to the best of their ability, instead of choosing first to focus on the company’s desire to accumulate profits, property or merely surpassing targets.
Leaders at all levels must first seek to know and understand the unique circumstances and personalities of their employees before seeking to be understood by the led.
Successful modern businesses are run by leaders who think people first, all other things remaining constant, because it takes selfless individuals to go the extra mile to save the organisation’s property and assets from losing value or even the entire company from collapsing.
Employees are your foot soldiers; they are your apostles and if you take care of them and show honest interest in their holistic wellbeing, they will go beyond where you want them to be. They will be creative and give you accurate and artless feedback from the field for you to lay the right strategies for the organisation.
The second important aspect is to seek and build Intellectual competency at all levels of the organisation. The single biggest thing that separates a great strategic leader from a good one is being a continuous learner.
A leader with the greatest appetite for knowledge and tenacious curiosity to, not only understand what is going on in the industry, but takes steps to acquire the needed skills in the latest technology and competence in the chosen industry, is bound to inspire and energize others to do same and invariably accomplish great results for the organisation.
The humility to prioritise knowledge and ideas over ego, position and hierarchy trappings, is the leader’s most important skill needed to lead as a strategic leader. Any leader without this kind of competence, to embrace good ideas wherever they can find them or promote the free sharing of ideas within the organisation is just masquerading as a leader.
The third trait is to develop social competency or emotional intelligence.
When leaders lack the capacity to do proper self-evaluation of their own inner drives, situation and people, they become incapable of managing and directing their emotions appropriately to respond to what is going on beneath the surface of people’s lives, hence the worst happens.
Leadership is about reciprocity which involves both the leader and the led in a complex but fragile series of relationships that require constant re-creation, nurturing and maintenance. Social intelligence and emotional intelligence in leadership context rest on the fact that effective leadership depends upon the full self-knowledge of the leaders’ own internal drives.
Thus, when leading others, it pays to know your true self, and to see the led as individual human beings with varied assumptions and expectations. That way, as a leader, you are able to manage your own internal conflicts and not allow your feelings to affect your judgement and how you relate with the members of your team and help them through tough times without appearing as a reactionary leader.
Lastly, a leader must have technological competency. Whether your background as a leader is sociology, history, economics or legal, leading a small, medium or large organisation in today’s environment requires no argument about the fact that technology has disrupted the way things are done and at least being technically proficient as a leader is no longer an option.
Any technology shy leader belongs to another century and not this one we live in.
Being technologically awake does not mean a leader must become an IT specialist, however, being minimally technically capable can help enable you to ask relevant technology related questions and thus make the right strategic decisions.
Mr Dei-Tumi, is the Chief Copywriter/ President for Human Capital International.