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Leading Off
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Mightily empowered, relentlessly scrutinized, and often ineffably lonely, the chief executive’s role is the only one within a company that is without peer. Many consider the CEO’s job so specialized that the only way for an executive to prepare for it is to do it. Many fail. Just three in five newly appointed CEOs live up to performance expectations in their first 18 months on the job. During the pandemic, many top bosses toughed it out, leading their companies to successfully adapt to the dramatic changes brought on by the crisis. But it’s not over. Their next challenge is only now taking shape. Top leaders face a very different postpandemic next normal—one that will require them to rethink not only how they operate but even why their organizations exist. This week, let’s help set high-level priorities for the C-suite and explore the skills and traits that can guide the chief through a very different future.
The organization of the future won’t resemble the one that existed in 2019
The pandemic has both revealed and accelerated a number of trends that will play a substantial role in the shape of the future global economy. McKinsey’s conversations with global executives identify five priorities for today’s CEOs. For example, operating in an environmentally sustainable way has become as fundamental to doing business as compiling a balance sheet. The critical role of developing talent will require a more flexible, less hierarchical, and more diverse workplace. Skill building will have to incorporate fluency in leading technologies such as cloud computing. Finally, CEOs face the challenge of squaring the circle of organizations that move at substantially greater speed while delivering meaning and purpose to a restless workforce.
“People are looking to me for a different kind of leadership.”
So says David Schwimmer, CEO of London Stock Exchange Group. He’s not alone. The pandemic’s humanitarian and economic shocks abruptly reset many CEOs’ personal operating priorities, from serving as sources of strategic insight to reaching out as ministers of morale building. In “The CEO moment: Leadership for a new era,” global leaders chronicle the changes they underwent as the pandemic took hold and explore the key traits that they consider central to recovery and resilience in the next normal.
That’s the number of CEOs included in a database compiled by McKinsey partners Carolyn Dewar and Scott Keller to examine the traits that make effective chief executives. There’s no shortage of interesting data points on CEOs—for example, they spend 72 percent of their time in meetings, and 75 percent of their time is scheduled in advance. But such measurements are not particularly instructive in indicating what CEOs should do to be excellent in the job. In this podcast, Dewar and Keller home in on the six key roles that excellent CEOs play at once, as well as the habits of mind that set superior bosses apart.
David Fubini
“There’s a huge challenge now because there is an expectation that CEOs will arrive … prepared, and that that’s because there is such limited time and patience among boards, analysts, and other constituencies that they’re having to deal with,” says David Fubini. In this interview about his book Hidden Truths: What Leaders Need to Hear But Are Rarely Told, Fubini, a former McKinsey partner and now a senior lecturer at Harvard, describes the due diligence CEOs must undertake to move smoothly into the chief-executive role in a modern organization, as well as the loneliness and isolation that those at the top can feel.
Department of forewarned is forearmed
April Rinne
There’s no question that CEOs can face any number of pitfalls in the rapidly evolving leadership landscape. One potential hazard is the ongoing “fluxiness” of uncertainty amid constantly churning change, as futurist April Rinne explores in this interview. Another challenge: staying on top of social concerns that are important to a growing number of stakeholders. Ignoring these concerns, or not taking them seriously enough, can lead to a boss’s premature departure—even more than a corporate financial setback can. Finally, there’s the toll that the unusual stresses of the chief’s role can take on your looks—and your life. So let’s be careful out there.
Lead well.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office
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