What Skills do Execs Really Need to Thrive in Today’s World?

24 Jan 2019
By Laura Grierson

While there is no “one size fits all” executive, there are essential competencies that have been found to improve a board’s likelihood of choosing the right executive, as well as an individual leader’s chances of succeeding in the role in today’s day and age[1].

While those strategic thinking, results-driven and adaptability[2] skills will always be highly valued in executive roles[3], there is emerging research pointing towards attributes which are going to be vital to surviving in this new age, characterised by volatility, transparency and interconnectedness.

In order to design our assessment process we looked at the breadth of research out there by HBR, PWC, Deloitte and McKinsey as well as the AESC, and found a pattern of five attributes which will be required for top executives to thrive in our new world:

  1. Entrepreneurial mindset. Now, more than ever, businesses and leaders need to adjust to a rapidly changing environment[4]. An entrepreneurial mindset means quickly seeing, reading and moving on opportunities, then failing and learning from them even faster (HBR, 2014). ‘Everything is becoming digital,’[5] calling for leaders who are open to innovation, future technologies and have their finger on the pulse.

  2. Knowing thyself. Strong leaders have strong self-awareness, not only of their general personality characteristics (how they think, natural tendencies, etc), but also how their behaviour and mindset affects others[6]. They can sense how people feel and take a sincere interest in supporting them to overcome challenges. They are not afraid to be authentic and show vulnerability, which is vital today for building trust, relationships and a business that people can connect to[7].

  3. Change Agents[8]: The ability to lead change was listed as the number one top leadership quality for next generation leaders in AESC’s survey taken by over 850 execs across the world, and by HBR[9] as one of the top 7 skills you need to thrive in the C-Suite. Next generation leaders need to be comfortable in climates of fast pace, uncertainty and sweeping change. These leaders welcome new ideas, love the process of evolving and growing, are tuned into disruptive potential - and most importantly, are experts at fostering cultures conducive to change.

  4. Bridge Builders: Leaders who will be able to drive forward in this world are those who embrace diversity of thought and collaboration. They bridge the divide between different viewpoints through shared underlying values. They shun unnecessary process and instead drive transparency, collaboration and a culture of sharing[10] as this allows them to move faster, learn and improve[11].

  5. Engaging teams. A world-class leader must be able to hire and develop an exceptionally strong leadership team— “he/she cannot succeed as a brilliant one-person player[12]”. They need to excel at bringing others along on the journey, and be skilled at influencing, inspiring and creating a devout and committed group ready to follow. Being able to engage the best talent is crucial for a company’s ability to keep up with new technical capabilities required to survive, move forward, evolve and develop (AESC, 2016).


[1] Botelho, Powell, Kinciad & Wang. 2017. What Sets Successful CEOs Apart. (pp.70–77) of Harvard Business Review. May-June issue.

[2] Boaz & Fox. (2014). Change leader, change thyself. McKinsey Quarterly. March 2014

[3] Botelho, Powell, Kinciad & Wang. (2017)

[4] Botelho, Powell, Kinciad & Wang. (2017)

[5] Feser, Mayol, Srinivasan. (2015). Decoding leadership: What really matters. McKinsey Quarterly. January 2015.

[6] Bersin. (2016) Predictions for 2017: Everything is Becoming Digital. Bersin by Deloitte.

[7] Boaz & Fox. (2014)

[8] AESC. (2017). The New Wave: Next Generation Executive Talent. 3: Needs: Winning Attributes of Next Gen Leaders.

[9] Groysberg, B. (2014). The Seven Skills You Need to Thrive in the C-Suite. Harvard Business Review. March 18, 2014.

[10] AESC, (2017).

[11] Bersin. (2016)

[12] Groysberg, B. (2014).

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