CEOs say managing “human side” of leadership is toughest role

by | Apr 30, 2018 | Public Relations

The CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies reveal they struggle most with the human demands of the role, according to new research from leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder.

While these leaders feel confident in their experience and operational know-how when they reach the position, they recognize the need to transform themselves in order to keep up with the pace of disruption to business, according to the firm’s new study, The CEO: A Personal Reflection.

“The pressures on CEOs today have never been greater. While CEOs have the capabilities and experience to assume the role, the complexities of leading—influencing, advocating, collaborating and innovating—pose challenges even to the best leaders,” said Kati Najipoor-Schuette, Global CEO practice group leader at Egon Zehnder, in a news release.

CEOs say managing “human side” of leadership is toughest role

“In today’s complex and volatile world, CEOs must have both the hard and soft skills. The very best leaders are on a continuous journey of learning and transforming themselves while also transforming their businesses,” noted Dick Patton, Global CEO practice group leader, in the release.

Data from the study explore the human side of the CEO role. Key findings from the report include:

A majority of CEOs feel they have the hard skills and professional experience to step up to the role, but found certain personal aspects of the role more challenging than expected

  • 74 percent of CEOs said their prior achievements and experience prepared them to be CEOs, however:
  • 47 percent of respondents said that developing their senior leadership team was more difficult than anticipated.
  • 50 percent of respondents said driving culture change was more difficult than they’d thought.
  • 48 percent of respondents said that finding time for themselves and for self-reflection was more difficult than expected.
  • With hindsight, only 32 percent felt fully prepared.

Recognizing the importance of these soft skills and their need to adapt and change, today’s CEO is moving toward a more reflective and collaborative approach to leadership

  • 54 percent of CEOs agreed that transitioning into the role required an intense period of personal reflection.
  • 79 percent of CEOs recognized they needed the capacity to transform themselves as well as their business.
  • Only 57 percent of CEOs said they were comfortable showing emotions.
  • 78 percent of CEOs said they were comfortable admitting mistakes.

Many CEOs felt they lacked some necessary supports before making the step up. Some believe that the succession process needs work. In particular, CEOs appointed from within a company tend to feel less prepared compared with those hired from outside

  • 44 percent of the CEOs surveyed said that their appointment was not part of a planned and formal succession process.
    • For externally promoted CEOs that was 54 percent
    • For internally promoted CEOs that was 36 percent
  • Only 28 percent of internally-selected CEOs said they felt fully prepared vs 38 percent of external hires.
  • 65 percent of respondents said there was some succession planning underway for their own successors, but only 32% of them said that there was currently a clear process in place.
  • Only 38 percent of respondents said they turned to their Chairman for honest feedback, and only 28 percent turn to their Board.

CEOs say managing “human side” of leadership is toughest role

“An organization is only as successful as its leader’s ability to manage a multitude of short- and long-term priorities,” said Egon Zehnder CEO Rajeev Vasudeva, in the release. “What’s required is their human side of leadership: a CEO who embraces humility and vulnerability and who remains open to feedback, self-discovery and continuous learning. This ability to self-transform is the key to transforming their organizations as well.”

Download the full study here.

402 CEOs from companies headquartered in 11 countries – who lead organizations with estimated combined revenues of USD $2.6 trillion– shared their leadership experiences in Egon Zehnder’s global study “The CEO: A Personal Reflection.”

CEOs say managing “human side” of leadership is toughest role

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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