The New Era of Leadership: New research reveals the biggest challenges for C-suite executives—and skills needed to lead in 2024

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Public Relations

Leadership has been a challenge in the post-pandemic era—oft-reported components of today’s workplace dynamic have resulted in a perplexing manager/employee conundrum, generated by the heightened expectations of a brash new generation entering business life, plus the remnants of Covid-fueled remote, hybrid and otherwise flexible work patterns that workers are reluctant to give up, and purpose initiatives like DEI, societal participation, and community relations. And morale is slipping, productivity is suffering, and leaders are stumped.

New research from executive women’s network Chief examines the greatest challenges C-suite executives expect this year—and the skills they believe will help them lead successfully in 2024 and beyond. The firm’s New Era of Leadership report,  in collaboration with Wakefield Research, is based on a survey of 600 U.S. C-suite executives at companies with a minimum of 500 employees. Among its many insights, the report reveals that 54 percent of CEOs expect leadership to be more challenging in 2024.

leadership challenges

AI and shifting worker dynamics among top list of executive challenges

From the rise of AI to continued economic uncertainty, 51 percent of leaders agree that factors outside of their control will have a greater impact on their company’s success in 2024 than internal factors. The top five challenges they anticipated were almost equally divided among the below:

  • Changing worker expectations, including compensation and culture (33 percent)
  • Cybersecurity threats and data privacy concerns (32 percent)
  • Difficulty identifying and training the right talent (30 percent)
  • Keeping up with AI and other disruptive technologies (30 percent)
  • Maintaining productivity amid layoffs or hiring freezes (29 percent)

C-suite leaders cite navigating burnout and investing in professional development as top personal obstacles

Executives are determined to keep up with the fast-paced challenges facing their organizations, though they are struggling to achieve results while minimizing stress, both for themselves and their employees. When asked about their top personal challenges in 2024, leaders cited the below:

  • Balancing career and personal life (41 percent)
  • Finding time for professional development (39 percent)
  • Motivating teams (37 percent)
  • Avoiding burnout (37 percent)

Notably, men find it slightly more challenging to balance career and personal life (selected by 43 percent of men and 36 percent of women as a top personal challenge) and avoid burnout (selected by 38 percent of men and 34 percent of women).

leadership challenges

Leaders strive to strike a balance between empathic leadership and driving results

While new workplace norms call for a more empathetic approach to leadership and greater workplace flexibility, executives are acutely aware they must balance those needs with external pressure to drive results.

  • Nearly three in five (58 percent) executives say that taking decisive action for desired results is more important than demonstrating empathy and flexibility this year.
  • The overwhelming majority of executives (96 percent) believe that an effective leader must support employees in both their professional and personal lives.
  • Nearly a third (31 percent) of executives acknowledge they could be doing more to support their employees’ personal lives.
  • 62 percent of executives feel the workplace has reached a good balance when it comes to engaging colleagues on a personal level.

Executives must move fast and decisively

In the face of balancing organizational performance with effective leadership, executives are resolute in the fact that they must move fast and decisively. The report showed that executives recognize the need for nimble and inclusive leadership when navigating the challenges that lie ahead in 2024. When asked to rank the top three leadership capabilities needed in 2024, executives selected:

  • Ability to navigate changes quickly (42 percent)
  • Building high-performing teams (40 percent)
  • Understanding and promoting diversity, inclusion, and access (40 percent)

leadership challenges

“This research shows that for executives, it’s not only lonely at the top but also more challenging than ever to be an effective leader,” said Carolyn Childers, co-founder and CEO at Chief, in a news release. “The data shows that in the face of economic uncertainty, emerging technologies, and changing workforce expectations, executives are turning to new skills to navigate their organizations and achieve success in 2024.”

Download the full report here.

Three-quarters of respondents were men, and one-quarter were women, roughly representative of the current gender gap among high-level executives at S&P 100 companies.

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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