Most important leadership qualities over the next 5 years

by George Ambler on Sunday, May 30, 2010

The “2010 Global IBM CEO Study” was recently published, it’s one of the largest one-on-one CEO interview studies, surveying 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders from 60 countries and across 33 industries. The four primary findings of this year’s survey are as follows:

■Today’s complexity is only expected to rise and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it. Seventy-nine percent of CEOs anticipate even greater complexity ahead. However, one set of organisations we call them ‘Standouts’ has turned increased complexity into financial advantage over the past five years.
■Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organisations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realise their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.
■The most successful organisations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number one priority.
■Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organisations, customers and partners. They do so by simplifying operations and products, and increasing dexterity to change the way they work, access resources and enter markets around the world. Compared to other CEOs, dexterous leaders expect 20 percent more future revenue to come from new sources.
After reviewing the findings what becomes clear that there is an overarching theme, the is the extent to which the economic downturn has affected customers, business and society. The world will not simply go back to “business as usual” after we recover from the economic downturn. The world has undergoing a significant paradigm shift and it will never be the same.

As we move towards a recovery in the world economy, leaders world-wide are experiencing high levels of complexity and uncertainty where “eight in ten CEOs expect their environment to grow significantly more complex and fewer than half believe they know how to deal with it successfully.” This environment creates an urgent need for leadership. Given this, the survey explored what CEOs consider to be the most important leadership qualities that would be required over the next five years, the results are illustrated below.

CEOs cited creativity as the most important leadership quality over the next five years…

Creativity is essential when uncertainty is high and where the future is expected to be a significant departure from what we’ve known in the past. When uncertainty is high you cannot just repeat the successful practices of the past and expect similar results. You will need to find new ways of thinking, new ways of operating and new ways of behaving. The IBM survey puts it this way…

“Creativity is often defined as the ability to bring into existence something new or different, but CEOs elaborated. Creativity is the basis for ‘disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention,’ a Professional Services CEO in the United States told us. In addition this requires bold, breakthrough thinking. Leaders, they said, must be ready to upset the status quo even if it is successful. They must be comfortable with and committed to ongoing experimentation… It’s not that CEOs are just now becoming aware of the importance of creativity they have long been aware of the need to innovate their products, their processes and their customers’ experiences. Even in 2004, CEOs were telling us that ‘CEOs the world over were refocused on growth and they viewed innovation as the way to get there.’ But today, creativity itself has been elevated to a leadership style. Traditional approaches to managing organisations need fresh ideas, ideas that are intended to disrupt the status quo.”

It seems that we are entering a period that places a premium on effective leadership. It’s not often that we have the opportunity to re-invent how we choose to approach our life and work. These are exciting times indeed…!

■What are you doing in response to this increased demand for leadership?
■Are you re-examining your existing leadership practices?
■Are you experimenting with new approaches, new paradigms, new ways of working? If not, why?