Flexibility, the mark of the modern leader

Leadership in the modern era is symbolized by Tim Cook at Apple, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook and Sundar Pichai at Google. A closer examination shows the evolution of the role of the modern, more flexible CEO. According to a McKinsey report, there are a few key correlative elements that successful CEOs exhibit – self-awareness, maturity in their roles and resilience in stressful periods – that can all be couched under the umbrella of a flexible model of leadership.

Flexibility is the mark of the modern leader.”

To be this flexible, the modern CEO needs to have a strong sense of self and a real understanding of what he or she wants to achieve, yet enough humility to resist arrogant decisions that could be counterproductive. Humility being the willingness to admit that he or she does not have all the answers, and that there is the distinct possibility in some situations that he or she could be wrong.

The only way a chief executive can have this level of confidence and desire to be flexible is to possess the skills for the role. According to a Harvard Business Review report, there are seven skills every CEO needs: Leadership itself, strategic thinking, technical literacy, communication, interpersonal relations and team building, change management and integrity.

The McKinsey report noted that a final key aspect that contributes to a CEO’s flexibility is his or her relevant knowledge for the role and the company. This may not include any one field of knowledge specifically, but the individual should focus on legal, financial services, tech or any number of valuable fields. Harvard Business Review contributor Boris Groysberg surveyed senior consultants at a large global executive search firm and found that a majority feel that “financial acumen and industry-specific content knowledge” were paramount for executives.

But with this flexibility, there needs to be a balanced perspective on a company’s current business climate.

When CEOs need balance

An ideal leader is expected to be achievement-, goal- and results-oriented with the ability to inspire and establish a vision for the organization. But other rules are influenced by external forces, like agility, adaptability and collaborative decision-making. These are key elements of leaders that are more or less important depending on the context.

Certainly leadership is the marriage of psychology and business, where CEOs are both driving and being driven by their agendas. This is where a leader needs to have a balanced perspective between psychology and business because his or her agenda needs to fit within the internal and external contexts of the organization. These agendas also need to align with the larger and smaller life cycles of the organization – meaning that in order for a CEO to push an agenda, he or she needs to understand when organizational life cycles will change.

Ultimately, the one unifying factor of high-performing CEOs at the Fortune 500 companies is that they are the leaders their organizations need them to be at different times. Agendas need to be what the organization needs, not what the leader wants it to need. That is also where self-awareness, organizational awareness in recognizing patterns, confidence and humility all mesh together in pushing an agenda.

Different leaders are necessary depending on circumstances

No one leadership style is better than another, it just depends on context. For example, if an organization is in a build phase and will need investment, it will need an entrepreneurial executive. But if an organization is in its institutional phase and needs a results-oriented Fortune 500-type leadership hand, it will need more of a steward at the helm. The key to any type of leadership style is consistency. That is an aspect that leaders grow and develop into during their tenures as chief executives.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 50 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

Back to Insights

Stay on top of the latest intel across multiple industries and continents.