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The skills that matter the most for the C-suite, according to Harvard

August 30, 2022

Over the past two decades, companies have significantly redefined the roles of C-suite executives. This is one of the key findings of a study published by Harvard Business Review. Traditional capabilities such as financial and operational resource management remain highly relevant, but when companies today look for their top leaders, especially new CEOs, they place less importance than they used to and instead prioritize one qualification above all others: strong social skills.

Harvard researchers analyzed data from Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the world’s leading executive recruitment consultancies. More than 5,000 “job descriptions” published between 2000 and 2017 were analyzed, from the following positions: CEO, CFO, Chief Technology Officer, Human Resources Leader, and Chief Marketing Officer.

These “social skills” are specific abilities, including a high level of self-awareness, listening and communicating well, a facility for working with different types of people and groups, and what psychologists call “theory of mind” – the ability to infer how others are thinking and feeling.

“Our analysis revealed that social skills are particularly important in settings where productivity hinges on effective communication, as it invariably does in the large, complex, and skill-intensive enterprises that employ executive search firms. In such organizations, CEOs and other senior leaders can’t limit themselves to performing routine operational tasks. They also have to spend a significant amount of time interacting with others and enabling coordination—by communicating information, facilitating the exchange of ideas, building and overseeing teams, and identifying and solving problems”, wrote Raffaella Sadun, Joseph Fuller, Stephen Hansen, and PJ Neal.

Source: Harvard Business Review