Unlock The C-Suite — Career Trends For Top Executives


Management literature is packed with advice on becoming the boss. Yet, career paths narrow significantly as you ascend closer to the top executive spots. It is no fluke, then, that so many of the C-suite leaders I’ve coached are not just highly strategic in how they navigate their careers but also expert at responding to ongoing change. They understand that the onus is on them to maintain consistent performance in their specialty while also adapting their leadership style to suit the times. That same pair of dynamic themes—maintaining consistency while managing disruption—has come to dominate C-level career trends. These are some of the themes that are relevant to executives as they look for opportunities to lead at the highest levels:

C-suite Functions Are In Permanent Flux: As organizations become flatter and more team-based, levels of management are shrinking. While this makes team makeup more important across the board, it also means that top teams are expanding, with today’s CEOs having more direct reports than in the past. In fact, according to one study, the top team has nearly doubled in size since the 1980s. As the study notes, this trend is due to the fluctuation in functional roles rather than the need for more general leaders.

As always, the makeup of any C-suite team varies by organization and industry, but the overall uptick in roles signals the curation of new expertise and the elevation of job titles in areas such as technology (chief information officer and chief AI officer), risk and compliance (chief information security officer, chief sustainability officer), and big data (chief data officer/privacy officer). Similarly, as strategic priorities shift and organizations acknowledge that businesses don’t create value; people do, the CHRO has carved a solid spot in the C-suite.

Conversely, as new functional roles gain prominence, others are waning in influence. Since the 2008–9 recession, for instance, chief operations officer (COO) positions have morphed or decreased, with their responsibilities being absorbed in some cases by the CEO or CFO. Similarly, according to my colleague at Spencer Stuart, the chief information officer (CIO) role is being “supplanted by the increasingly popular position of chief digital officer (CDO).”

Recruiting Has Changed: Getting on the C-Suite shortlist is no longer a passive endeavor where recruiters rely on word-of-mouth to find you and your job performance speaks for itself. Instead, executive recruiters are tapping into social media more and more to identify fresh candidates and determine what sets them apart. In addition, companies themselves are using analytics and predictive analysis to monitor and rank internal candidates based on their productivity and contribution to the bottom line over time. Similarly, executive assessments are becoming more sophisticated as well, with tools that predict not just functional competency but also culture alignment and future potential. These advances and others mean C-suite candidates need to exhibit the full package—leadership IQ, emotional intelligence, situational awareness and more.

Perhaps even more interesting, executive recruiters and boards have become somewhat more willing to embrace “talent-on-demand” trends such as hiring on an interim, contract or even part-time basis while they look for permanent or long-term executive candidates. In part due to low unemployment and downshifting among Baby Boomers, this shift is also an accepting nod to the burgeoning gig economy and the desire to make careers paths more flexible.

Still Searching For Diversity: While I can’t say that the C-suite is diverse, we are seeing encouraging signs in some areas while clearly losing ground in others. For example, in the midst of the #MeToo movement the number of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list increased from 21 in 2016 to 32 in 2017—that’s more than any year prior. Yet, the number of black CEOs is at its lowest since 2002, with only three black CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies as of the first quarter of 2018. In general, most organizations understand that workforce and executive diversity is critical to financial performance, but that baseline belief has yet to be reflected in hiring.

Mindset Matters More: Despite the inconsistent data backdrop mentioned above, boards and CEOs say they are searching for executives who possess a new type of mindset. Today, leaders need to be comfortable with complexity and able to admit when they don’t have the answer. They must be willing to reinvent themselves and adapt to new leadership norms. For instance, as many management experts have noted, organizations are becoming just as focused on working in horizontal/connected teams as they are in developing individual leaders. More often, this requires leaders who think like entrepreneurs.

What all of this tells us is that people who aspire to be in the C-suite must be ready to embody these shifts, bring something new that organizations need, and be prepared for the next wave of change when it occurs.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cassandrafrangos/2018/07/26/unlock-the-c-suite-career-trends-for-top-executives/#6a73a59a4998

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