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Why CEOs Need to Reevaluate Their Leadership Styles


The global pandemic has changed the world at large – from the way we communicate, do business and live our lives. The momentous social and economic challenges that is driving unprecedented levels of self-reflection and development is also changing CEO perspectives and the leadership role, according to a new research by leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder.

The survey of nearly 1,000 global CEOs states that while CEOs are becoming increasingly self-aware, many even stressing to improve the human side of their leadership, they need to still reevaluate their roles to succumb to the new challenges in the post-pandemic environment.

The study shows that nine out of 10 CEOs report they have moved to the center of increasingly louder, more diverse and diverging voices. When asked about the impact of recent circumstances on their organization, most CEOs highlighted accelerated decision making and change, and greater economic uncertainty. These shifts speak to the complexities and rapid evolution that is reshaping business – and that CEOs will answer to more stakeholders and be measured in new and emerging

The study also reveals that 83% of leaders find it essential to reflect on their own leadership style – up from 66% in a 2018 study, The CEO: A Personal Reflection. CEOs are expanding their ability to be adaptive, relational, and self-aware. They are committed to listening to diverse perspectives and are increasingly seeking feedback from new places – including team members, chairs, mentors, consultants, and other CEOs. In addition, female CEOs are more likely to gather feedback from a wide range of sources – and are more likely than male counterparts to seek guidance from fellow CEOs, mentors and family members.

The study also shows that eight out of 10 CEOs strongly agree that they need to continue their self-transformation – three times as much from 2018. CEOs also agree strongly on the importance of the “dual journey,” a path where leaders believe viewing their personal development and their organization’s growth as an interrelated journey will affect optimal change. Our most striking finding is the near-unanimous agreement among a thousand leaders that, “As CEO, I need the capacity to transform myself as well as my organization.”

Two-thirds of CEOs report that the ultimate metrics that steer their decisions have remained consistent, despite new social and economic business expectations that they express support for. Given this conflict, it’s not clear whether CEOs have a direct path to deliver on their ambitions with traditional financial metrics as the dominant decision driver for most CEOs, the study says.

Also more than half of all respondents, see relational capabilities as a key blind spot.Specifically, less than half of CEOs (44%) report they feel fully aligned with their teams, and even fewer with their boards – pointing to heightened levels of tension and increased need for collaboration.

 “CEOs recognize that today’s unprecedented business complexities require a significant shift in leadership – and that change must begin by looking inward with new levels of self-reflection and personal development. This isn’t self-indulgent naval gazing; it’s what our teams, organizations and stakeholders expect of our CEOs,” says Jill Ader, Global Chairwoman of Egon Zehnder.

“Now, more than ever, traditional business acumen must be equally balanced with empathy and compassion in order to gain their teams’ and organizations’ emotional commitment, navigate business complexities and build productive, inspiring workplaces,” Ader said.

Navigating through these complex environments demand CEOs increase their personal capacity to be adaptive, relational and self-aware, stressed Kati Najipoor-Schuette and Dick Patton, who co-lead Egon Zehnder’s CEO advisory group and co-authored this study.

“Especially today, these capacities need to be increasingly balanced with traditional leadership strengths, strategic planning and a relentless performance orientation. Mastering these skills requires leaders to increase their capacity to listen, trust in a broader network of stakeholders and communicate more authentically than ever before.

As a result of honing these skills and taking a more human-centric approach to leadership, CEOs will evolve the resiliency, leadership and adaptability of themselves – and their organizations,” the authors said.

The study concludes that as heightened demands for workplace equality and new pressures around hybrid work continue to dramatically shape business culture, CEOs worldwide must reevaluate their role, how they engage with their team, as well as how they hold their organization – and themselves – accountable for making their businesses future-ready. Today, CEOs view prioritizing their own development and tapping into the intrinsic sources of energy of the people in their organizations as crucial to navigating through complex business environments.

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