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140 Top CEOs Identify Crucial Skills And Mindsets For Future Leaders

How well are you practicing the 9 skills and mindsets that the world's top CEOs say are essential for future leaders?

The business landscape is undoubtedly changing which is something I talked about in a previous article where I explored the top 6 trends shaping future leaders. While some aspects of leadership such as setting a vision and executing on strategy will remain, the future leader will need to possess a new arsenal of skills and mindsets to lead effectively. This is because our businesses will look and operate fundamentally differently in ten years which means we need a new type of leader at the helm of these organizations.

When I would speak at conferences and events around the word I would frequently get asked, “what we should be teaching leaders now to prepare for the future?” Unfortunately, there is not much research out there which explores this (especially including the perspectives of top CEOs!) so I decided to tackle this with my new book, The Future Leader. I interviewed more than 140 top CEOs from around the world from companies like Audi, MasterCard, Unilever, Oracle, SAP, Best Buy, Verizon, Intercontinental Hotels Group, and dozens of others.

I asked all of these CEOs a series of 12 questions including the top skills and mindsets they believe will most relevant for future leaders over the next decade and beyond. From those interviews I put together what I call, The Notable Nine which are the top 4 mindsets and top 5 skills that future leaders must master.

Below is a very brief overview of each one, much more information and research can be found in The Future Leader. All of these are applicable today but most leaders don’t actually practice these skills and mindsets, but in the coming ten years, these will be like air and water.

Want to see how well you are practicing these skills and mindsets? Take The Future Leader Assessment.

Mindsets (how future leaders need to think)

Global Citizen

The world is becoming increasingly connected, which means every company has the potential for worldwide employees and customers. The mindset of the Global Citizen means thinking globally and embracing diversity. Leaders need to understand and appreciate new cultures, actively seek out diverse teams, lead employees with different backgrounds, and know how to enter and succeed in new global markets. 

Ilham Khadri is the CEO of Solvay, a chemical company with around 25,000 employees around the world. Here’s what she told me during our interview:“You have to be open to other people and ideas and to respect the diversity of cultures, religions, ethnicities, races, thoughts, and orientations. This is essential for the future leader.”

Servant

The servant mindset goes against much of the old way of thinking that leaders stay at the top of the company. The mindset of the servant means that you practice humility and that you serve four groups: your leaders if you have them, your customers, your team, and yourself.

Carrie Birkhofe is the CEO of Bay Federal Credit Union that employs 220 people, she serves employees on day one, hour one: “All new employees regardless of their position are seen, heard, respected, and listened to by the leader and they know that I’m their to serve them, not the other way around.” 

Chef

Just like chefs balance numerous ingredients to create masterful meals, leaders must balance the two most important ingredients of any business: humanity and technology. That means embracing technology and using it to improve efficiency in the organization while also providing a sense of purpose and caring for human employees. One side can’t succeed without the other. 

Nancy Brown is the CEO of the American Heart Association with over 3,000 employees. Here’s how she talks about this: “The world still goes around because of relationships between people. I think current and future leaders need to be able to work both with people and technology, which will require more collaboration and teamwork.”

Explorer

Future leaders need to be like explorers of old and embrace the unknown. They need to be open to new ideas and able to change course as the world around them evolves. Just like explorers had to continually learn, leaders need to be super perpetual leaders and practice curiosity. 

Here’s what Bradley Jacobs, the CEO of XPO Logistics told me (over 100,000 employees): “Curiosity is like the fountain of youth when it comes to effective leadership.”

Skills (what future leaders need to know how to do)

Coach

Great coaches motivate, inspire, and engage their teams while caring about each member as an individual off the field. Likewise, future leaders need to appreciate employees as individuals as opposed to viewing everyone as just workers. The best coaches and leaders develop their people to be more successful than them. 

Michel Combes is the CEO of Sprint with over 30,000 employees. During our conversation he told me:

“I see my role as a coach. On one side, I need to produce a vision. On the other side, I need to enable people to deliver this vision and to be comfortable in their ability to deliver, and to make sure that I always push them to their maximum.”

Futurist

Futurists make sure organizations aren’t surprised by what the future might bring. The world in which we live and work is constantly changing and full of unknowns. Futurists consider multiple scenarios and think through new possibilities. They stay on top of trends and are connected to their networks. This was actually the #1 skill according to the 140+ CEOs I interviewed.

Alfredo Perez is the CEO of Peruvian Alicorp with 10,000 employees. I met with him when I was speaking in Peru last year. Here’s what he shared with me. “The fact is that adapting to change is not enough, we need to lead change and create the future. Adapting is keeping your head above water, but leading and creating is sailing on top of it.”

Technology Teenager

Teenagers seem to always be current on the latest technology, and future leaders must be the same way. They don’t need to be experts in the practical application, but they should embrace technology and know how to best leverage it to serve their company. They need to be tech savvy and digitally fluent.

Michael Tipsord is the CEO State Farm and insurance company with over 90,000 employees and contractor agents. During our interview he said: “Tomorrow’s leaders will need to have a technology fluency that lets them anticipate opportunities and threats, distinguish hype from credible, and embrace transformative possibilities.”

Translator

Translators are master communicators. They listen to understand and do more than just hear what people are saying. They use verbal and non-verbal communication to connect with people and know the best channels to use to cut through the noise and deliver their messages. Listening and communication are two timeless aspects of great leadership yet they are also the two which are changing the most!

Michael Kneeland is the CEO of United Rentals with over 18,000 employees. Here’s his take on this: “I’ve always gone through the world where it’s a reverse pyramid. I’m so far from my customers that the most impactful I think that I can be doing is listening, and understanding what’s happening on the front line.”  

Yoda

For decades, leaders have shied away from being emotional. But in the future, leaders need to be emotionally intelligent like Yoda and develop their empathy and self-awareness. Great communicators build connections and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable. Empathy is understanding the feelings and perspectives of others. Self awareness is about understanding your strengths and weaknesses and helping others understand yours as well.

Hans Vestberg is the CEO of Verizon Communications with over 152,000 employees. According to Hans: “The first layer of skills a good leader must master are internal: managing himself or herself as an individual human being. This includes physical health; emotional balance; self-knowledge – everything that you bring along with you to each meeting, each decision, each public event. A lot of leaders are tempted to ignore or de-emphasize this most basic layer but they do so at their peril.”

The Notable Nine sum up the common the most crucial skills and mindsets from over 140 CEOs around the world. If you can master these skills and mindsets, you will be well prepared to lead in the next decade and beyond. 

I hope you decide to grab a copy of the book where I go into much more detail on these skills and mindsets. Want to see how well you are practicing these skills and mindsets? Take The Future Leader Assessment.

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