When it comes to successful leadership, attributes like vision, communication, integrity, and curiosity never go out of style. Today, executives also must be able to build strong teams in the face of recruiting and retention challenges, keep up with the latest technology, and demonstrate strong business acumen.
Those at the helm of their organizations need these skills, among others, to navigate the business environment, which recent research suggests is increasingly difficult to do. In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, 66 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) said it’s more challenging to be a company leader today than it was five years ago.
“Emerging trends, from the accelerated pace of change and disruptive innovations to dispersed workforces and regulatory compliance demands, have intensified the pressures facing company leaders,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “Today’s leaders must be proficient in their chosen field, but also current on big-picture issues facing their industries and organizations.”
The good news? Employees are on management’s side; in the survey, 87 percent of workers said they are confident in their company leaders. “Professionals understand how challenging managing a department or company can be and respect the work of their supervisors,” McDonald said.
Here are some of the top challenges facing business executives today and some tips to help leaders meet those demands head-on:
1. The need for wider-ranging knowledge
Not too long ago, many company executives operated in silos: They were the experts in their division, but they didn’t often get involved in the work of other departments. Today, however, leaders must take a broader organizational view. For example, many CFOs have seen their responsibilities extend beyond financeinto human resources, information technology, and operations.
Fostering strong relationships with coworkers outside your department can be invaluable when it comes to learning about other areas of the firm; successful leaders make sure they participate in interdepartmental committees and projects. Holding high-level management positions in professional organizations can also help executives get a broader perspective of typical organizational structures and procedures.
2. The demand for skilled talent
Because in-demand professionals have more opportunities today, it’s harder to recruit and retain top performers. In addition, managers frequently must oversee staff in several locations, which makes it even more challenging to motivate employees.
This is where successful leaders tap into their strong communication skills, clearly explaining to each employee his or her career path and role in the company’s mission, then supporting employees as they build their leadership skills and prepare for greater responsibilities. Savvy leaders also seek feedback on their communication style from mentors, fellow managers, and even staff, and follow through on the best suggestions.
3. Information overload
Managers now have access to extensive databases filled with information that can greatly enhance their decision-making, but the amount of data they’re presented with on a daily basis can be overwhelming. The strongest leaders know how to extract the most valuable information and transform it into strategic guidance — and how to bring in highly skilled business analysts who can help them do so.
4. Change — and more change
Once, in the not-so-distant past, firms understood at least the basics of their competitors’ business models, because most companies operated in a similar way. Today, however, firms are introducing new business models all the time. What’s more, technology seems to be changing every minute.
That’s why it’s crucial for managers to stay on top of industry trends and remain open and adaptable to change. Successful leaders regularly read the top industry blogs, subscribe to newsletters, follow industry leaders on Twitter, and join relevant groups on LinkedIn. Keeping up to date with technology trends can require training; it’s a good idea for executives to take external courses and participate in in-house professional development programs.
Simply put, it’s clear that today’s business environment is constantly evolving, and executives face new pressures every day. To help their firms remain competitive, managers need to invest time and effort into improving and refining their leadership skills.
But one thing remains consistent: Leaders can’t achieve their goals without building a talented, engaged team. As McDonald says: “Successful executives engage their employees, help them build their leadership skills, and work to grow the business together.”