June 13, 2023 | Eul Basa

This Is The Most Important Skill Every CEO Should Have

What does it take to be the CEO of a company? One would need all of the standard qualities—leadership, communication, analytical prowess, and so on—but is there one skill, in particular, that is absolutely essential for excelling in the top role?

According to Randall Peterson, the academic director, and professor of organizational behavior at the Leadership Institute at London Business School, the most important skill that all  CEOs should have is the ability to listen. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many CEOs get tunnel vision and forget that their colleagues have valuable input too.

Which is why agreeableness is another quality that goes hand-in-hand with listening skills. According to Peterson, more CEOs in the modern age are adopting a "go along to get along" approach, which is starkly different from the "old-school autocratic approach."

"It’s now tipped over towards the more agreeable side, mainly as the challenges of collaboration have become more complex. How a CEO manages conflict is critical to their long-term success," adds Peterson.

The optics of it all

A minor problem with agreeableness is that it presents an optics issue: CEOs are generally supposed to be dominant figures in the workplace, and agreeableness can often be mistaken as a "pushover" trait. That said, based on Peterson's findings, CEOs that have been perceived as more dominant ended up being less successful than their more agreeable contemporaries.

In this day and age, it counts to have empathy. CEOs nowadays are expected to engage with their staff at all levels more than ever before, and such openness is critical for their reputations since they serve as the face of their companies. This is important for Blue-chip CEOs in particular, who are responsible for much more beyond their companies' financial performance.

"Everything they do and say is closely scrutinized," says Nicola Wensley, a partner at Page Executive. "At times, their words and deeds will have an impact on their firms’ share prices."

Listening to the tech

Wensley adds that CEOs must listen to their IT chiefs closely, as tech is "no longer a function that CEOs can simply delegate." If they are to keep their business growing and thriving, they must identify opportunities for growth through analysis of data and emerging trends. IT chiefs can do this, but they can only make recommendations to their CEOs who have the final say. That's where listening and agreeableness come in.

"CEOs need channels to lower levels of the organization, where you’ll get truly unsifted information, not stuff that’s been filtered through your middle management,” Peterson says.





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