Individuals who succeed as C-level executives must have a range of skills and the wisdom to know when to apply each different approach. Typically, these individuals have a solid educational foundation that they complement with a great deal of real-world experience. If you have C-level aspirations, take note of the qualities that define a great leader and make an executive stand out from the pack. Only by developing these skills can you demonstrate the knowledge and understanding necessary to reach such a position. While the following list is far from exhaustive, it looks at some of the most critical skills and attributes of C-level executives.
- A Deep Understanding of Technology
Many people think of C-level executives primarily as leaders and managers, but these individuals require a great deal of technical skills, too. Whether they’re leading a law firm, financial institution, or technology company, they should have an extraordinary background in that field and strive to keep up with advances. Technology skills are almost universally important. While a CTO certainly needs a strong technical background, other C-level executives need to have a familiarity with the technology related to their industry and the background necessary to weigh the pros and cons of solution implementation. In short, these individuals need to be able to identify and exploit technological advances to help their company cut costs or operate more efficiently.
- An Ability to Build Strategic Relationships
Much of business depends on creating and maintaining solid relationships. This skill proves important both within the company and externally. Strategic relationships with other companies and professionals can help organizations grow and reach new markets. Within a company, effective teambuilding can result in more innovative and productive teams. C-level leaders must understand how to develop a sense of camaraderie within various departments and encourage collaboration. Some of the best C-level executives take an approach to leadership that is driven by team development and spend significantly more time with their employees than behind the doors of their office.
- A Capacity to Lead Change Effectively
Change management skills have become especially important for C-level executives in recent years. With a market driven by innovation and changing regulatory environments in many industries, companies seek out leaders who embrace change and are able to guide an organization through transitions effectively—whether they are imposed by external forces or adopted by choice to keep a company competitive. This ability includes the capacity to help the company thrive during periods of rapid fluctuations. Historically, companies attempted to avoid change. In today’s market, however, companies must embrace change to remain marketable. C-level executives must understand this need and have a certain level of comfort with change in the name of improvement.
- A Strict Adherence to a Transparent Ethical Code
Perhaps ethics is not the first consideration to come to mind when thinking about C-level positions, but companies across the nation are becoming more concerned with the actions of their executives and how those actions are perceived by the public and employees. Social media drives the modern world in many ways, and as a result, a company’s public reputation is more important than ever before. The speed of communications can cause serious complications for an organization if an executive engages in unethical behavior. Companies expect integrity and often search out candidates with an unquestioned sense of ethics.
- A Clear Sense of Leadership
One of the core skills that C-level executives need is an obvious, but often elusive one: the ability to lead effectively. Being a good leader depends on understanding one’s own leadership style, including the strengths and weaknesses associated with it. When leaders have this kind of self-awareness, they can adapt their style and approach to match the specific situation at hand. Often, companies seek out executives whose leadership styles align with their short- and long-term goals. When companies are approaching a period of change or growth, for example, they tend to look for C-level executives with visionary leadership who can push toward those goals even in the face of the unknown.
- A Talent for Communication and Persuasion
Communication skills are vital at every level of an organization, but especially for upper management. C-level executives must understand how to vary their language according to their audience and employ different techniques of persuasion among different groups, including boards of directors, other company executives, rank-and-file employees, external business partners, stockholders, government regulatory bodies, and more. They should also be able to read people and understand the most effective way to communicate with each individual. Some people prefer frank, honest, and direct communication, while others respond better to a gentler, subtler approach. In addition, C-level executives may draw media attention and need to have the ability to speak eloquently about the company and its goals to the public, even in the face of crisis.