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Egon Zehnder Asked over 400 of the World’s Top CEOs What They Found Harder Than Expected When They Took the Top Job. The Answer: the Human Side of the Role

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The Chief Executive Officers of some of the world’s largest companies reveal they struggle most with the human demands of the role. While CEOs feel confident in their experience and operational know-how when they reach the position, they recognize the need to transform themselves in order to keep up with the pace of disruption to business.

402 CEOs from companies headquartered in 11 countries – who lead organizations with estimated combined revenues of USD $2.6 trillion– shared their leadership experiences in Egon Zehnder’s global study The CEO: A Personal Reflection.

“The pressures on CEOs today have never been greater. While CEOs have the capabilities and experience to assume the role, the complexities of leading – influencing, advocating, collaborating and innovating – pose challenges even to the best leaders,” said Kati Najipoor-Schuette, Global CEO Practice Group Leader at Egon Zehnder.

“In today’s complex and volatile world, CEOs must have both the hard and soft skills. The very best leaders are on a continuous journey of learning and transforming themselves while also transforming their businesses,” noted Dick Patton, Global CEO Practice Group Leader, Egon Zehnder.

Rajeev Vasudeva, Chief Executive Officer of Egon Zehnder, added “An organization is only as successful as its leader’s ability to manage a multitude of short- and long-term priorities. What’s required is their human side of leadership: a CEO who embraces humility and vulnerability and who remains open to feedback, self-discovery and continuous learning. This ability to self-transform is the key to transforming their organizations as well.”

Key findings:

Data from The CEO: A Personal Reflection explore the human side of the CEO role. Key findings from the report include:

A majority of CEOs feel they have the hard skills and professional experience to step up to the role, but found certain personal aspects of the role more challenging than expected:

  • 74% of CEOs said their prior achievements and experience prepared them to be CEOs, however:
  • 47% of respondents said that developing their senior leadership team was more difficult than anticipated.
  • 50% of respondents said driving culture change was more difficult than they’d thought.
  • 48% of respondents said that finding time for themselves and for self-reflection was more difficult than expected.
  • With hindsight, only 32% felt fully prepared.

Recognizing the importance of these soft skills and their need to adapt and change, today’s CEO is moving toward a more reflective and collaborative approach to leadership.

  • 54% of CEOs agreed that transitioning into the role required an intense period of personal reflection.
  • 79% of CEOs recognized they needed the capacity to transform themselves as well as their business.
  • Only 57% of CEOs said they were comfortable showing emotions.
  • 78% of CEOs said they were comfortable admitting mistakes.

Many CEOs felt they lacked some necessary supports before making the step up. Some believe that the succession process needs work. In particular, CEOs appointed from within a company tend to feel less prepared compared with those hired from outside.

  • 44% of the CEOs surveyed said that their appointment was not part of a planned and formal succession process.
    • For externally promoted CEOs that was 54%
    • For internally promoted CEOs that was 36%
  • Only 28% of internally-selected CEOs said they felt fully prepared vs 38% of external hires.
  • 65% of respondents said there was some succession planning underway for their own successors, but only 32% of them said that there was currently a clear process in place.
  • Only 38% of respondents said they turned to their Chairman for honest feedback, and only 28% turn to their Board.

To read the full report and explore the survey data, visit: https://www.egonzehnder.com/ceo-study-2018/

About Egon Zehnder

Egon Zehnder is the world’s leadership advisory firm, sharing one goal: to transform people, organizations, and the world through great leadership. We know what great leaders can do and are passionate about delivering the best leadership solutions for our clients. As One Firm, our more than 450 Consultants in 68 offices and 40 countries bring our individual strengths to form one powerful collaborative team. We partner closely with public and private corporations, family-owned enterprises, and non-profit and government agencies to provide Board advisory services, CEO search and succession, executive search, executive assessment, leadership development, and organizational transformation. We share a commitment to and pride in doing work that contributes to successful careers, stronger companies, and a better world. For more information, visit www.egonzehnder.com and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Egon Zehnder’s CEO Practice

Over the past five years, we have applied our own future-oriented, proprietary approach to more than 1,800 CEO mandates. We understand that the Chief Executive role is unique, particularly in the current atmosphere of complexity and volatility. These uncertainties require a pragmatic and aligned view on the business and leadership requirements of the CEO, one that must be reviewed regularly over the course of a transition.

We aim to partner with our clients in all aspects of the CEO leadership journey. That journey begins by aligning with your Board regarding the company’s future transformational needs and CEO requirements. We then help you build a compelling internal pipeline of senior leaders with CEO potential by identifying, assessing, and advising them on their development journey.

The CEO transition process also means working hand-in-hand with your Board of Directors to develop a clear, workable succession plan—one that helps internal executives accelerate their personal development through our heralded Executive Breakthrough Program, designed and facilitated in partnership with Mobius Executive Leadership. Once you’ve selected your CEO, we can apply our “Accelerated CEO Impact” program to assist in onboarding. This bespoke option begins before the CEO’s first day and helps make their first 100 days and beyond a success.

Contact information

Media inquiries:
Egon Zehnder
Hilary Crnkovich, +1 312 260 8978
Global Head of Marketing and Communications
hilary.crnkovich@egonzehnder.com

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