MUMBAI: In keeping with today’s fast-changing times, adaptability and the ability to deal with uncertainties have emerged as the top two leadership traits, according to a survey.
Conducted by Executive Access (India) exclusively for TOI and based on responses from 350 CEOs/CXOs, the survey has slotted ‘quick learning ability’ and ‘high emotional quotient’ among the top five traits that will determine success for leaders. The ‘ability to innovate and think out of the box’ emerged as the third key trait with 44% votes.
According to Executive Access (India) MD Ronesh Puri, the biggest imponderable today is that nothing is certain, and the contours and demand of business keep changing. Even the rules of the game can change as regulators today can virtually alter anything. “Therefore, a successful CEO must be adaptable and happy with the changes. Some individuals are uncomfortable and not adaptable, they struggle in today’s ecosystem.”
Related and a close second is the ability to deal with ambiguity as structures keep shifting as do a variety of parameters. “Several decisions that a CEO takes today are based on a gut feel as the time for response has really shrunk. With the number of decisions required to be taken by a leader increasing manifold, the ability to work in ambiguity becomes important.” Often, Puri said, CEOs complain that in today`s environment they need to shoot in the dark as there is no time as well as data available for several decisions.
Industry experts said traits like adaptability and the ability to deal with ambiguity are important from the perspective of spotting new business opportunities and potential threats. Entrepreneurs who see a business opportunity ahead of others are the ones who have a clear advantage. After a very successful stint in investment banking, Falguni Nayar was quick to spot an opportunity in beauty retailing and founded Nykaa, a totally different career trajectory.
“If you wait for a clear path, then you will miss out on opportunities. There are changes happening on every front, with technology driving the pace of change at a very high level. Since we are in a consumer business, keeping our customers at the centre of our thought process — with the ability to innovate and think out of the box to be meaningful to them — is next in importance,” said Nayar, CEO of Nykaa, which has started retailing its own brand.
According to D Shivakumar, group executive president (corporate strategy and business), Aditya Birla Group, two important issues are at play today. One, every industry is going through a transformation and, two, the average tenure of a CEO is between four and five years for both the Fortune 500 and listed companies in India.
“CEOs of today and tomorrow must reach out, seek help to course correct. Most CEOs are caught up in the day-to-day operations and not thinking hard enough about looking ahead. Employees also do not help because they want to tell the CEO what he/she wants to hear,” said Shivakumar, while adding that CEOs underestimate the pace at which the world is changing.
For example, the pace at which a packaged goods company adapts to the small yet fast-growing e-commerce model would determine its leadership’s quick-thinking abilities. Similar would be the case with an automobile company’s response to the entry of electric vehicles.
“The job of a CEO today is more as an architect, so he/she can redesign and reconstruct the business. Mere tinkering at the edges will not work,” said Shivakumar. Underpinning a good future CEO, said Shivakumar, will be humility and learning.