What sets the highest executives apart at successful companies? A recent study by the American Management Association, “AMA Research: Business Skills That Set High-Performing Organizations Apart,” details the skill sets necessary for C-level executives to raise the bar on company performance.
Key Finding: At the C-Suite Level, the Difference between Critical Leadership Skills Widens Significantly
C-level executives score the highest in key leadership skills such as strategic planning, decision making, execution and drive for results. At the same time they become quite proficient in nuanced persuasion skills like sales, presentation, influence and political savviness, all of which are crucial to inspiring people to want to follow.
Professionals who take more responsibility within an organization will see leadership competencies become more in demand and rate higher compared to other job levels. In the article “Are You Ready for a Promotion?” by Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D., research revealed that professionals seeking to advance to the next level showed a much stronger desire for growth, greater willingness to take on more responsibility, leadership potential, and stronger desire for change and stimulation. It further revealed that these professionals have more initiative, confidence, adaptability, and are better at dealing with stress. Interestingly, while leadership skills improve for the C-suite-level executive, teamwork and collaboration tends to taper off for this group. The level below C-suite, “managers of managers” tend to have extremely high teamwork and collaboration skills.
“Teamwork and collaboration are key skills for executing strategy,” said Sam Davis, vice president at American Management Association. “As you move up in an organization, however, you’re the one creating the strategy, not executing it. At that point collaborative skills are nowhere near as important as the more nuanced and subtle skills of influencing others and political savvy.”
Key Finding: Time Management Skills Become Strained as Responsibility Increases
Time management is an interesting competency to examine, as it did not appear in the bottom skills of any level below the executive suite. This indicates that as role and responsibility increase, availability and effective managing of time decreases.
“Many executives have difficulty prioritizing initiatives in part because at their level they work on so many high-priority items,” said Davis. “Time is finite, though, and executives need to be very careful how they spend theirs. In fact, McKinsey research points out that only 52 percent of senior executives spend their time according to strategic priorities of their organizations. This means that strong time management skills can be a huge competitive advantage, not only for the individual executive, but for organizations as well.”
C-level executives possess extensive knowledge and insight regarding many of the highest-rated competencies and have achieved near mastery levels. C-level executives surveyed value critical thinking and problem solving as their strongest attributes. Leadership competencies like decision making, execution and coaching are the highest-rated leadership qualities out of any other job level surveyed. This reinforces the notion that C-level executives need to be strong leaders and demonstrate effective leadership acumen. The results also maintain that skills like learning adaptability, client service, teamwork, analytics and communication need to be consistently developed and improved throughout a leader’s development, from the entry level to the C-suite. Focusing only on the strongest attributes of C-level executives will not be enough. Even C-level executives need a solid grounding in areas outside their particular scope of expertise, such as finance, marketing and sales. Staying up to date on the newest technological innovations in business and computing, as well as honing time management skills, will be imperative to being a cut above other C-level executives.