CEO Skillset Outlined in Saïd Business School Research: MBA News |

CEO Skillset Outlined in Saïd Business School Research: MBA News

By Tim Dhoul

Updated January 22, 2015 Updated January 22, 2015

Looking back is not enough to see where the future will take you. Uncertainty in business – described as the ‘new normal of unpredictable change’ necessitates that CEOs must embrace the idea of continual learning, according to new research from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

The idea of continual learning is one that is sure to resonate among the world’s leading providers of executive education – a format designed to get senior executives back into the classroom to enhance and refresh their already seasoned skillsets.

Saïd Business School has spent the past year looking into the leadership qualities and capabilities of over 150 CEOs from across the world and spanning different industries, together with executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles.

Leadership qualities of CEOs identified

The result is ‘The CEO Report’, which identifies a set of leadership qualities that CEOs call upon to help their businesses thrive and grow. Together these leaders are responsible for generating US$1.7 trillion in revenue and have more than 880 years of CEO experience.

“A picture emerges of leaders who are changing and developing as quickly as the environment in which they operate,” said Saïd Business School’s dean, Peter Tufano, adding that it, “suggests ways in which we can support them in their personal development.”

Another of the leadership qualities identified by the report is the importance of what is termed ‘ripple intelligence’- defined as, “the ability to see the interactions of business contexts like ripples moving across a pond.” CEOs in possession of such intelligence are ever alive to disruptions or unexpected events, and have an understanding of the potential consequences of their own decisions and actions.

Further leadership qualities identified in 'The CEO Report' include:

  • Being able to assess an industry’s pace of change and any change’s potential significance on an organization.
  • Being able to harness doubt as a source of focus in decision-making in a manner akin to the way in which athletes channel nervous energy. 
  • Being skilled in the art of the art of adaptation while remaining true to a leader’s personal sense of purpose.

This last point, in ascribing importance to a leader’s sense of ‘purpose’ is taken to an organization-wide level in a further research project at Oxford Saïd.

Organizational purpose and the World Economic Forum

Richard Branson headed a breakfast panel discussion of research findings on organizational purpose from Saïd Business School and EY (Ernst & Young) at the ongoing World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos, Switzerland. Branson was joined by Unilever CEO, Paul Polman and Irene Rosenfeld, CEO at Mondelēz International among others.

The collaboratory research between EY and Oxford Saïd, launched at last year’s World Economic Forum, seeks to understand how business has shifted toward purpose-led transformation.

“We have noticed from a number of conversations with CEOs and senior leaders that defining and implementing ‘purpose’ is becoming increasingly important to them,” said Andrew White, associate dean of executive education at Saïd Business School.

The research holds that pursuing a path of organizational purpose can help drive a business’s core functions (for example, in talent management and strategy.) But, executives agreed that more can be done to implement these ideas in day-to-day operations.

Organizational purpose was also the subject of a research preview at the event, featuring a survey of just under 500 EY clients and readers of the Harvard Business Review.   

In this survey, 87% of respondents stressed their belief that companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit. Clear majorities agreed that purpose-driven organizations gave way to greater staff satisfaction, customer advocacy and even higher quality products and services.

But, only a third thought that their operations and business model was properly aligned with their sense of organizational purpose – highlighting how a popular idea hasn’t quite made it all the way from policy to practice just yet.

This article was originally published in January 2015 .

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).