Author Profile Picture

Jacqueline Conway


Managing Director

Read more from Jacqueline Conway

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Four key competencies for New World leadership that your C-Suite needs now

Implement these essential competencies within the C-Suite to better lead in a disrupted age of business.
Flying keys in space

As leaders move to progressively more senior levels, the terrain changes, the context changes, and what’s required to survive and thrive changes too. 
The most successful leaders evolve their leadership as their career progresses to meet the requirements and responsibilities of their level. Yet it’s the move to the C-suite where this is most likely to stall.

Corporate longevity and executive tenure are decreasing. Indicating that there’s a mismatch between the type of executive leadership we have relative to what we need. Now more than ever we need the right leadership, at the right level, at the right time.

A focus on execution is based on the here-and-now; those day-to-day operational issues that keep the organisation moving forward

In my work with executive leadership teams, I’ve witnessed that too many executives fail to balance their functional leadership: a focus on execution – with enterprise leadership: ensuring the organisation adapts to our new world. 

Execution: a focus on the functional 

A focus on execution is based on the here-and-now; those day-to-day operational issues that keep the organisation moving forward. Inwardly focused, it’s concerned with operational excellence and achieving short-term goals. It’s a vitally important role and one that ensures successful short-term survival. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.

Adaptation: a focus on the enterprise 

A focus on execution needs to be balanced with attention towards adaptation: to what’s new and what’s next. It represents a shift in executive attention from here-and-now to there-and-then. From in and down to up and out. 

That is, helping the organisation adapt and evolve to changing circumstances in the business environment. To be role models for their desired culture and to be a cohesive leadership unit.

I became increasingly curious as to why executive leadership teams need to appropriately balance functional/executive leadership and what would be required of them to excel at enterprise leadership. Along with 17 veteran CEOs, I set about finding out why this is. 

The research, which is just published, is called Advanced Executive Fluency: responding to new leadership challenges in a complex world. It explores the ways of thinking, acting and being that executive leaders must become fluent in as they shift to enterprise leadership to lead well in our disrupted world. 

The decisions that leaders make and the behaviours they display will influence what becomes acceptable 

It was conducted with the input from CEOs from a range of organisations from the UK and the Nordics including the IoD, Gatwick Airport, Howden, LNER, NHS Lanarkshire, SATS ASA, Neptune Lines, and Evobus UK. It highlighted four areas that executives must become fluent in. They are: 

Cognitive Fluency

Leaders are increasingly grappling with complexity, so they must develop the capacity and the methods to work with it effectively. This involves avoiding the category error of trying to treat complex issues that are emergent, turbulent, and interdependent in a rationalist, linear way. 

Futures Fluency

We need our organisations to be agile and responsive to change in the environment. But to do so, leaders first need to understand the plausible ways that change could happen so they can be ready to quickly pivot. Futures Fluency requires leaders to move out of short-term thinking and develop the capacity to spot weak signals early enough that they can take positive action. 

Ethical Fluency

Executive leaders set the tone for ethical behaviour. The decisions that leaders make and the behaviours they display will influence what becomes acceptable – even if they run counter to what’s set out in policies and procedures. Ethical Fluency is the ability to make human-centric decisions that take full account of the impact and consequences for myriad stakeholder groups.

Emotional Fluency

We’ve come to accept that a rational data-driven decision-making style; characterised by research and logical evaluation of data is the only decision-making style. Rather than try to cover decision-making in a cloak of rationality, Emotional Fluency requires that leaders accept that even sound and rational decisions are made using a combination of objective and subjective factors. Therefore, executives must learn to tune into and self-regulate their internal emotional states to exercise better judgement.

The CEO contributors worked with me to both explore the fluency areas and examine the barriers to executive leaders becoming fluent in these areas. The research has implications for how executive leaders and teams are developed. 

Of particular importance is that leadership at the executive level is collective, so the development should involve the entire team in situ as they work to solve live organisational issues. 

And that executive leadership teams shift their focus more towards enterprise leadership so they’re engaged in work that is suited to the organisational level they’re at. 

Perhaps you’ve had experience with a leader who fails to make the leap? They’re given the promotion, but they don’t let go of the things they competently accomplished at the previous stage. So they stay stuck. Operating at a level below their current pay grade – not achieving what’s required and frustrating the people they lead. 

This is precisely the reason why there’s so much failure at the organisational peak. If executives are overly focused on execution, who’s looking after organisational adaptation? Our companies need more from executive leaders.

When the fluencies are woven together into executive leadership practice, it becomes a way to operationalise development in the C-suite

Executive leaders must evolve their practice of collective leadership to better meet the challenges faced today. To do this, leaders must give their attention to how they go about their executive work, what they spend their time doing, and the proportion of their time spent in their functional sphere rather than in their adaptive, enterprise-level work. Now more than ever, we need executives who can anticipate, navigate, and lead in a disrupted and complex world. 

When the fluencies are woven together into executive leadership practice, it becomes a way to operationalise development in the C-suite. 

Dr Jacqueline Conway conducted the research study with 17 CEOs across the UK and Nordics in 2021.

Interested in this topic? Read What competencies tell us about L&D.

Author Profile Picture
Jacqueline Conway

Managing Director

Read more from Jacqueline Conway

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to TrainingZone's newsletter