The CEO Agenda: What’s needed to compete in today’s economy?

When asked to name the one capability that tomorrow’s CEO must have, strategic thinking and adaptability were cited by an overwhelming number of business leaders. Small wonder; constant change is the key characteristic of today’s competitive landscape. Megatrends, and how companies react to them, are changing the markets where CEOs seek growth, the range of threats to business and the very fundamentals of entire industries.

By PwC Singapore

In fact, to plan effectively for the near future, CEOs might also want to have a healthy appreciation of the surreal. After all, many of those disruptive technologies didn’t even exist ten years ago, yet today they’re allowing start-ups to dominate entire industries, customers to be important collaborators, and a new generation of employees to bring in new thinking that could change the very DNA of the companies they work for. And there’s every reason to believe that the pace of change will only accelerate.
But just how can CEOs adapt to such upheavals?
We’ve identified six steps that business leaders can take to help build success in 2015. We believe that those CEOs who can develop the strategic focus and capabilities considered here will be best placed to win in the emerging competitive landscape. It’s arguable that these approaches wouldn’t have been substantially different ten years ago. But what’s different now is the impact of digital technologies on virtually every aspect of business.
The transformational effect of the information age on customer desires is fuelling the need for businesses to re-evaluate their capabilities and the value they create – and to leverage digital tools to deliver what customers want. Widespread and fast-changing developments in a range of industries – driven in large part by technological change – are spurring government concerns, making improved dialogue between public and private sector vital. And digital technologies have made possible the ability to develop and manage a workforce and partnership network that’s more diverse, adaptable and connected than ever before.

Soft skills

Ultimately, given the many new challenges companies face in the rapidly evolving global marketplace, CEOs could be forgiven for wondering if they didn’t need some superhuman qualities to provide the best leadership – seeing around corners could certainly come in useful.
Of course X-ray vision and future-gazing aren’t really offered as Learning and Development training. So what qualities are needed to become the type of leader who can not just understand the key pointers we offer here but have the confidence to apply them effectively throughout the business?
More than anything, the CEOs we talked to this year stressed the ‘soft’ skills of leadership. They spoke of the need for vision, and for agility and flexibility in decision-making. They highlighted the importance of being curious about their business world even when sometimes they might prefer to stick their head in the sand and hope change passes them by. Being curious gives a CEO the insight to separate real change from temporary hype, and act decisively on the real change.
Above all though, perhaps the quality CEOs most need to master is humility. By being humble while leading, a CEO will be able to listen and learn from the team they have built around them; they’ll be able to take maximum advantage of the diversity they are cultivating and they’ll be receptive to the insights they gain from new collaborations. Most important, this humility will give CEOs the confidence to pass on what they have learnt to the next generation of leaders.

Tough questions about leadership in today’s economy


  • How do your leadership skills need to evolve over the next five years – or ten?
  • How are you ensuring that you’re picking up and acting on trends as they emerge with increasing rapidity?
  • How are you navigating the sea of information out there in order to focus on the things that really matter?
  • Have you got the right team around you that you can trust to make quick decisions when required?
  • From whom do you learn, and how do they help you to make better decisions?
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