By Victor Lipman – Forbes
Much is written about the numerous challenges CEOs face. But I haven’t seen much analyzing the differences CEOs face between expectations and reality.
Which is why I took note when I recently came across a survey that thoughtfully examines CEO attitudes, “The CEO: A Personal Reflection,” from Egon Zehnder. The survey focused on a number of areas, including those CEOs found “more difficult than anticipated.”
Interestingly, these often involved “the human aspects of the role.” Which confirms my long-held belief that just because certain skills are considered “soft” doesn’t mean they’re easy. Soft skills can be hard to get right.
Let’s consider the survey results. Following are the four leading areas CEOs found harder than expected:
Driving cultural change. I am not at all surprised that culture change topped the list, with 50% of CEO respondents citing this issue. Entrenched cultures are notoriously resistant to change. I was in corporate management on a couple of occasions with new CEOs who viewed culture change as a top priority, and in both instances the going was about as easy as running in thigh-high molasses.
Finding time for myself and for reflection. This was seen as an unexpectedly tough problem by 48% of CEOs. With too much to do in too little time, finding reflective time for yourself is a challenge for management at all levels.
Developing my senior leadership team. Again, I wasn’t surprised by this finding, which 47% of CEOs selected. Like lack of time, development can pose problems for management at all levels, and in fact lack of development opportunities has been cited as a leading cause of unwanted early exits of top young talent.
Balancing short-term financial focus with the longer-term transformation of my company. This is a classic management conundrum. In any organization, short-term financial needs are constantly being balanced against longer-term investments and propositions. In this survey, 40% of CEOs were wrestling with such issues of balance.
As M.B.A. and management programs often focus increasingly on the “quant” side of business—heavy doses of finance, statistics, data modeling, etc.—this survey is a gentle reminder that “soft skills” also make a major contribution to how well one succeeds in a chief executive role.