Want to be a Great Business Leader in 5 Years? Master These 4 Skills

September 25, 2017

These are the skills CEOs and business leaders need to learn over the next five years.

Business leaders over the next five years will face three fundamental challenges.

The first challenge is the most obvious – the market itself. With dynamics continuing to change faster and faster thanks to the emerging technologies like AI, what’s selling now can be outdated tomorrow. If organizations of all sizes aren’t continually adapting moving forward, there’s the very real possibility they’ll go the way of the Dodo Bird faster than anyone could imagine.

The second challenge is around the talent market, which is two-fold: recruiting and learning. On the recruiting front, top talent has different expectations than top talent of years ago. The focus has shifted away from just money and prestige (although that still matters), and more towards making a difference and self-improvement.

On the learning front, job requirements will continue to change, meaning many employees won’t have the new skills they need to excel in their role. It’s incumbent on business leaders moving forward to build a culture of learning where employees feel empowered to learn the skills they need to keep the organization ahead.

The final challenge is a personal one. Mounting research shows that sleep, work-life balance and wellness is essential to building a lasting organization. And yet many business leaders spend so much time focused on the business or the market, they don’t develop wellness skills and burn themselves out.

All that being said, if business leaders can conquer those three challenges, the opportunity has never been greater. As we’ve seen with Airbnb, Lyft and a thousand other examples, a small organization with a great idea can get huge overnight if they can execute their vision.

So yes, as the obstacles increase, so does the prize. The secret is mastering the skills necessary to excel in the new world of work.

What are those skills exactly? To find out we asked four premier business leaders:

  • Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and currently a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners.
  • Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global.
  • Bill George, longtime CEO of Medtronic and currently a leadership professor at Harvard Business School.
  • Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, investor and serial entrepreneur.

The four highlighted several skills that will become increasingly more important to business leaders over the next five years. They are:

1. Purpose

“One of the most important skills for a CEO – and one that is only going to increase in importance – is finding and maintaining a sense of purpose,” Huffington said. “Many people think of purpose as something that’s fixed, but purpose is actually a skill, one that can be built and nurtured throughout an organization so that everyone within the company has internalized what the company stands for beyond profits and growth.”

Research supports Huffington’s point. Purpose-driven companies – which are only possible if led by a purpose-driven CEO – outperform standard organizations, particularly recently. Why?

A few reasons. Consumers are increasingly looking for purpose-driven brands that have visions beyond just making money. A purpose-driven organization has a clear focus, which is both motivating and helps employees best prioritize their time. And, research shows talent flocks to purpose-driven organizations.

“Millennials and Gen Xers only want to work for leaders who are authentic: open, sharing, true-to-their-values, compassionate, committed to a clear sense of purpose and, most importantly, possessed with courage to make bold decisions,” George said.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

2. Empowering employees

Jobs today are becoming increasingly less prescriptive – do this at this time to hit this result. Instead, jobs will increasingly require critical thinking skills and constant learning, traits indigenousness to top talent.

The challenge is top talent today has higher expectations for the organizations they work for. The best people today want ownership over their roles, purpose in their work and learning opportunities to advance their career. If those expectations aren’t met, they’ll simply go somewhere else.

“CEOs have to learn how to recruit and manage talent to keep pace with rapid change,” Hoffman said. “Rather than focusing exclusively on salary or perks, make your organization the best possible launch pad for amazing careers.”

Hoffman suggest framing jobs more as entrepreneurial ventures, with the employee and management forming an “alliance”, where both grow together. Once that growth ends or a better opportunity comes along, it’s actually better for that employee to move on. This will build your employer brand, avoid stagnation and lead to a lifelong relationship with that person.

Another big factor of employee engagement is a topic Huffington has strong feelings about: work-life balance and the importance of wellness. Her belief – which is backed by copious research – shows that professionals do best when they have the right amount of sleep and spend time unplugged from work.

To set that example and experience the benefits themselves, business leaders need to take their own wellness seriously.

“We’re overwhelmed by technology, and that’s only going to increase,” Huffington said. “Technology allows us to do amazing things, but – if we let it – it also accelerates the pace of our lives to the point where it consumes our attention and our ability to focus and be present. And it’s going to be those CEOs who are able to truly disconnect – and reclaim the time and space they need to be creative, to innovate, to access their own wisdom and intuition – who will win the future.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

3. A bias for learning

No one can predict exactly what the future will bring, with one exception: moving forward, there will be change, and lots of it.

To adapt to that change, business leaders need to always be learning. Hoffman cited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky as two examples of leaders who prioritize learning.

“As a CEO, you need to become an infinite learner to make yourself more adaptable,” he said. “The world of business is changing, and you can't rely solely on your previous expertise, no matter effective it has been until now.”

Beyond just learning the industry you are in and the market as a whole, Hoffman suggests all business leaders learn about software.

“As Marc Andreessen wrote, software is eating the world, and not just for tech CEOs,” he said. “It allows you to better understand your customers, operations and employees through analytics and big data. You don't necessarily need to understand how to write the software yourself, but you need to understand enough to decide and direct your company's software strategy.”

Bottom line – business leaders need to dedicate time each week to learn, much like Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey and many others already do.

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

4. Social media

You know something George, Hoffman, Huffington and Holmes all have in common? They all are active on social media, and have large followings to share their message directly to the world.

Any yet that’s relatively uncommon. Holmes said 61 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all – and that’s a mistake.

“I’m not saying leaders have to be experts in social media,” Holmes said. “But, if there’s a communication channel where your employees, customers, competitors, investors, partners and stakeholders are all spending their time, shouldn’t you at least make an effort to be there, too?”

Being on social media can help business leaders accomplish the first two skills mentioned in this article. Through social media, business leaders can make their purpose known and highlight how their organization delivers on that. And that is great for the company’s employer brand, which helps them attract and engage the absolute best talent.

“For CEOs, social media is, in no uncertain terms, a core competency,” Holmes said. “Those who are able to master it tap into the most dominant communication platform today. Those who ignore it risk having the competition eat their lunch.”

LinkedIn Learning courses that teach this skill:

The takeaway

The four skills mentioned above aren’t just what the market will demand more of over the next five years. They’ll also create a world that’s better; a world where organizations care about more than just making money, learning is touted and employees feel empowered to excel in their roles, while still maintaining a work-life balance.

Mastering these four skills results in the ultimate win-win. Because the business leaders who are good to themselves, good to their employees and good to the world aren’t just good people; they’ll actually be what’s best for their business over the next five years.

This article is part of a series on the future of skills that you and your team will need to succeed moving forward. Our other articles cover: