C-Suite Executives – What it really takes

There’s a lot more to running a company than just hitting targets

MASTERING your core competencies simply is not enough if you want to make it onto the C-Suite. In fact, that is the very least you need. Today, you need to be able to navigate a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Doing that successfully means being able to have a view on Artificial Intelligence and how it could impact the business. To being able to manage a disparate, hybrid and often asynchronous work force.

c suite executives

Artificial Intelligence

There is no escaping this. Even if you are the CFO and not the CTO, you need to be able to speak about technology. Even if you aren’t the CHRO, you need to be able to manage and motivate your staff. It’s a nuance that stumps many aspirant C-suite contenders. AI is an easy one. It’s a buzzword and the board are going to want to know how you are how going to handle it, because what they have read might suggest you don’t need any staff. They might be right, but what’s your take on it?

Sometimes processes can be automated – there are even moves afoot in some newsrooms across the world to replace journalists with ChatGPT. Hollywood screenwriters and actors are out in strike, in fact, precisely because of the threat AI has to their livelihoods – and their futures. But some things can work better with AI, such as stock control and ordering, take the minutes of the board meeting or even write the annual report. If you ask it nicely, it can even write your corporate strategy, but the point is that it’s still a machine. It needs to be told what to do and what the parameters are. Therefore, you can’t escape the planning bosberaad to tweak the mission and vision – and the board can’t save the costs of the off-site three-day retreat in the Magaliesberg either.

What is your take on the new technology?

The point is, if you are worth your weight as a C-suite member you need to be able to defend your corner and fight for the new technology and show why. Or fight against it – and have a very good argument to back it up. Blindly saying yes or accepting no could have major implications for the company and catastrophic ones for your career if you get it wrong. In the boardroom, the directors will be looking to you to guide them, don’t let it be the other way around.

The choice to work from home or not

A similar difficulty occurs with the management of hybrid workforces. The pandemic forced us to work from home – and in most cases showed us that we can. Now, with lease agreements sweating the bottom line or empty buildings bloating the balance sheet, there is a huge pressure to get staff to return to the office. Where do you stand on this? You need to have a view and you have to able to defend it –to your own staff and managers as well as the board. If you let people come in a couple of times a week and working from home the rest of the time, how do you manage this in an equitable way for all? Thus while ensuring that time spent in person in the office is productive?

How do you get staff to buy in to a return to the office when it means they are going to be stuck in gridlock, because of load shedding. Also they will no longer be able to play mom and dad during office hours watching their kids play sport, even though their own productivity is beyond reproach? And how do you manage yourself? Are you a ‘first in, last out’ kind of manager, at your desk? Or a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type, giving instructions to the underlings but then making sure it doesn’t affect you?

c suite executives

The genie has been let out of the bottle

These aren’t HR issues; they are actually all about how you manage. They are part of an evolution that was fast-tracked by COVID in which staff became more empowered. They became more confident and in many cases more productive, because they were given the opportunity. It’s your job to manage that. Ensuring that your team is cost-efficient and consistently meeting its targets. This way you help your C-suite peers meet the expectations in the boardroom, which are invariably about bottom line and always about Return on Investment.

The truth is the scope of your job is increasing. Managing the digital revolution well beyond the new dawn of the fourth industrial revolution. Managing a workforce that is increasingly empowered and unashamedly vocal. You have to deliver results. It’s not easy at all, but then again operating at that level in any company was never supposed to be. That’s why you get paid so much more because with greater responsibilities come greater rewards.

Make sure you are up for the challenge

If you aren’t prepared to lean into these challenges and have a real answer for them; an authentic, measured and properly held one, then perhaps the C-Suite isn’t for you. Make sure you are up for the challenge by starting your journey today. If you haven’t already; upskill yourself, understand the new landscape, but keep on brushing up your core competencies too!

Lucia Mabasa expresses an expert opinion in this article

Lucia Mabasa is the Chief Executive Officer of pinpoint one human resources. An executive search firm, established since 1999. The core business of pinpoint one human resources,  is the executive search of C-Suite executives, critical and scarce skills across industries, sectors and functional disciplines in South Africa and across Africa.

Read her previous columns on leadership; avoiding the pitfalls of the boardroom and becoming the best C-suite executive you can be.

This article was published in IOL.