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Celebrating 50 years of Building High Performance Corporate Teams - 1971 to 2021

While there are some foundational truths about leadership and the role of the CEO that have remained constant over time, rapid shifts in business organization and strategy are forcing new leaders to adapt. In its recently released 20th CEO Survey, PwC summarizes findings relating to CEOs around the world – and their changing role within companies. Two of the most notable evolutions cited in the study: the expansion of the C-suite and the CEO’s involvement in digital transformation.

The Expanding C-suite

Globally, the size of the executive team in large businesses has doubled, rising from about five in the ‘80s to almost 10 in the mid-2000s, according to Harvard research. Why? The answer lies in our rapidly evolving business ecosystem and the wide-scale industry disruptions taking place. As opportunities increase, so does the complexity of business. Globalization and technological advances mean that CEOs must adjust their business models and leverage new expertise, which translates to new and diverse executive roles. The biggest proliferation of new jobs is in the digital C-suite, but other roles on the rise include chief commercial officer, chief compliance officer, chief diversity officer, chief marketing officer and chief sustainability officer, according to PWC’s survey.

The upshot is that today’s CEOs can expect to manage and collaborate with a larger and more diverse executive team. The relationships are becoming increasingly complex, with more executives driving growth and change. However, today’s CEOs cannot remain on the sidelines; they have a key role in orchestrating and prioritizing new initiatives, while maintaining a clear vision of the overall strategy. Monitoring the expanded C-suite is most important when it comes to guiding the company’s digital evolution, where the ad hoc use of up-to-the-minute technology can quickly result in skyrocketing budgets and unwanted results.

CEOs and Digital Transformation

Today’s CEOs may understandably feel considerable pressure to identify and utilize the newest technology, but it’s important that they first define where transformation is most needed, as this will dictate what technologies are appropriate. As an HBR article points out, the four critical areas of the organization where digital technology can make or break a company are customer engagement, digital products and services, operational performance, and preparing for disruptive new business models. A recent Forbes article identified four questions a CEO should answer in identifying a digital strategy:

  • Are you playing offense, defense or sitting on the sidelines?
  • Are you disrupting or being disrupted?
  • Do you know what your customers are thinking and doing?
  • How sensational is your customer experience?

A CEO has the best vantage point into the departments relevant to answering these questions – it’s up to them to recognize where the greatest risks for disruption lie and to thoughtfully identify potential opportunities, ensuring they’re in line with the overall vision of the company.

Once a CEO isolates an opportunity for change, it falls to them to drive that change by assembling the people and processes that will enable it. Whether the need lies in bringing on new skillsets, developing new processes in existing areas of focus, or even adopting new methods of innovating, change doesn’t drive itself. That’s why, when it comes to any kind of transformation, CEOs must still demonstrate a timeless leadership quality – the willingness and ability to empower people. A CEO vested in change and fluent in its potential will be in the best position to inspire and communicate across the many business functions required to make it happen. Future-thinking leadership is more critical today than it has ever been. A CEO willing to break down boundaries, disseminate data and give teams permission think “out of the box” while providing a strategic framework, is more likely to survive the complex challenge of digital transformation and executive team growth with a profitable outcome.

This Summary was created by TEC Canada, a member-based leadership development organization of over 1,200 chief executives, entrepreneurs and business owners across Canada.