Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Today’s successful CEO must be adept at handling societal issues that were minor considerations for many company leaders a decade or two ago, all while charting a course to financial profit and community involvement.
Maintaining a positive presence on social media, defending against cyberhackers, keeping an increasingly young and restless workforce engaged, taking diversity and inclusion to the next level, maintaining the physical safety of workers and customers, promoting social responsibility and even considering the ramifications of marijuana legalization are among the many challenges confronting CEOs, according to local experts.
In addition, the success of a business, institution or nonprofit today is measured by more than the bottom line.
“Organizations are truly in a position where we need not only to be successful, but to be significant,” said Kathie W. Winograd, president of Central New Mexico Community College. “We need to figure out how to work together better … to make this community better.”
And all of that requires some different skills.
The digital world
The modern day business leader must be equipped to navigate Twitter, Instagram and other social media to connect with a world that increasingly relies on electronic devices.
Social media is a double-edged sword. It allows businesses to communicate and engage directly with stakeholders, but also can quickly fuel trouble when a negative situation goes viral.
The story of a Canadian singer who watched out the window of a United Airlines jet as baggage handlers threw guitars around is a classic example. The singer’s guitar was damaged, and he wrote the song “United Breaks Guitars,” which went viral on YouTube.
CEOs must be aware of not only how to use social media to promote and optimize their brands but also how to avoid the pitfalls, said Shawn Berman, acting dean of the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management.
Another challenge for leaders is big data, the sometimes-overwhelming volume of information that inundates businesses every day.
“Understanding what’s the really critical information and how to use that to make decisions is challenging,” Berman said, adding that the Anderson School offers elective classes that teach business students how to make sense of data.
Cybersecurity is another obvious but huge challenge for CEOs, said Nancee Marquez Whittington, president of Quality New Mexico, which includes a segment on the topic in its performance excellence training program.
A changing population
Successful CEOs are able to adapt to the changing demographics of their customers and their workers.
The workforce is getting younger, and that includes CEOs, said Patty Komko, president of Leadership New Mexico. The average age of senior leaders participating in the organization’s core training program has dropped from 52 or 53 in 1996 to 48 this year.
The Connect program for young professionals attracts participants with an average age of 32 or 33. Some 54% of those young professionals are male compared to 65% male enrollment in the older core program.
“In the next 10 years, I see many more female CEOs if this trend continues,” Komko said.
Minorities also are making inroads into the CEO suite, according to local experts.
Diversity, equity and inclusion in relation to employees as well as clients and other stakeholders are only becoming more important for today’s executives. They must ask themselves who they are including in the organization, whether women and underrepresented minorities have a voice and whether the business is reaching everyone in its customer base.
“We’re really making sure that these issues of diversity and inclusion are front and center across classes,” Berman said, but added that “in New Mexico, we’re way ahead of the game because we’re living it.”
Diversity also is increasingly tied to physical safety as acts of violence target immigrants and minorities.
“Our focus on security is very different from what it used to be and certainly keeps me up at night,” Winograd said.
Another change that is having just as much impact on how CEOs attract and retain employees is the change in how people work. Employees today want more flexibility in everything from benefit packages to leave policies and schedules.
At CNM, for example, employees in traditional staff positions are asking for the nine-month schedule that historically was just for teachers, Winograd said.
“You have to think differently in order to keep people at your organization,” she said, adding that it’s not just millennials; baby boomers caring for aging parents also need to work differently.
“I’m seeing the need to be more flexible with work hours or working from home or working remotely,” Komko agreed.
Boardroom discussions today often focus on societal issues such as creating an organization that is not just successful, but also significant, as Winograd said.
“Societal responsibility, I think is huge,” agreed Whittington.
Examples include encouraging employees to give back, perhaps by offering paid time off to volunteer; embracing green practices such as solar power and gray water use; and maintaining transparency and direct communication with stakeholders.
“There’s much more of an interactive relationship now,” Whittington said, adding that CEOs might send emails or video messages directly to customers. “They’re much more hands-on now.”
CEOs also must be prepared to get their hands dirty and tackle tasks that one day might have been appropriately delegated.
“There’s no question that the CEO’s job has become more complex,” Berman said.