by Ann Charles

CEO image_modernThe new normal in this economy is shaping up to be anything but normal. Businesses that have thrived for decades as industry icons are now permanently upended by the forces of the Web, social media, and new technologies that are crashing over the economy like a tidal wave.

Industries are experiencing systemic failure as a result of the digital revolution, coupled with an economy stuck in reverse. As noted in the book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, many industries have simply come to the end of their natural lifecycles, and business is going to have to be reinvented around a new set of principles including transparency, integrity, and collaboration.

As a result of these changes, the role of the CEO must evolve as well. The next generation of business leaders will require new talents and a different set of skills to successfully grow business over the next decade. A modern CEO will focus on creating a business culture that’s expansive, mapping a social purpose to the creation of goods and services. The new CEO will also change the way we think about leadership, and create a bulwark against the tide of business challenges coming our way over the next decade.

Here are three key characteristics for the modern CEO:

  1. No Fear Communications— The Modern CEO must shake off the “analysis paralysis” and listen and engage with social media. While it sometimes seems impossible to manage the fire hose of information, social channels provide what CEOs need most – unfiltered feedback. What’s more, social media is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s an early warning system, an instant feedback loop, and a brand sentiment barometer. Although CEOs are increasingly discussed in online venues, few are actually using social media to spread their own message. In a Weber Shandwick Study, nearly two-thirds of CEOs were not engaging online at all, yet those who are enjoyed a better reputation with customers. CEOs need to blog, tweet, fan, follow, and friend their way into the hearts and minds of stakeholders.
  2. No Fear Ambition— A Korn Ferry Study challenged organizations to identify future CEOs by distinguishing between blind ambition and true potential, the latter often being harder to identify. Today’s CEO has to be comfortable in the digital realm, with ambitions to embrace mobile and social technologies and be willing to take a company in new directions. TechCrunch notes that it is critical that Chief Executives have the right kind of ambition. That is, ambition for the success of the company rather than ambition for themselves. In 2011 we need to take this one step further. A Modern CEO needs to have ambition for the success of its employees, suppliers, the company, the community, and the planet.
  3. No Fear World View — To achieve success today, CEOs need to cultivate an external world view which guides the company in the broader context. For the Modern CEO, The Triple Bottom Line has become the ubiquitous measure of success: People, Planet, and Profits. The Edelman 2010 goodpurpose® Study provides excellent insights into the rapid globalization of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Consumers in developing countries are leading the way in their drive to buy from companies that are sustainable, and demonstrate a global consciousness. Consumers in Brazil, China, India and Mexico are all more likely to purchase and promote brands that support good causes, outpacing peers in the west. U.S. companies can take lessons from these emerging markets, where eight out of ten consumers expect brands to donate a portion of their profits to support a good cause.

The characteristics of a great CEO will continue to evolve as society changes, and for a while it will be rough sledding. There is no doubt that a change is imminent however, as consumers and shareholders demand it. Right now 64% of consumers believe that it is no longer enough for corporations to give money; they must integrate good causes into their everyday business. While CEOs still need to set vision and strategy, going forward that vision will be mapped to the social purpose that the company actually serves. These are the realities of a global, interconnected world.

Ann Charles is CEO of BRANDfog, offering social media and Corporate Social Responsibility strategy for CEOs, and founder of The Great Leaders Conference, celebrating Great Leaders in CSR, Social Advocacy and Sustainability.

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