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Are C-Level Leaders Competent Enough For The Future?

By Prethiba Esvary

Source: Leaderonomics

[This article was published at an earlier date] [Updated on 10 August 2018]

How you can upskill your executives in time for industry 4.0

With the arrival of Industry 4.0, there is now a need for businesses to re-think their business model, change their culture, optimise their processes and determine the best use of their resources.

Businesses are now looking at preparing the workforce for the future. But what about C-level leaders? How can they lead a change if they aren’t sufficiently equipped to face the uncertain world of tomorrow?

The good news is that training providers have recognised this need and have designed learning trips catered to upskilling C-level executives in these specific areas for the future. One of these notable programmes is the Oxford Leadership 4.0executive education portfolio. 

This  collection of tailored programmes and master classes were designed by Saïd Business School, University of Oxford in partnership with leading Malaysiantraining provider K-Pintar.

We derived insights from Saïd Business School’s director of corporate education Elaine Heslop and a CEO Report published by the school on key competencies that leaders need to possess.

Adapt with authenticity

Having authenticity is key as “it is the fuel that drives trust” among internal and external stakeholders. This trust comes about when a leader’s action is synonymous with their words, and when it’s exemplified consistently.

However, the pressure that comes with adapting to new challenges can sometimes compromise a leader’s authenticity as they try to become “everything to everyone”.

This may spell disaster as can be observed with the exit of Uber’s now-former CEO Travis Kalanick, whose company came under scrutiny for various ethical issues.

The role of purpose is important, according to Heslop. The solution is for leaders to always think back to what their personal goals are and to ensure those are aligned to those of the organisation.

This will serve as a guide in making decisions and will lessen their doubts.

Have a flexible strategy 

“Is your strategy ready for a networked world?” was a question posed by Heslop.

Digitalisation has paved the way for a more globalised and interconnected world and has, therefore, challenged existing business models.

Leaders today need to predict future scenarios and formulate their strategies accordingly, while ensuring that they are aligned to the organisation’s purpose.

Heslop said: “The Oxford approach to scenarios is distinctive in supporting companies to explore plausible (predictions based on reason) rather than probable futures (predictions based on probability) and to engage with multiple possibilities.”

She advised that leaders need to adopt “a mindset to embrace the many, to value diversity of thought”.

Embrace the human factor

Sometimes, CEOs make decisions based on their gut instinct, knowledge and past experiences. However, in the presence of new scenarios, CEOs today need to be humble and ask for help when they are uncertain or stuck in a bout of second-guessing themselves and their actions, especially when they lack relevant knowledge.

One of the ways good leaders manage their doubts is by seeking validation through peer mentoring, data collection and analysis, and having conversations with chairpersons, board members or external consultants.

Having trustworthy individuals acting as devil’s advocates is constructive as they may provide leaders with perspectives that the leader is not able to see.

Balance it right

CEOs today have to respond to multiple stakeholders who have various competing (yet valid) demands. With those in mind, CEOs need to also think about the company’s long-term goals, profit, social responsibility, decisiveness and humility.

Faced with a dilemma of choosing between right and “right”, how then do they find that sweet spot (between various demands) that is also aligned to the organisation’s purpose?

Findings from the CEO report suggest that CEOs need to have these four elements: patience, doubt, conviction and realism. As iterated in the point before, doubt is key in gaining certainty in the unknown, but this requires a lot patience.

Also, while it is important to be optimistic in decision-making, there must be a sense of realism in understanding various scenarios first. This will strengthen a leader’s personal conviction in decisions made.

Leverage intelligence for change

Heslop said leaders tend to get preoccupied with the speed of change, rendering it difficult for them to focus on scenarios that demand more attention.

While it’s important to keep pace with change, it’s crucial that leaders look at the scope and significance of those changes.

This means making an assessment of changes or trends taking place, i.e. is it a macroeconomic issue, an industry shift or enterprise-specific, and from there study how deeply it affects the organisation.

The report suggests that it is therefore imperative that leaders employ a multi-dimensional approach, to help them prioritise and direct their energy to significant and large-scale challenges.

Having an early-warning system or ripple intelligence is a great skill to have. Based on the concept of ripples created by multiple rocks being thrown into water, ripple intelligence is “the ability to understand how [ripples] change, intersect, and interact with one another.”

One CEO said he uses a bird’s eye view to look at the business, customers, competitors and such, and evaluates changes in terms of speed, scope and significance. He then tries to pick out patterns or trends that could affect the business.

This manner of thinking may not come easily to all, and so the key is to re-prioritise and perhaps delegate some operational tasks to others.

Invest in C-level development

Findings from the CEO report demonstrated that the aforementioned competencies are not easily developed and comes with experience.

However, with the speed at which change is permeating businesses today, CEOs don’t have the luxury of time to gain that experience.

This is where tailored education as a form of learning and development comes in.

According to K-Pintar CEO RA Thiagaraja, executive education focuses on equipping Malaysian business leaders with the necessary knowledge and solutions when faced with challenges, and harnessing opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is a necessary portfolio to upskill and reskill one’s self to effectively compete and succeed in the highly challenging work environment of today and the future.

The Oxford Leadership 4.0 executive education portfolio was created with a goal to build the capabilities and skills needed to meet Malaysia’s ambitious plans for economic growth and challenges of industry 4.0.

It comprises three main elements:

Oxford SME Exponential Learning Lab

  • For senior leaders in SMEs
  • Held at Oxford University
  • Upon completion, participants automatically become Oxford Business alumni

Oxford Leadership 4.0 Programme

  • For senior leaders in large corporations and in MNCs
  • Held at Oxford University
  • Upon completion, participants automatically become Oxford Business alumni.

Series of Masterclasses on key themes

  • For senior leaders
  • Saïd Business School, University of Oxford faculty invited to Malaysia to lead sessions.

Recognising the fact that executive education is not cheap, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) has made participation in the programmes levy claimable, as part of its mandate to enhance the development of the Malaysian workforce.

On the Oxford Leadership 4.0 portfolio, Thiagaraja said: “For those who have enough levy, they can utilise the levy for this programme.”

In a nutshell

The pressure on C-level leaders is growing in today’s changing world. One of the ways they can fast-track their learning curve and expand their knowledge in a time of rapid change is through executive education.

The nation aspires to become a high income one by 2020. In order to ensure we meet this goal, Thiagaraja emphasised the need to stay relevant with technology, and to invest in lifelong learning towards developing a multi and highly-skilled workforce.

For further information about the Oxford Leadership 4.0 portfolio and how you can enrol, visit