Seasoned leaders who have been tested before could be the antidote to the uncertainty businesses face today.

By Morten Winther
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At this very moment, developments are unfolding that are impacting our economies, our global connectedness, and even our core beliefs. Until a few months ago, European companies had the option of outsourcing to low-cost producers in Ukraine or China. Options like these seem remote right now. The trust underlying cross-border operations is tenuous and could remain so for years to come. A historic level of uncertainty amongst global business leaders is only deepening as high inflation and energy prices persist.

Many leaders now at the top of their organizations were promoted sometime after the financial crisis, and have had the good fortune of leading in an environment of prevailing global trust. Growth and consumer confidence were all but assured, providing a solid foundation on which to build and execute global strategies. Now this paradigm has shifted, forcing leaders to navigate with a global outlook that is unclear.

As organizations come to terms with this environment, we anticipate a shift in leadership trends. Leaders who have navigated in uncertainty before could be in high demand for some time to come. These more seasoned leaders have been tested. They have faced tough decisions resulting from external forces and come out the other side.

In Boyden’s 2022 Global Executive Survey, conducted before the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were known, we examined leadership within a climate of uncertainty wrought mostly by the pandemic. On the question of growth, respondents identified innovation, human capital and digital transformation as the top three drivers. Mining human capital for the ingenuity and innovation that can show the way forward emerged as a predominant theme. But how do we recognize the source? The most abundant is not always the most readily apparent.

Much has been written about successful leaders possessing a blend of EQ (emotional intelligence) and MQ (management quotient) as well as IQ. In crisis, EQ takes on greater importance. It can be a valuable asset for a leader facing challenges, as it gives us the self-awareness to understand our emotions and regulate them. It also enables us to understand the emotions of others and empathize, which can be crucial to motivating and inspiring in choppy seas. Senior leaders are more likely to have cultivated this type of intelligence, as it is often forged in crisis.

Our survey respondents ranked inspiring teams, driving change, and empathy as the top three most valuable soft skills in leadership. As described in the report, “Executives need connection and leadership visibility. They need their leaders to engage both their hard and soft skills in driving change, and be empathetic as teams cope with a rapidly changing, complex and hugely demanding work environment.”

The need for the right kind of leadership in uncertain times could prompt organizations to consider more senior candidates whom they might otherwise overlook. A proven, self-possessed more senior and experienced candidate CEO is more likely to have the fortitude, as well as the requisite ability and energy level, to take charge amidst uncertainty and make sound decisions rooted in experience and lessons learned. As a global top-10 executive search firm, we often see these skill sets in older candidates.

How do the clients who entrust us to evaluate leadership talent view candidates of a certain age? In order to have a healthy dialogue about this, we need to be willing to question our perceptions and challenge preconceived notions. Personally, I believe there has never been a better time to do so.

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