C-suite sentiment: Leadership isn’t getting any easier this year

Leadership has never been easy. And, according to half of executives in a January survey, leadership will be more challenging in 2024.

The challenges, besides economic and geopolitical uncertainty, are numerous and fast-moving. That’s why 42% of executives ranked the ability to navigate changes quickly as the top current leadership capability, according to Chief, a network of senior executive women.

Chief’s survey report, The New Era of Leadership, polled men and women in C-suite roles at US companies with at least 500 employees. In it, 54% of CEOs said leadership this year will be more difficult, and 51% of leaders said external factors will have a greater impact on company success than internal ones.

The top five challenges facing leaders, according to the report, are:

  • Changing worker expectations (33%);
  • Cybersecurity threats and data privacy concerns (32%);
  • Difficulty identifying and training the right talent (30%);
  • Keeping up with artificial intelligence (AI) and other disruptive technologies (30%); and
  • Maintaining productivity amid layoffs or hiring freezes (29%).

In executives’ ranking of top personal challenges, keeping up with new technology (43%) came out on top, followed by balancing career and personal life (41%); embracing change and transformation (40%); finding time for personal development (39%); motivating teams (37%); and avoiding burnout (37%).

Keeping up with technology is a priority, but that hasn’t translated to rapid implementation of generative AI tools, the report showed. Just 10% of leaders said that generative AI would play a big role in their company this year, 42% feel it has potential and are planning to incorporate it into operations this year, and 31% said they didn’t have specific plans for AI.

What it means to be a leader today

Leaders understand that success in today’s dynamic environment is almost equally dependent on their workforce, the report said. Improving employee wellbeing and managing external pressures is a balancing act for the executives. For instance, 58% of leaders say that taking decisive action for desired results, such as scaling back on wellness benefits to cut costs, is more important than demonstrating empathy and flexibility this year.

While 96% of executives believe that an effective leader must support employees personally and professionally, the report said, 31% acknowledge they could be doing more to support workers’ personal lives.

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