The Four C-Suite Soft Skills That Matter Most For Today’s Leaders 

It’s a fascinating question: what distinguishes a good leader from a great one? In the past, when organisations wanted to hire a CEO or CFO, they knew what to look for: an independent decision maker with strong technical expertise and a long list of impressive credentials. Today’s leaders, in contrast, need to pull from a portfolio of talents suited to ever-evolving circumstances, of which soft skills might be the most important. In fact, after analysing thousands of job descriptions for C-suite roles, recent research from Harvard Business Review confirmed that more than ever, businesses need leaders who are adept communicators, relationship builders, and people-orientated problem solvers. With this in mind, in this article, we’ll be examining the four soft skills that matter most for today’s C-suite and why. 


Recently cited as today’s top leadership skill for next-gen CEOs, empathy is a trait which encompasses a broad range of behaviours, such as active listening, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness. It’s the skill of recognising the feelings, emotions, and circumstances of the people around us, ensuring people feel seen and heard. In the workplace, this means seeing the whole person, not just the employee. Although empathy is sometimes mistakenly viewed as a weakness, research demonstrates that leaders who demonstrate high levels of empathy drive greater results than those who don’t. For example, a 2021 study showed that empathetic leadership can drive significantly higher levels of employee engagement, retention, and innovation. The value of empathetic leadership has perhaps never been more apparent than during the pandemic. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand up until February of 2023, is a prime example. The PM talked openly and often about her own concerns for her family and the difficulties lockdown posed for everyone. She kept her updates positive and inspiring, urging people to unite through hardship. As a result of her leadership, the country led one of the most successful Covid elimination strategies in the world.

Communication skills

Consider two scenarios. In the first, a leader gives her team a list of instructions via email every week. In the other, she meets with her team in person, runs through the week’s tasks, explains where each responsibility within the organisation’s wider goals and strategy, reinforces the importance of each individual contribution, and reminds the team her door is open to discuss any issues. Which scenario do you suspect would produce the most impressive results? When considered in this manner, it’s easy to see that being an effective communicator means not only delegating tasks with clarity, but also building trust, inspiring and motivating, giving praise and feedback freely, and solving problems collaboratively. For C-suite positions, this also means creating meaningful touchpoints with middle managers that will not only equip them with all the necessary information, but also inspire them to lead their own teams with zeal and purpose. In spite of its importance, good communication amongst leaders is rarer than you might think, with a recent study finding that only 31% of people believed their leaders communicate well, and that an incredible two-thirds of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with employees. 


It goes without saying that the business world is constantly changing, from the relentless march of technology and AI, to ever-fluctuating inflation and global political uncertainty. And as it continues to evolve, the best leaders must respond and adapt. This means being open to different perspectives, trying new systems and processes, and not being afraid to admit if a course of action isn’t working and requires a new approach. It also means being transparent, welcoming feedback from others, and maintaining a growth mindset. We don’t have to look far to see how vital adaptive leadership is to success, taking the pandemic again as our example. Practically overnight, businesses across the world had to figure out a new way of working just to survive, from navigating the world of remote work, to responding to global supply chain disruption. While no one can predict the future, remaining agile and flexible can certainly help C-suite leaders stay prepared and resilient in the face of change. 


To many, creativity and corporate leadership don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. However, we’ve already explored how the best leaders abandon rigid structures, and employ methods that go against the grain of C-suite tradition. Creativity is the power to dream big, to innovate, and to imagine new ways of doing things. Take Steve Jobs for example. He brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy by totally reimagining the company’s culture, mission and narrative. He empowered his employees to be the best, and believe the impossible could be possible with hard work and tenacity. He was even partly responsible for the company’s inspiring slogan, ‘Think Different’.  Creative leadership as a philosophy embraces change as a given whilst seeking opportunity everywhere, feeling comfortable in taking calculated risks. Creating a culture of creativity in the C-suite also has benefits for the whole organisation, as it’s known to increase innovation, productivity, problem-solving and engagement.

Ultimately, in a world in which AI may soon be able to complete many of the more functional aspects of our roles, soft skills will take on a new and increasing importance within the world of work. For C-suite executives, this will undoubtedly involve setting a strong example by leading through empathy, communicating with clarity and purpose, staying adaptable to in the face of change, and having the courage to be creative. Because after all, in the words of Simon Sinek, “Leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and most importantly, a way of communicating.” 

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