The Top 5 Skills Modern C-Suite Executives Need to Succeed

Decorative image for Top 5 Skills Modern C-Suite Executives Need to Succeed article on

The time-honored hard and soft skills that traditional C-suite executive must possess, including communication skills, presentation ability, team building, and strategic planning, are now being joined with a new set of skills that any modern CEO, CIO, CMO, or CDO must have to succeed in an unpredictable and uncertain world.

Modern organizations are flattening. With a lack of a hierarchical structure, the top-down directorial style of leadership is going the way of the Dodo bird. Executives must expand their traditional skill sets to stay competitive and able to execute in a more collaborative and data-driven capacity.

Modern C-suite leaders must tap into a broader range of both soft and hard skills to win in a world where adaptability is key to success. They must possess soft, people-oriented skills, like improved emotional intelligence, to be able to build a team collaboratively across different locations. The must also build up their technology and data skills to ensure plans are anchored in digital-first and digitally-centric behaviors.

The Top 5 Skills Modern Executives Need

1. Adaptability and Flexibility

If there is one thing both business and technology C-suite executives agree on, it’s that unpredictability and uncertainty is the new normal. Since the ensuing chaos from the COVID-19 pandemic, and all the resulting business and consumer behavior changes, being able to adapt to massive shifts in political, environmental, and medical conditions is something that will enable businesses to not just survive unpredictability, but thrive. 

C-Suite executives must deal with the ambiguous nature of the new global norm by becoming more flexible, with the ability to pivot quickly based on sea changes in the surrounding world. Being adaptive and flexible is partly about culture and process, but it must be supported by more modern technology solutions, like artificial intelligence (AI), that enable adaptivity, and flexibility, at scale.

2. Technological Literacy

Knowing how to select and deploy the right technology solutions is a critical component to ensure the success of your business. For the modern CEO, part of this is making sure you have the right technology leadership (CIO, CDO) under you that you trust, with some level of business acumen so the right conversations can take place. The CIO/CDO should be able to converse with the CEO in a way that bridges the business and technology divide.

And, while it is not expected that CEOs are as tech-savvy as their CIO, CEOs do need to step up their game and at least become more technologically-literate, so they have a good understanding of important technologies that can differentiate their business offerings. Understanding critical data management, automation platforms, and technologies, like the customer data platforms (CDP), artificial intelligence (AI), and customer experience (CX) analytics is a key skill CEOs must possess.

CEOs should make space at the table for CIOs if they do not have one already. CIOs are your active partner in ensuring positive business outcomes from technology investment. Keeping them involved in strategic decision making is key to master skills and knowhow. 

3. Data-Driven Practices

Data is one of the most valuable resources a company has. More data is being created today than at any point in history. Around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day. Ninety percent of all data today was created in just the last two years.

Modern executives must embrace data-driven processes and strategies. To do that, they must focus on centralized data management, and leveraging customer data for business success. As businesses move towards more data-driven processes and culture, the need for a centralized data management solution to gather and make sense of data increases significantly. With a CDP, a single source of truth regarding a customer can be leveraged across the enterprise to align efforts around commonly held metrics.

More advanced analytics and visualizations are needed, either in a stand-alone package or baked into a CDP system to understand that data and make actionable decisions from it. This allows C-Suite execs to have the data they need to make decisions in an agile and timely fashion.

4. An Agile Mindset

Modern C-suite executives must be able to act and support their teams to plan, execute, and deliver programs and products in an agile and iterative fashion.

Agile methodology was developed 20 years ago and was part of an effort to modernize software development into a process that was more collaborative, iterative, and scalable. Agile development has been used by companies through methods like Scrum and Kanban to modernize apps, improve the customer experience, and implement and accelerate digital transformations.

Part of agile methodology is empowering employees and self-organizing teams to make decisions and act and react quickly. Another critical part is deploying the right tools that allows people to organize, plan, and execute in an agile fashion. Tools like Jira and DevOps packages allow agile teams to prioritize work, gather requirements, do user stories, and collaborate with customers and business stakeholders. 

According to Issac Sacolick, president, StarCIO, “The challenge for organization leaders is to find the right balance of diverse teams, self-organization principles, standards, tools, and integrations that enable their organizations to build, extend, scale, and maintain technology capabilities.”

Agile methodology is now making its way into the rest of the enterprise. Project managers and product developers are adapting agile methods, as well other areas outside software development.

5. Emotionally Intelligent

Emotional intelligence is one of the top soft skills all C-suite executives need to work on. Emotional intelligence, as defined by the APA, refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. These are critical skills for C-Suite executives who now need to manage collaboration in flattened organizations, as well as empower employees to act in an agile fashion.

Modern C-suite executives need to build trust, not fear, in their teams. They can do this by showing they value employees by recognizing them, as well as trusting them to act in the company’s best interests without being micromanaged.

Emotional intelligence will allow executives to build better teams, and understand individual team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Also, given the fact that teams may be remote or hybrid, taking the time to talk to and understand employee needs and concerns is the first step to retaining top talent in difficult times.


Being a successful C-suite executive has changed a lot in just the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic, related supply chain issues, and with environmental and political instability have all made the business world more unpredictable. Modern C-suite executives must be more flexible and adaptable to unknown situations in order to lead their organizations through the chaos to success. 

To succeed in today’s world, executives need to be more data-driven, and customer centric, so they can drive success in a mutually beneficial way. And, building teams across an enterprise means having the emotional intelligence needed to connect groups, work across business lines, and give people the support they need to meet evolving goals. 

With the right set of data-driven skills, technology know-how, emotional intelligence, and agile and adaptive behaviors, C-suite executives will be equipped to lead their companies to financial success.

Brian Carlson
Brian Carlson
Brian Carlson is the Founder and CEO of RoC Consulting, a digital consultancy that helps brands establish the optimal balance of content, technology and marketing to achieve their goals.