If you ask CEOs what they really want from the people they lead, their answers will indicate the imperative of the age in which they live. If you’d asked that question in the 1950s, for example, they’d probably have answered “technical genius in their field of expertise”. In the 1970s, it was possibly “loyalty and dedication”. In the 1980s, they’d probably have been looking for “driving ambition and competitiveness”, the 1990s was probably about “vision”, while the 2000s were likely about “ruthless efficiency and management discipline”. What do you think?

I was interested to read the results of a recent survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value. Can you guess what one leadership competency was valued above all others?

The answer bears important consequences for a company’s stakeholders, since the qualities that a CEO values most in the company leadership team will set a standard that affects everything the company does, and contribute directly to its long-term success (or failure).

And the answer is… CREATIVITY.

Conducted through in-person interviews with consultants from IBM’s Institute for Business Value, less than half of global CEOs believe their enterprises are adequately prepared to handle a highly volatile, increasingly complex business environment. CEOs are confronted with massive shifts new government regulations, changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, rapidly evolving customer preferences – that, according to the study, can be overcome by instilling “creativity” throughout an organization.

More than 60% of CEOs believe industry transformation is the top factor contributing to uncertainty, and the finding indicates a need to discover innovative ways of managing an organization’s structure, finances, people and strategy. The CEOs interviewed told IBM that today’s business environment is volatile, uncertain and increasingly complex. Eight in ten CEOs expect their environment to grow significantly more complex but only 49% believe their organizations are equipped to deal with it successfully.

“Coming out of the worst economic downturn in our professional lifetimes — and facing a new normal that is distinctly different — it is remarkable that CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future,” said Frank Kern, senior vice president, IBM Global Business Services. “But step back and think about it, and this is entirely consistent with the other top finding in our Study — that the biggest challenge facing enterprises from here on will be the accelerating complexity and the velocity of a world that is operating as a massively interconnected system.”

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