Upskilling the C-suite

According to WEF, reskilling is learning new competencies to pursue a new role, while upskilling involves learning new competencies to address skills required for a current role or for career advancement. Rita O’Donnell of HR Dive reminds executives that amid the buzz about the shortage of workers with 21st century skills, the C-suite may also need upskilling. If executives aren’t up on what’s new and what’s next, their vision for the company may be limited, and outdated beliefs could stifle growth.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) contends that a company’s capacity to learn determines its capacity to adapt and survive into the future. Very few companies will go back to the operations or strategies of the pre-pandemic world, particularly as technology continues to evolve by leaps and bounds.
We recommend three areas of emphasis for C-suite executives today: a 21st century skills check, data acumen and reimagining leadership.
21st century skills check
Many seasoned professionals assume that discussions about the need for 21st century skills refer to secondary and higher education students or new employees. Yet do executives demonstrate these essential skills personally and professionally? The skills that got us here may not keep us here — or get us there, so to speak. Although the list of skills varies according to particular frameworks, core areas include:

  • Critical thinking — Objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment, considering evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods and criteria. This includes problem-solving, which involves systematic observation.
  • Collaboration and teamwork — Deciding with a group how to approach a project or task, or solve a challenge.
  • Creativity and imagination — Contributing ideas that have value.
  • Communication — Effectively exchanging ideas, thoughts, feelings and information. The ability to communicate clearly — including keen listening skills — may be the CEO’s biggest challenge in a changing world.

Data acumen
Nancy Hensley, former Chief Digital Officer of IBM Data and AI, in Toward Data Science, says it best: “Telling stories with data is the new business acumen.” We live in the era of big data. The challenge is to use the data to gain insights for decision-making. Like most of us, Hensley says, “I used to think that if I could effectively read a balance sheet, I would be a better businessperson. Today, things have changed. Balance sheets are just data points, and unless you can tell a story around that data, bringing it to life, giving it perspective, it’s nothing more than reporting the numbers.”
Reimagining leadership
“Humility is the new smart,” declare Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig in their book of the same name. They caution that the environments that exist in many organizations today are based on outdated Industrial Age management philosophies and processes. Instead, the organization of the future will need to be people-centric, fusing the best technologies with the best human learners. All workers — including the CEO — will need to excel at “being good at not knowing” and willing to learn from each other at all levels of the organization.

Smart business today requires new mindsets and approaches to prosperity for our companies and communities. It starts with the tone at the top, established by the C-suite. Are you ready?

Barb Smoot is president and CEO of WELD
Becky S. Cornett is a member of the WELD Impact Committee