An all-round leader is what companies, both small and large, have been seeking since time immemorial for the CEO and other C-level positions. 

For the past two decades, however, things have changed. Although capabilities such as management of financial and operational resources remain indispensable, “when companies today search for top leaders, especially new CEOs, they attribute less importance to those capabilities than they used to and instead prioritize one qualification above all others: strong social skills,” a Havard Business Review finds. 

In the review, HBR defines social skills as certain specific capabilities, including a high level of self-awareness, the ability to listen and communicate well, a facility for working with different types of people and groups and having the capacity to infer how others are thinking and feeling.

The study analyzed nearly 5,000 job descriptions for C-suite roles and found that since 2007, relative to 2000, companies advertising C-level job openings “increasingly emphasized the importance of social skills and deemphasized operational expertise.”

The findings of the study are attributed to, among other factors, people skills have become increasingly important as CEOs are increasingly expected to deal with employees, customers, regulators, activists, and the public at large. With the upheaval of the pandemic, good, empathetic communication is even more crucial.

The authors of the study, based on the trend, concluded that firm size and complexity and information-processing technologies were the primary drivers of the monumental change. 

It is notable that large enterprises place a high priority on social skills. Simultaneously, multinational corporations listed on public exchanges and those involved in mergers and acquisitions have a greater need for social skills.

“Social skills are particularly important in settings where productivity hinges on effective communication, as it invariably does in large, complex, and skill-intensive enterprises,” write the authors

With regards to information-processing technology, the study revealed that companiescompetitiveness depends on judgment, creativity, and perception – things computer systems cannot provide. With automation prevalent in technologically intensive firms, managers are often faced with integrating heterogeneous workforces, responding to unexpected events, and managing conflict during the decision-making process, tasks best performed by managers with strong social skills.

Succinctly, the study concludes that although companies still value C-suite executives with traditional administrative and operational skills, their inclination towards hiring people with highly developed social skills has increased significantly over the years.