Hiring a CEO? 5 Important Skills To Look For When Recruiting A New Chief Executive Officer.

12 December 2017

Hiring a CEO? 5 Important Skills To Look For When Recruiting A New Chief Executive Officer.

Executive CEO Recruitment

Hiring for the C-suite is much more complicated than hiring for more junior roles. C-suite staff play a pivotal role in the success of a business. With the right team at this level, a business can be steered towards growth, navigating any & all issues that occur.

However, if just one member of the C-suite causes a negative disruption, the impacts on business success can be serious... more so with the CEO, than any other role. This may be partly why, as Harvard Business Review reports, about a quarter of CEO departures in the Fortune 500 the during 2000-2013 period, were involuntary departures.

Hiring a new CEO is no easy task, though. The role of a CEO is more demanding than most other roles in a company, and identifying the right candidate for your organisation is complex. Despite this, a survey found that only 54% of companies stated they are grooming a specific successor to the CEO position.

So if you're looking to recruit a new CEO, regardless of whether a permanent CEO or for an interim role, what are the key skills to look out for?

A 'Hands-On' Delegator

A CEO needs to be able to understand the day-to-day activities of their organization and how all the moving-parts are working together, but without being tempted to micromanage each individual project.

The CEO’s role is to have enough insight into each area of the business that they can feedback on progress and spot potential issues, but the day-to-day activities should progress without the CEOs input.

A good CEO knows when to get involved to ensure projects are meeting target, yet knows when to step back and avoid micromanaging their team.


When recruiting a new CEO, it may be tempting to look at internal succession, considering that fact that existing staff will already understand where the company fits within your sector, and has a feel for company culture. There are downsides to internal succession, though...

The CEO role is dissimilar to most other roles, requiring a unique mix of skills (as outlined in this post, in fact). Without a solid background of experience in a similar CEO role, there is a risk of teething problems following their move in to steer the ship, potentially costly ones. In fact, 39% of companies surveyed claim to have no viable internal candidates to permanently replace the CEO if required to do so immediately.

Hiring a CEO with a proven track record in the role, therefore, can help to ensure a smoother transition from the existing CEO.  Perhaps this is why the average age for an incoming CEO is 58.

Communication Skills

As CEOs need to have insight into many areas of the business, the ability to communicate with teams from many departments is vital. A breakdown in communication at this level can result in poor performance for the business as a whole.

A study by Navalent found that ‘top’ executives are "consistently transparent and balanced in their communication". Clear, effective communication helps keep internal teams on-board.

So called ‘soft skills’, which are important for a CEO to possess, include:

  • Conflict management
  • Delegation
  • Mentoring others
  • Team building

All of the above are only possible with excellent communication skills.

Risk assessment skills

Appropriate risk will vary depending on the culture of your business. For example, younger start-ups may be less risk averse than larger corporations. However, whatever your company approach to risk, it’s vital that the CEO is able to understand your organisations policy, assess new projects for risk, and make decisions that weigh the possible risks & rewards.

If a CEO is too risk averse, potentially lucrative business opportunities may be missed, however not being risk averse enough can be even more costly.

Understanding what appropriate risk is requires a high level of experience, a solid knowledge of your industry and organisation, and oftentimes, a willingness to discuss risk issues internally with others.


The last important skill for a CEO that we'll mention in this article, is the ability to adapt to change in their own role, and the help steer change within teams and the company as a whole.

Change can come in the form of on-going global changes, such as the push towards increased digital transformation in many sectors, to more ‘current affairs’ types of change, such as Brexit.

Taking the last example, Brexit, it’s vital that a CEO can look past the attention-grabbing headlines of the press and understand where opportunities may lay for their organisation within the changing business landscape.

About Novo

Novo is a leading executive search and selection company. We provide our clients with the most innovative executive search and selection methodologies, industry expertise and networking capabilities to enable them to attract exceptionally talented professionals. Our services provide competitive advantage to clients through executive recruitment and high value human resource consultancy.

To have a confidential discussion about our services, please contact Dale Perrett (Director) dale.perret@novoexec.com (0844 241 2064)


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