Leaders who inspire: Today, their best asset is soft skills: communication, openness and a focus on client and employee experience.

 
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A decade ago, if a company's president had answered with an honest "I don't know" to a question from a board member, if he had admitted to his staff that he wasn't good at listening to others, or if he had treated employees as colleagues rather than subordinates, it might have put an end to his career.

Nowadays, things are very different. In a world where the only constant is change and volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity-known as the VUCA factoris commonplace, the abilities that define a leader are worlds apart from those of 10 years ago.

The first indispensable quality in today's leader is the ability to adapt to change, according to Tim Robson, global managing partner of HI Executive Consulting (HIEC), an executive headhunter.

"With the speed at which serious changes are taking place, today's leaders have to be transformational, able to motivate and create huge changes very quickly," he said. "Their strongest ability has to be persuading and inspiring their people with a purpose that mobilizes them."

In other words, the individual and hierarchical leadership of executives in the past is no longer appropriate. Today, collective leadership is required. "A great leader is one who creates and stimulates leadership among people," said Mauricio Rodriguez, professor of leadership at the University of the Andes and University Extemado of Colombia in Bogota.

"A leader (today) is an inspirer, a coach, an advisor, an ally; not the boss who gives orders and is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Leaders today are able to surround themselves with people who are better than they are and share their power with whoever has the best knowledge of the issue," said Mauricio Rodriguez, who has written several books on leadership.

One of the most far-reaching changes facing today's CEOs is the way that talented young people view their professional lives.

"The dream of millennials is not to work for a company; it is to do something that will have an impact, that makes a difference, so that their lives have a purpose," said Carlos Rodriguez, director for the Andean region at the headhunter firm Egon Zehnder.

"It's not only about doing well. It's also about doing good. That means the challenge for CEOs is how to make work interesting enough to attract and hold that talent. It's no longer enough to answer to the stockholders. It's indispensable to also answer to the stakeholders. That is a dramatic change," said Carlos Rodriguez. "For the CEO...

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