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Changing of the guard in the corporate world gives us an opportunity for insight into what makes a successful executive leader. The accolades shared as a CEO or other C-level team member moves from one company to another can sound like a eulogy. But an astute business leader can dig into those compliments to build a picture, or perhaps a roadmap, of qualities and skills they need to develop for themselves.

Significant shifts in corporate leadership, job moves made by CEOs and their C-level teams, and the success stories illuminated by those moves can give any new or mid-level executive insight into their own path to the top. Learning more about what traits, skills, objectives, and knowledge have helped other successful executives will also help life-long learners understand what they need to fill in the gaps for themselves. 

Studying the success of others can help you develop a career plan for yourself. And finding the best executive education program for yourself will help prepare you for the business imperatives of the next decade. 

Case Study: Learning from the Success of Others 

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the need for C-suites to change, to become less hierarchical, more agile, and considerate of a broader set of stakeholders. Likewise, leadership changes are needed to allow large companies to innovate differently, transform customer relationships, and prepare for success in the 21st Century. 

When food industry veteran and President and COO of Chobani Peter McGuinness departed the yogurt maker to take the helm of Impossible Foods in March 2022, he was called “passionate, provocative, and innovative … one of the leading voices championing the idea that business can be a force for good.” 

Pat Brown, outgoing founder and CEO of the plant-based meat brand Impossible Foods, said McGuinness was a great choice to lead the company because he “helped drive Chobani’s mission, built its values, and expand the brand into new product categories.” 

In recent years, McGuinness has talked about leading a company that has adopted ‘universal wellness’ as its North Star. It’s one thing to articulate a lofty set of values, but quite another to intertwine these goals into the company’s DNA, to make them part of everything the company does. However, McGuinness was adamant that company goals were never stunts. 

It’s important for business leaders to “speak your values and have a point of view,” McGuinness said in a broad interview with Forbes“I think everybody should have their own playbook and what works for Chobani may not work for many, many other companies. Find that one thing that is beautiful about your brand or your business, and double down on it.”

Meeting Business Demands for the Next Decade

From its beginning, Impossible Food’s mission was to create solutions that avert climate change and preserve biodiversity. As CEO, McGuinness will be tasked with helping to expand, evolve, and grow the brand and business of the 10-year-old plant-based meat manufacturer, expanding across international markets. 

“Gone are the days that just anybody can be a CEO of any company,” said Surya N. Mohapatra, an independent director of Xylem Inc. and Leidos, in an EY report on C-suite culture. “In the time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technology and expertise matter, you have to have industry experts who move really quickly.”

In his new role, McGuinness is typical of global executives who are increasingly required to recognize the unique landscape of business imperatives and understand the needed capabilities. His successes can offer timely lessons to other executives.

Becoming a Global Leader for Tomorrow 

The next generation of CEOs will be subject matter experts who also have leadership qualities like integrity, the ability to communicate and inspire, global and cross-cultural skills, and an understanding of what it takes to grow. In other words, future CEOs will need to be the total package and more.

CEOs of the future are Executive Education students of today. However, regardless of age, experience, or title, almost anyone can finetune leadership skills. And existing leaders can further develop their skills any time in their career. 

How to Manage Your Own Leadership Transitions

If you are a global leader looking for ways to advance, adapt, and expand your impact, it may be time to explore the wide variety of non-credit and certificate programs available for Executive Education. At the Thunderbird School of Global Management, leadership development is a fundamental aspect of the curriculum through both in-person and online, self-guided, or self-paced programs. 

Whether your goal is to become CEO or to tackle the next senior-level opening, looking outside your own company may be the most helpful way to prepare yourself for professional growth. 

The pace and magnitude of change in the business world mean that senior-level transitions are increasingly common, yet global leaders report that they receive little help. According to a McKinsey report on executive transitions, 83% of global leaders feel unprepared for their new roles. 

“Organizations most often try to help newly appointed leaders by supplying them with mentors or informal ‘buddy’ networks,” said Scott Keller, McKinsey senior partner. Yet only 47% of external hires and 29% of internal ones find these helpful. 

Start with the Right Mindset 

If you are reading this, you are most likely aware that leadership development is one of the most important things any leader can do. Conditions beyond our control – innovation, shifting global markets, the evolution of currency, climate change – mean that successful leaders will find themselves learning and relearning aspects of business throughout their careers. Starting out with a learning mindset primes you to increase your competence in many ways. 

Here are six other mindsets and skills that can help lead to global success whether you’re a student or established in your career:

  • Digital Global Mindset - A digital global mindset is a collection of qualities and attributes that allow a leader to understand and influence individuals, groups, and organizations across cultures. 
  • Transdisciplinary, Cross-Sectoral, and Cross-Cultural Skills - Optimizing the opportunities and solving challenges often means working with people from different disciplines, sectors, and cultures. 
  • Emotional Intelligence - Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and identify and influence the emotions of others. 
  • Cross-Cultural Communications and Negotiations - Successful leaders must know how to communicate and negotiate across cultures.
  • Resilience and Adaptability - In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, leaders must be able to adapt to changes, meet challenges head-on and come out stronger. Effective leaders stand ready.  
  • Growth Mindset - Leaders with a growth mindset actively pursue knowledge and continue to grow as the world evolves. They also foster the value of growth in their teams.

Checking Your Biases, or Avoiding the Wrong Mindset 

In addition to the right mindset, it is important for strategic leaders to be aware of how bias can impact decision-making. Common biases that get in the way of success in business could be described as the “wrong mindset” and can be changed if you learn to identify them. Biases include:

  •  Confirmation Bias – favoring information that confirms preconceptions. 
  • Affect Heuristics – placing heavy reliance on intuition or gut feeling. 
  • Status Quo Bias – a tendency to stick with one’s current situation. 
  • Anchor Bias – a tendency to rely too heavily on a reference point when making a decision. 
  • Framing Bias – the fact that different ways of presenting the same information evoke different outcomes. 

Thunderbird’s renowned Executive Education programs offer tools to help guide you through acquiring new knowledge or recalibrating existing skills. 

Global Network: A Lifelong Thunderbird Resource

More than a school, Thunderbird is a global network of leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs across private and public sectors worldwide. And it is home to the Najafi Global Mindset Institute directed by Garvin Distinguished Professor Mansour Javidan.

Thunderbird’s world-renowned professors and faculty have extensive hands-on experience in global management, and they’re passionate about sharing their business strategy, personal insights, proven organizational solutions, and international networks. Alumni and participants are offered the opportunity to future-proof their skills through lifelong learning opportunities and by connecting them with each other in a global network of experts.

Executive Education: Certificates for Individuals 

Whether your career is just getting started, is on track toward your career destination, or you’ve moved quickly into a senior-level position, you will find tools to help enhance your career among Thunderbird Executive Education programs. Whether your organization is big or small, the world-renowned Thunderbird programs offer Executive Education Certificates for Individuals in-person, online live, and online on-demand.  

Certificates for Organizations

In addition to certificates for individuals, Thunderbird offers custom programs for corporations to increase performance and enhance organizational capacity. Based on an organization’s priorities, Thunderbird can offer multi-day engagements, multi-modular forms across an organization’s geographic regions and operating time zones, custom executive degree programs, and hybrid programs that blend online and in-person modules.

Take a look at the wide variety of topics covered: Thunderbird Executive Education Programs

100 Million Global Learners Initiative

As part of a new global initiative to educate and empower 100 million life-long learners by 2030, Thunderbird is offering an accredited online Global Management and Entrepreneurship Certificate, consisting of five world-class courses in 40 different languages. The Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative is possible through a $25 million gift from Francis and Dionne Najafi, both of whom are Thunderbird alumni. Students in the program will receive a badge for each course completed and a 15-unit accredited certificate after completing all five courses. 

Women will account for 70% of the 100 million learners the program will reach worldwide. The certificate will be covered by full scholarships and thus offered at no cost to students because of the philanthropic support undergirding the initiative.  

For more information on the 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, sign up here or download the brochure.

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