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Korn Ferry Survey: 87 Percent of Executives Want to Be CEO, Yet, Only 15 Percent of Execs Are ‘Learning Agile,’ a Key to Effective Leadership

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An executive survey released by Korn Ferry (NYSE:KFY) , a single source for leadership and talent consulting services, revealed that 87 percent of executives would like to be CEO. However, data from the firm, based on leadership assessments of more than 2.5 million leaders over the past four decades concludes that only 15 percent of executives are highly “learning agile” – a key predictor of success and critical attribute of effective, breakthrough leaders.

In addition, when asked if C-level jobs are more, or less desirable than five years ago, 59 percent of executives responded that top jobs are more appealing today. Five years ago marked the latter years of the “Great Recession,” officially lasting from December 2007 through June 2009. This result indicates that during that time period, many candidates placed greater value on stability and eschewed these top-level positions. In fact, 96 percent of executives overall said they would be interested in a C-Suite job today.

The three most desired C-Suite jobs are CEO, COO and CMO. The top three most challenging, according to executives, are CEO, COO and CFO. Interestingly, the CFO post is seen as one of the top three most challenging, yet less than 36 percent of respondents saw it as desirable, nearly making it the least desired job.

“While the majority of executives say they aspire to leadership in the C-Suite, effectiveness there is easier said than done,” said Jane Stevenson, Vice Chairman, Board and CEO Services Practices, Korn Ferry. “Today’s global marketplace is characterized by slow growth and fast change. The speed and complexity of this business environment means that leaders are faced with making decisions without complete information. Perfect information is almost impossible considering perpetual demographic shifts, technological and regulatory changes, and pockets of geopolitical instability. To succeed leaders must have a high quotient of learning agility.”

Learning agility, as defined by Korn Ferry, is the willingness and ability to learn from experience and then apply those lessons to succeed in new situations. Leaders who are learning agile continuously seek new challenges, solicit direct feedback, self-reflect, and get jobs done resourcefully. Learning agility is a critical predictor of leadership success – above intelligence and education.

In addition, as part of a CEO simulation assessment, Korn Ferry queried 79 external and internal CEO candidates between 2010 and 2014. These executives were under consideration for a CEO role, and independent of the executives in the aforementioned survey. Of all of these CEO candidates, only 69 percent said they were willing to become CEO.

“Today’s CEO role carries with it significant uncertainty, pressure and relatively high risk,” said Dave Heine, Korn Ferry Executive Vice President, Board and CEO Services Practice. “Given that, it’s not surprising that almost a third of leaders who the Board or current CEO view as candidates for the CEO job are not particularly interested in the role.”

From Aug. 28 to Sept. 17, Korn Ferry surveyed 1,055 executives.

Executive Survey Data

Most Sought After C-Suite Position

Ranked as Most Challenging (1=most, 7=least)

CEO 87% 1
COO 86% 2
CMO 59% 4
CCO 47% 7
CIO 45% 5
CFO 36% 3
CHRO 25% 6

Do you think being in the C-Suite is less appealing or more appealing than 5 years ago?

Less appealing 41%
More appealing 59%

Would you ever want to have any job in the C-Suite?

Yes 96%
No 4%

From Sept. 10, 2010 to April 18, 2014 Korn Ferry conducted comprehensive interviews and evaluations of 79 CEO candidates.

CEO Survey Data

Do you want to be CEO?
Yes 69%
Open But Ambivalent 23%
No 8%

About Korn Ferry

At Korn Ferry, we design, build, attract and ignite talent. Since our inception, clients have trusted us to help recruit world-class leadership. Today, we are a single source for leadership and talent consulting services to empower businesses and leaders to reach their goals. Our solutions range from executive recruitment and leadership development programs, to enterprise learning, succession planning and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO). Visit http://www.kornferry.com for more information on Korn Ferry, and http://www.kornferryinstitute.com for thought leadership, intellectual property and research.

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