Article by Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller, Kevin Sneader, and Kurt Strovink at McKinsey Insights

Image by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

COVID-19 has created a massive humanitarian challenge: millions ill and hundreds of thousands of lives lost; soaring unemployment rates in the world’s most robust economies; food banks stretched beyond capacity; governments straining to deliver critical services. The pandemic is also a challenge for businesses—and their CEOs—unlike any they have ever faced, forcing an abrupt dislocation of how employees work, how customers behave, how supply chains function, and even what ultimately constitutes business performance.

Confronting this unique moment, CEOs have shifted how they lead in expedient and ingenious ways. The changes may have been birthed of necessity, but they have great potential beyond this crisis. In this article, we explore four shifts in how CEOs are leading that are also better ways to lead a company: unlocking bolder (“10x”) aspirations, elevating their “to be” list to the same level as “to do” in their operating models, fully embracing stakeholder capitalism, and harnessing the full power of their CEO peer networks. If they become permanent, these shifts hold the potential to thoroughly recalibrate the organization and how it operates, the company’s performance potential, and its relationship to critical constituents.

Only CEOs can decide whether to continue leading in these new ways, and in so doing seize a once-in-a-generation opportunity to consciously evolve the very nature and impact of their role. Indeed, as we have written elsewhere, part of the role of the CEO is to serve as a chief calibrator—deciding the extent and degree of change needed. As part of this, CEOs must have a thesis of transformation that works in their company context. A good CEO is always scanning for signals and helping the organization deliver fine-tuned responses. A great CEO will see that this moment is a unique opportunity for self-calibration, with profound implications for the organization.

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