Collage of CEOs Barbara Humpton, Sasan Goodarzi, and Lindsay McCormick 2x1
Barbara Humpton; Lindsay McCormick; Sasan Goodarzi; Rachel Mendelson/Insider
  • CEOs are tasked with overseeing the biggest decisions within their organizations.
  • But their role has expanded as they've been held accountable for more than just profits.
  • Insider examined what the future might hold for the next generation of CEOs.

The priorities of the chief executives of yesteryear have expanded. CEOs today are held accountable by more people than just their shareholders and boards of directors. Events such as the coronavirus pandemic, the racial reckoning of 2020, an insurrection, and a growing climate crisis have put CEOs front and center in the social and political fray. 

In the 1970s, the economist Milton Friedman wrote an essay in The New York Times Magazine that influenced business leaders up to the present. He mocked the idea of company leaders pursuing anything other than profit, saying they had no business worrying about providing jobs, eliminating discrimination, or advancing social good.

Friedman pitted the idea of "social responsibility" against the interests of shareholders in a zero-sum game, with shareholders winning. Business leaders listened and took note.

Insider talked to CEOs from Best Buy, Intuit, 1-800-Flowers, Planned Parenthood, and other companies about skills they'd need to hone, how they were advancing the push for a more equitable workplace, and the key influencers who shaped corporate opinions. It's clear that the role of the chief executive is at a turning point, and how these leaders address the most pressing issues of our generation will make or break their legacies.

5 essential skills every CEO needs to master for the next decade

CEOs are tasked with overseeing the biggest decisions within their organizations. The pandemic also brought forth additional challenges and corporate changes beyond countless CEOs being told, "I think you're on mute."

Chief executives are being asked to communicate more, with an emphasis on missions beyond financial returns, and transforming workplaces to be more empathetic and remote-friendly. Insider spoke with four CEOs and four leadership experts about the most essential skills top executives needed to lead their organizations into the future.

Read more: Being a CEO isn't just about making money anymore. Here are the 5 essential skills every CEO needs to master for the next decade.

CEOs share how they're rebuilding their companies around compassion

The US's quest to become a more equitable country started centuries ago, but in corporate America, that journey is perhaps just beginning. CEOs are posturing differently when it comes to social justice, responding to new pressures from consumers, employees, and investors. 2020 profoundly changed the role of the business leader, CEOs including Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan and Brian Niccol Chipotle told Insider. Now they are at the forefront of a new era in diversity, equity, and inclusion, an era with more accountability. 

Chief executives from Best Buy, Etsy, PwC, and Siemens USA spoke with Insider about their visions for the future of diversity. Making the C-suite more accessible, deepening relationships with communities, and committing to transparency emerged as priorities for the foreseeable future. Turning back, they said, is simply not an option.

Read more: As corporate America wakes up to its deep-rooted diversity struggles, top CEOs reveal how they're rebuilding their companies around compassion

Corporate titans describe why Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is 'the CEO whisperer'

When events like an insurrection or debates on voting rights threaten our society, Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld activates his clout and gathers hundreds of business leaders and dignitaries for a discussion on solutions. This has earned him the moniker of "CEO whisperer."

With his Rolodex brimming with the likes of JPMorgan's Dimon and Kenneth Frazier, the former head of Merck, one may question how Sonnenfeld is able to sustain relationships with the most important decision-makers in corporate America. Why do CEOs listen to Sonnenfeld? What happens during these off-the-record seminars? And why do CEOs continue to show up?

Read more: Leaders at America's biggest companies all listen to one man. Meet Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the 'CEO whisperer.'

Insider talked to current and former executives from American Airlines, 1-800-Flowers, Xerox, Planned Parenthood, and others about Sonnenfeld's influence on their leadership — and how he's shaping the workplace of tomorrow.

Read the original article on Business Insider