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87% of executives want to be CEO, yet only 15% of execs are Learning Agile', find Korn Ferry

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.”


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