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Three Key Leadership Skills to Develop in 2023

January 31, 2023

Louis Hébert


The successive waves of health, political and financial crises in recent years have wreaked havoc on the economic models and forecasts that were once part and parcel of every executive’s toolbox. In the wake of all this uncertainty, what’s the secret to planning ahead and boosting performance? For Louis Hébert, a professor in HEC Montréal’s Management Department, part of the answer lies in acquiring three key skills that have the power to generate real and lasting results.

The turbulence of today’s business life, “amid the complexities of economic and social recovery,” is a reality that leaders must cope with, says Hébert. Although some aspire to recapture the operational fluidity they enjoyed back in the day, “executives are finding that shutting off the taps is a lot easier than turning them back on.”


A lesson in humility

The way Louis Hébert sees it, this “lesson in humility is forcing people to re-examine their priorities.” He points out that, in past decades, organizations had the luxury of largely disregarding macroeconomic factors.

“Growth and globalization were on everyone’s lips, but nobody gave a second thought to the external causes that could derail the mechanisms that were being put in place. Sure enough, these are the causes that are now front and centre of business thinking.”

Hence the need to focus on three soft skills he qualifies as essential: vigilance, resilience and agility.


1- Improving vigilance

“We were all skiing along at a nice clip, but we’d seldom raise our eyes to look beyond the tip of our skis to see where we were going,” says Louis Hébert. “For senior managers, a broader sense of what’s going on around you is just as important as the operational minutiae. When you can see the bigger picture, there’s less of a risk of being blindsided.”

Leaders are duty-bound to remain vigilant, not just by keeping an eye on what the competition is up to, but also by considering all the crucial resistance factors that can have an effect on the present and future of their organization.

A broader perspective, focusing on both the macro and the micro aspects of business, is a must.

“It’s not so much a matter of competitive intelligence anymore. It’s about creating an ecosystem where collaboration can thrive.”


2- Strengthening resilience

As essential a soft skill as vigilance is in 2023, Louis Hébert acknowledges that it has emerged “in a world where organizational efficiency was the main driver for an entire generation.”

The cornerstone of this approach was the just-in-time supply chain.

“Unfortunately, while this model waxed, the concept of resilience waned.”

He points out, suggesting that the central question for any strategy moving forward should instead be, “How can each link in the value chain be flexible enough to adapt to what lies ahead?”


3- Cultivating agility

“Some leaders are better at absorbing shocks than others. But getting back on the horse is always a challenge, no matter what,” Louis Hébert says.

Organizational systems right now are particularly fragile, in his estimation, and the gaps in workforce and skills development, sizeable.

“The level of activity isn’t buzzing like it used to be. So we need to take action and reboot the machine to make things more productive again.”

Louis Hébert is quick to point out that all three of these skills need to factor in environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria, not to mention address issues specific to staff, shareholders, customers and other stakeholders.


Ascension program: Learning from the best

Executive Education HEC Montréal’s Ascension program has been developed specifically to meet the needs of current and aspiring business leaders. The structure is built around the contemporary challenges they are called upon to face. The impressive lineup of speakers for this immersive five-day program (which includes three days in a hotel) features experts from both business and academic circles.

“With Ascension, our aim is to get straight down to it, so we can open minds to new outlooks and encourage everyone to go deeper, faster,” Louis Hébert says.

Thoughts, observations, real-life business case studies, best practices and peer-driven conversations are just some of what makes this program a worthwhile investment.

Participants will leave inspired, with fresh new insights to draw on, an expanded circle of contacts to refer to and a new toolbox they can leverage to make the foundations of their organization stronger and more durable.


Learn more about the Ascension program for current and aspiring executives.

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