The leadership skills of the most influential CEOs

18/11/2021 | Santander Universidades

According to Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest organisational consulting firm, the best leaders have four key skills: adaptability, curiosity, detail-oriented and tolerance of ambiguity. Do you have room for improvement in any of these areas? In fact, one way to acquire the various leadership skills companies need is through continuous training.

Today, the way companies are run has changed completely. Assertiveness, leadership, adaptation to change, communication skills and decision-making are just some of the most important leadership skills that all leaders should work on to achieve business success. Want to find out how some of the most renowned CEOs put these skills into practice? We'll explain all.

leadership skills

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

In his beginnings, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, had a more passionate vision of his popular social network, the aim of which was to connect people around the world. However, it wasn't him but rather Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, who turned Facebook into the world’s most-used online marketing and advertising platform .

One of Sheryl's most notable leadership skills is results-oriented decision-making.  Sandberg believes that "nobody gets to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines. Sit at the table.  And nobody gets the promotion if they don't believe they deserve success."”.

Her coherence and efficiency when it comes to making important decisions, such as trying out a non-invasive advertising model on Facebook, have led to success for both Facebook—which went on to be one of the most profitable companies in the world— and Sheryl, who became one of the most influential women and an inspiring feminist leader. 

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is known for focussing on innovation and creativity in all of his projects, but also for his people-based leadership. 

Tesla is a clear demonstration of innovation. The company revolutionised the automotive sector with the first self-driving car ever, and now they're building the cars of the future, taking a gamble on electric vehicles and artificial intelligence. 

Elon Musk always strives to go one step further with his creativity, believing that "You shouldn’t do things differently just because they’re different. They need to be… better." This entrepreneurial spirit has led him to start a new project: he is determined to take the first humans to the surface of Mars. He firmly believes that the only way to save humanity is to take our way of life to other planets and, thanks to his disruptive way of seeing things, SpaceX is taking the first steps towards doing just that.

leadership skills

Indra Nooyi, ex-CEO of PepsiCo and Amazon board member

Indra Nooyi, ex-CEO of PepsiCo and current Amazon board member, is one of the best examples that there is today of how to manage a company using interpersonal skills. Born into a humble family in India, Indra has always stood out for her efficient management and acute emotional intelligence.

The development of a growth strategy focussed on society, the common good and ethical economic management saw Pepsi climb to the second largest food group in the world. Indra Nooyi's leadership, based on her employees' happiness as well as giving them the confidence to learn, grow and make decisions, has been the key to Pepsi's success in recent years. 

She is adamant that to lead a major company such as this, emotional intelligence is a must: you have to lead with your head, heart and hands. She maintains that "just because you are CEO, don't think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organisation.  I've never forgotten that."

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

Netflix has succeeded in becoming the most popular video-on-demand service in the world, with over 200 million users by the end of the year 2020. The leadership of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, which takes a loyalty-based approach, has had a lot to do with that. 

Netflix staff have enormous freedom to contribute ideas and make responsible decisions. Hastings fosters a safe space for dialogue between his staff and other companies on one condition: always keep them informed of the conditions they're being offered so that Netflix has the chance to match them. 

At this company, as Reed says, the only rule is to be loyal: "At Netflix, it is tantamount to being disloyal to the company if you fail to speak up when you disagree with a colleague or have feedback that could be helpful."

How to gain leadership skills

As shown, decision-making, emotional intelligence, the ability to innovate and interpersonal skills are essential leadership skills for the leaders of today. Continuing to develop these and other leadership skills is crucial for companies, because much of an organisation's success rests on its leader's abilities.

Do you want to develop professional skills that will help you access better job opportunities? Banco Santander is launching 5,000 Santander Course | Business for All 2024. This program, aimed at those who want to enhance their business skills, has been designed in collaboration with top experts from Harvard Business School Publishing, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world.

With this course, you will gain access to a 100% online, 9-week training program on which you will acquire the key know-how and skills to further your career. Depending on your professional objectives, you can choose one of the following courses:

  • Business Fundamentals: learn the essentials of marketing, finance, negotiation and customer experience.

  • Managing yourself: improve your skills in decision-making, time management and influencing without authority. 

All courses are delivered by top-tier experts and are free to participants. And you don't need to have a degree or be a Banco Santander customer. On top of that, they are available in English, Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.

You will have the opportunity to acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills via on-demand content, virtual discussions in live sessions with mentors and learning facilitators, interaction with your peers, exercises and tools with which you can practice, then transfer the knowledge to your workplace. In addition, upon completion, you will receive a certificate from Harvard Business School Publishing.


Are you over 18 and want to develop key skills to get ahead in the workplace? Sign up for Santander Course | Business for All 2024 and whether you get it or not, remember: never stop learning. 

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