By Melanie Clark, Managing Director at Azura Search

The Modern Leader

The world of business has changed. Digital transformation, globalisation and changing economic and political environments have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for organisations. So what does the modern leader need to succeed? What are companies looking for from their next CEO or CFO? Melanie Clark, Managing Director of Azura Search shares the insights she has acquired from managing the executive searches for some of the world’s leading brands.

Melanie Clark, Managing Director at Azura Search

A change in culture

Most organisations have shifted their culture away from a traditional, ‘top-down’ approach to one which is far more collaborative. As a result, the role of a leader has also changed, and those who can demonstrate their ability to lead by example and empower a team are increasingly attractive. For individuals hoping to secure a CFO position, this is particularly important. As an increasingly vital business partner, the CFO now finds themselves at the forefront of an organisation’s growth and transformation. It has become even more essential for finance professionals looking for a senior management role to demonstrate their ability to lead and collaborate. 

Skills and experience in demand

Technology has changed the business landscape, particularly in finance, where automation has freed up capacity for teams to offer a more consultative service. Firms expect senior leaders across all divisions to be more technologically advanced and have a good understanding of how to leverage progress for the benefit of the company. However, it is the softer skills which are increasingly important for today’s executive search. Companies want leaders who can:

  • Inspire others
  • Manage a range of personalities
  • Influence key stakeholders
  • Debate constructively
  • Be a true partner to the CEO

The trend points towards leadership ability being the top priority. We hear from many clients that so long as a candidate is an inspirational leader and have the required experience, they can be taught the nuances of the industry and still make a success of the role. This opens the door to more organisations hiring their senior management from outside the industry, particularly in listed businesses. An added benefit of doing so is that these candidates also offer a fresh perspective to the company. In terms of experience, companies are particularly keen to see finance professionals who have ‘war stories’ and experience of change. They want passionate people with a hunger to progress, but who have already been through periods of substantial transition and all the challenges that come with it. 

Filling the skills gap

It has become increasingly popular for senior-level professionals to use coaches to help them hone their leadership skills. Businesses themselves are taking leadership development more seriously, and where possible, candidates should take advantage of any consultancy or training available on subjects such as team development, hiring for success and resilience. More often than not, today’s modern leader acts as ‘an agent of engagement’, where their role is as much about enabling the right people to connect to solve the problem as it is about strategy. While it is essential for a CFO to have a good awareness of the latest digital trends, the business does need specialist knowledge in the form of a Head of E-Commerce or a Chief Digital Officer, to improve technology and the use of it commercially. This draws on their ability to orchestrate and enable others. The rewards of digital transformation are obvious - 56% of CEOs surveyed by Gartner say their digital improvements have already increased profits. But there’s an increasing awareness that this transformation isn’t just about technology - it’s about people.

The way of working

Working arrangements are certainly evolving, especially for women. There’s no longer an expectation that all staff must be in the office, 9am - 6pm, Monday - Friday, there’s much more opportunity to be flexible, thanks to technology. Some of the people we work with are able to work from home one day a week, or come in early and leave early. However, at a senior management level, there is no denying that leaders still need to be visible in the office to be inspiring managers

A change in the recruitment process

Despite all the change we’ve seen to office culture and leadership style, little progress has been made in the recruitment process for most organisations – it is still quite antiquated. At Azura Search, we’re trying to make the process more agile. Increasingly, we find that we arepartnering with businesses who also have an appetite to break the mould. Our entrepreneurial approach is a great match for theirs, and we’re receiving great support for the way we work. These inspirational, personable leaders have an increasingly modern approach, as do we.


If you are considering your next leadership role, or you’d like to discuss your company’s needs, please don’t hesitate to email me: [email protected]