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Company leaders need more strings to their bow to meet the demands of the modern world.

CEOs are being subjected to greater pressure as they balance both financial and non-financial priorities, a leading business executive believes.

Mark Averill, CEO of business advisory firm PwC, says the role of business in society is changing - and with it the demands on company leaders.

"CEOs today are facing greater expectations from society and other external stakeholders about what their business can do for New Zealand Inc," he says. "These can range from poverty, to climate change, to diversity and businesses need to consider these issues every bit as much as they do financial matters."

His comments come ahead of this month's PwC Herald Talks 'Transformation of Leadership' breakfast event. A panel of keynote speakers, including Spark New Zealand managing director Simon Moutter and Dr Suze Wilson, senior lecturer in the School of Management at Massey University, will address the topic of how to become a modern leader.

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Averill says as the business environment is becoming increasingly complex - and the speed of change is increasing - greater demands are being placed on corporate leadership.

"As well as having to look at business growth, CEOs are having to build strategies and develop a vision in a world where there is greater global uncertainty, be it political or regulatory, and where technology is creating significant transformation in how businesses operate.

"They also need to ensure they have people with the right skills for the future," he says. "It feels like the demands placed on CEOs are probably greater now than they've ever been."

Averill says no one person can have all the answers which is why CEOs need a strong team around them bringing different skills to the table.

"An executive team can share the load with a CEO," he says. "They should also accept greater accountability in decision-making in order for a business to benefit from a team-based approach. A leader doesn't need to do everything, but they still need to be prepared to make some bold decisions in order to drive change.

"I think every CEO has a natural desire to project growth in their business. However the challenge is in how to execute these growth plans."

Averill says good leaders need to be agile, embrace change, develop realistic agendas, make decisions that align to their business purpose and values – and work well with their teams while at the same time build other leaders.

He says CEOs also need to "champion the tech debate. They ought to be aware of tech developments and be willing to learn and embrace these because the tone is set from the top and will determine whether automation is to be of benefit to a business.

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"Again this is about getting fit for the future," Averill says. "Being tech-enabled is part of the everyday expectation we now have of CEOs and being relevant for the future means you need to embrace working in a digital way.

"I also think we shouldn't underestimate how hard transformation is for established organisations who have always operated in a pre-digital world; the thinking around how to achieve the optimal people and automation combination - as opposed to people versus automation - is still evolving."

Mark Averill, PwC CEO. Photo / Supplied.
Mark Averill, PwC CEO. Photo / Supplied.

Averill says one of the most critical business issues is how to develop more business leaders from under-represented groups.

"It is about ensuring we have better representation of women in senior roles, but I do believe the conversation needs to be much broader," he says. "We need to consider our own Maori heritage and the growing level of Asian and Pacific engagement in New Zealand.

"These different backgrounds, along with younger generations who embrace technology, have to be involved; it's the mix that will lead to true diversity of thought."

Averill believes this question can be addressed by ensuring key talent representative of these groups are given opportunities and support to help them become successful and leaders in their own right.

"It is happening, it is a growing conversation but it is still taking time to implement. But it is critical to have role models, because momentum will build from that."

Averill says he believes the key to leading a successful business is for a CEO to have great people.

"I learnt very early on in my career that you always have more fun when you work and achieve success as a team and this hasn't changed since I stepped into a leadership role.

"The leadership style I've always admired most has been one of openness and transparency," he says. "You need two-way communication as it's the only way people know what's expected of them."

For more information on the leadership event click here.