Report Reveals Customers Dominate but Employees Edge Out Investors and the Board As Key Stakeholders
Next Generation BoardsDEILeadership StrategiesBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard EffectivenessDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
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May 04, 2021
Next Generation BoardsDEILeadership StrategiesBoard Composition and SuccessionBoard and CEO AdvisoryBoard EffectivenessDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory
Executive Summary
Customers dominate as the most critical stakeholder group and employees come second followed by investors and board.

Russell Reynolds Associates, a global leadership advisory and executive search firm, today released its 2021 Global Leadership Monitor, the first report of its kind to track top business issues and leadership preparedness to face them. The findings shed light on the significant challenges and impacts business leaders have faced since the start of pandemic, as well as their confidence and concerns in navigating the road ahead.

Russell Reynolds Associates surveyed 1,327 business leaders across 53 countries and all major industry sectors. The survey highlights several pertinent issues for leadership teams, including concern about talent availability, leadership softness on issues of ESG and DE&I, and disconnects between boards and management teams.

Despite the challenges and concerns leaders expressed, most respondents expressed confidence in their collective ability to handle the residual commercial-focused business issues stemming from the pandemic, including economic uncertainty, technological disruption and changing consumer behavior.

“Leaders have been challenged this last year, and many have succeeded against the odds,” said Clarke Murphy, CEO of Russell Reynolds Associates. “As leaders work on their growth plans, it will be very important that they zero in on leadership capability and culture. The long-term ramifications of the pandemic, as well as the critical dynamics of ESG and DE&I, will reveal which leadership teams have simply been good crisis managers, and which have built the foundations for their organizations to emerge stronger.”

Key global findings

Some global themes and findings from the report include:

  • Employees edge out investors and the board as key stakeholders: Customers dominate as the most critical stakeholder group and employees come second followed by investors and board.

  • Board and C-Suite disconnect: Four in ten CEOs and other C-Suite leaders don’t believe the executive team receives good advice and input from the board.

  • Leaders growing increasingly interested in new opportunities: 73% of next generation leaders are willing to change employers for the right opportunity.

  • Confidence in succession strategies low: Only 38% of leaders believe their executive leadership team has a successful strategy for C-level succession.

  • Talent availability is the top challenge for leaders: 59% of leaders cite availability of key talent and skills as a top threat to their business over the next year (second only to uncertain economic growth), and it is the concern they are least prepared to address.

  • Greater alignment needed around ESG, DE&I: 74% of CEOs and board leaders agree the leadership team is effectively embracing the opportunities of ESG, yet only 57% of other C-suite executives do.

“The challenges highlighted by our analysis will be most successfully addressed by leadership teams that prioritize culture, optimize relationships among top teams and boards, and manage ESG imperatives as rigorously as they manage strategic and operational plans,” said Murphy.

Geographic standouts

  • Americas

    • Talent tops the list in the Americas when it comes to external factors expected to have the most impact on the health of organizations over the next 12-18 months, with 60 percent of respondents listing availability of key talent and skills as their number one concern. The concern is shared to a similar extent in Asia and Europe with 55% and 56% of respondents putting availability of talent, just slightly behind concerns around economic uncertainty.

    • Executives across countries lack confidence in succession plans, and in the U.S. respondents are just as concerned when it comes to having an effective strategy for C-Suite leadership succession with only 36% respondents agreeing. Combined with high levels of openness to new job opportunities (66%, up 7% from pre-pandemic levels), this could create real leadership talent retention risk for organizations in the US.

  • Europe

    • While relatively few leaders noted heightened scrutiny of diversity and inclusion as a top 5 issue (11%), of those leaders that did, European respondents were much less likely to be confident in their leadership teams preparedness to address it. Only 36% feel their organization’s leadership is prepared; that’s compared to 63% and 67% in the U.S. and Asia respectively. It is worth noting that the UK is an outlier within Europe at 62%.

    • In Europe, 33% of executives believe that climate change is a leading risk to the health of their organization; in contrast, only 18% of executives in America and 9% of executives in Asia share this view.

  • Asia

    • Sentiment towards company leadership’s preparedness to respond to technological change is marginally lower in Asia (59%) than in the Americas (63%) and notably lower than in Europe (72%).

    • Respondents in China (81%) believe their leadership is prepared to respond to forthcoming changes in consumer behavior, that’s the highest among a list of major markets, with just 66% of U.S. respondents feeling the same level of confidence.



Russell Reynolds Associates surveyed our global network of executives using an online/mobile survey in February and March of 2021.

The 1,327 business leaders we surveyed represent:

  • 53 countries in Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe, Middle East and Oceania.

  • CEOs, C-Level leaders (reporting to CEO), next generation leaders (one to two levels below the C-Suite), and board directors.

  • Sectors including Consumer, Financial Services, Healthcare, Technology, Industrial and Natural Resources, and Professional and Business Services.

And a variety of business sizes and types:

  • 60% with annual revenues of $1billion USD or higher

  • 52% with 5,000 global employees or more

  • 50% publicly traded, 17% private equity or venture backed, and 28% private ownership


About Us

Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory and search firm. Our 470+ consultants in 46 offices work with public, private and nonprofit organizations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build teams of transformational leaders who can meet today’s challenges and anticipate the digital, economic and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment. From helping boards with their structure, culture and effectiveness to identifying, assessing and defining the best leadership for organizations, our teams bring their decades of expertise to help clients address their most complex leadership issues. We exist to improve the way the world is led.


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