It goes in cycles, doesn’t it? Some commentator announces the end of everything as we know it, and then predicts the future. We are always passing the ‘Future’ of our past – we’re past the Back to the Future future, we’re past 1984, we’re sort of past the future of House of Cards (or are we?). And we got a lot right. On the other, we now take for granted something that we never saw coming back in the 70s or even the 80s – the internet.
So what can we say about the CEO of the future? Is it even worth trying to predict what the role will be like? After all, every CEO I’ve worked with has encountered at least one major surprise when they took up the role. But if you’re not a CEO yet and want to be, it is worth attempting a prediction, because reflecting on future possibilities highlights some important issues. It helps clarify our assumptions and provokes us to be adaptive and resilient when that future arrives.
Here is my contribution to how the most effective CEOs will develop over the next 10 years.
- EQ still beats IQ; engaging, collaborative, affiliative, leading.
An organisation’s success depends on being a strong social group not just an efficient technical machine. Successful CEOs of the future must be able to engage well with their colleagues through increased volatility. This means tight collaboration, instilling a sense of belonging and building distributed leadership. Control is necessary, but to free up the organisation rather than freeze it. CEOs who create leaders will fare better than control freaks.
- Curious emergent adaptive design savvy (thinking) agile
PWC’s 2015 survey of CEOs ranked Curiosity as the top CEO capability for the future. (You can get the survey here: http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-agenda/ceo-survey/key-findings/capabilities.html). Curiosity is most powerful when the world is too complex for one person to comprehend. Curiosity means that our assumptions are up for testing and we learn what we need to learn. But to produce outcomes curiosity needs:
- Understanding emergence.
- Resisting the urge to be perfectly predictive.
- Spotting and testing hard-wired assumptions embedded in processes.
- Creating adaptiveness rather than rigid control.
The methodology for dealing with this is design thinking, as CEOs will need to design great organisations. .
- Digital: CDO mentality, digital warriors, systems savvy
It’s a cliche that the world is turning digital. But whereas IT was a function that served management, digital is now a mindset that shapes leaders. It is not enough to use technology as a tool but to incorporate it before designing the business.
No CEO can be purely local, even in small enterprises with local stakeholders. When I look for services and products, it is often easier, cheaper and quicker to find what I need overseas. This has challenge and opportunity for a CEO. The challenge to meet global competition and the opportunity to take a niche company international very rapidly.
How do you rate yourself on these capabilities?
Of course being a CEO always evolves and each CEO shapes the role according to their capabilities and the talent they are able to attract.
But if you are not yet a CEO and aspire to the role in 5-10 years, you’ll need to do more than build ‘skills’, you’ll need to engage right now with a model of the future and develop the deeper capabilities the role will need. You’ll need to start becoming a Designer, with an international perspective, attuned to people and close to the potential impact of emerging technologies on organisations.
But before that, it’s important to understand what the CEO role is. It is different from a managerial role or an expert role and makes quite different emotional and intellectual demands on you. That’s why I’ve developed and continue to refine my approach to helping CEOs (and their boards and teams) understand the role in a structured way. It’s vital to link the Board’s actions with the design of the CEO role, and the talent in the executive team.
This linkage goes missing in the flow of urgent transactions that characterises much of executive life. So as you prepare yourself for a future CEO role, craft your view of it. What is essential to a CEO role and what kind of CEO will you be? What fundamental abilities do you offer and – just as important – what do you need help with?