On Monday I gave an interview to a journalist about what skills will be needed by a CEO in 2030. As one of the architects of the Ashridge Future Leaders Experience I know how crucial this kind of crystal ball gazing is and yet how futile. As Ralph Stacey would say, ‘the future is unknowable…any widely held vision of the future must therefore be a delusion.’ That said, here is my stab at answering the journalist’s questions…
What qualities and skills will CEOs require then, that they don’t need now? (1) Turbo-charged google-brains, able to surf extraordinary amounts of data – management information, news, trends – and convert it to practical wisdom and decisions in the blink of an eye. Information will be cheap and quick: wisdom will be harder to come by. Even experience will date much more quickly than it does now, so the emphasis on the quality of a CEO’s education will come back into vogue. By then we may be able to download data Matrix-style straight into our brains, so it is what you do with information that will make the difference in the future. (2) Resilience skills will be tantamount – like Alice’s Red Queen, CEOs will be running to stay in the same place, so they will need to sprint to lead the field, and won’t be able to sustain this without extraordinary commitment to health and wellbeing, both for themselves and for those around them. (3) Fluency in Mandarin. China will be the world’s superpower and with the relaxation of the one-child policy, the shift in geo-politics, resource ownership and consumption, we will all be owned by the Chinese.
Assuming accelerated globalisation by 2030, will CEOs need to be more “international”? If so, what does this mean? CEOs need to be good at reading cultures locally and globally and adjusting their style, messages and business models to suit. The world is shrinking and getting faster, so CEOs will need Olympic Gold agility to stay fit and healthy, mentally and physically, and will be extremely comfortable with virtual tools. Much regulation and legislation will have standardised globally, but local operating conditions will still vary enormously as communities get more particular in the face of growing global homogenisation. A successful multi-country track record will be vital for the future CEO’s credibility.
Will leaders of the future need to be more transformational, than transactional? Will they need greater “soft skills” than before? Yes. While the cult of the charismatic leader may currently be out of vogue, the war for talent will mean that CEOs in 2030 will need to be highly charismatic, to attract flighty global talent who are loyal to their personal vocation and only to an organisation while its goals align with their own. As more industries migrate up the value curve and more work is automated, technical skills will be less distinctive than beautiful manners and skilful conversation, at ease in a variety of global settings and through diverse media. Finishing schools will again be popular, but this time for finding Boards not husbands.
Given the growing importance of ethics and responsibility on the corporate agenda, can we expect CEOs need greater skills in this area (e.g., in reputation management)? I suspect CEOs will have to be manifestly better global citizens and at ease with 24×7 transparency. Data will be better so their performance will be more exactly managed, communicated and rewarded/punished. Character and the virtues will be of more importance than current transaction-based analysis, tested by the use of story on the international grapevine. The current drivers of employer of choice and inside-out branding will have reached maturity, as CEOs realise how expensive secrecy is, and how damaging to the brand is any breach in trust, so they will naturally commit to good public behaviour throughout the supply chain and the wider stakeholder community.