The next evolution of the CEO

by Alasdair Jeffrey, Executive Director

Published on
October 9, 2017

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The skill-set required of a CEO has evolved over the past 20 years as a result of a range of emerging forces. The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics will increase the pace from evolution to revolution, and require an additional set of skills for future CEOs.

CEOs have developed new skills to deal with a range of new challenges.

  • Greater shareholder engagement and even activism have made CEOs more publicly accountable for strategies, decisions and outcomes.
  • With the 24-hour news cycle and social media, the court of public opinion is quick to pass judgment on a company, placing pressure on CEOs to be more responsive and engaged with stakeholders.
  • Greater expectations of social responsibility1 mean setting the tone at the top shapes relationships with customers, communities and other stakeholders. More than ever before, CEOs are asked to provide more tangible outputs to demonstrate their company’s approach to the environment, labour practices and equality.
  • The C-suite is becoming more diverse2, albeit slowly.

On top of these challenges, Big Data, artificial intelligence and automation are just beginning to realise their potential to assist leadership decision-making where once ‘gut-feel’ and experience were justification.3

Much has been written about how AI and robotics will start replacing humans in certain jobs or tasks, and the implications this will have for employment and the broader economy.

It is assumed by many that the leaders in a machine-driven world will be our current CEOs and upper management.

However, the majority of the CEOs who will pioneer the age of the machine have not led technology companies and are not ‘digital natives’. Their elevation to CEO is likely a result of intangible human characteristics such as leadership, informed intuition and networking (the offline type).

For a future CEO, in addition to all those traits, a deep understanding of technology will be crucial.

However, for the current generation of CEOs and executives looking towards the future, being able to understand and relate to both human and robot ‘employees’ will be key, to ensure that they themselves aren’t disrupted out of a job.

1 Top CEOs Place High Value On Corporate Ethics And Social Responsibility To Drive Business – Forbes
2 Paul Zahra on diversity, marriage and gay men in business – SBS
3 What CEOs need to know to outwit artificial intelligence – CBNC