To Be A Leader Of Leaders

Mar 27, 2015 1 Min Read


Moving target

One of the main things we are committed to at Leaderonomics is to build leaders – and I must admit that I did not fully understand what that meant when I first heard of the organisation.

Individually, we all have our aspirations and the more I speak to my fellow Gen-X, the multitude of Gen-Y I am surrounded by and the up and coming Gen-Z, the more apparent it is that people are beginning to have a wider variety of career goals. Even more so, I am encouraged by the fact that our future leaders have a deeper definition of success – beyond status and material well-being.

An enlightening study by strategy& titled The Lives and Times of the CEO takes us on a journey back in time to understand what made a good leader 100 years ago and how leaders have evolved since then. Armed with this information, we can take steps to chart our own futures.

Whether we would like to lead an organisation one day, or are contented to lead alongside the CEO, understanding what makes a great leader is crucial for our personal development and growth.

strategy& examined CEOs at four points in time: 1914, 1964, 2014, and, their educated predictions for 2040, when today’s new entrants into the workforce would take the helm.

Leaders over the past century

“The 1960s ‘organisation man’ was a pragmatic, tough-nosed, and driven leader, more focused on managing a career than the entrepreneurs of 1914, who had concentrated on developing their own new institutions. In order to manage an increasingly complex and growing enterprise, he needed solid management skills.

“The CEO’s most important external goal was to maximise investor returns. In the 1960s, CEOs focused their attention on raising earnings per share, and to do so many became master deal makers. Back then, some CEOs also understood the massive imprint that they, and their companies, were making on the national culture – often supported the Boy Scouts and other civic organisations, such as museums or hospitals; he felt duty-bound to uphold civil society.”

Source: strategy&

It is fascinating to have personally experienced this almost Darwinian change in CEOs I have worked with over the years (I do not confess to working since the 1960s however!).

CEOs of today run much flatter organisations in a fluid environment that is constantly changing. They lead a generation of workers with needs that have likewise evolved since the 1960s.

Fast forward to 2040, some anticipate a competitive landscape with “integrators” and “specialists” coming to the fore, where the former are large-scale organisations focused on providing distinct, solutions-based value propositions to their customers.

“Specialists” on the other hand, are the complementary players that provide the products and services the integrators sell.

Social entrepreneurs

Alongside these predictions, I believe there is another development worth noting.

Observing the rising trend of social enterprises in countries like the UK and Canada; the priorities of our youth to make a difference in the world; and the keen interest of business schools worldwide in the study of social enterprises; my prediction is that the growth in impact investing and social entrepreneurship will continue into the future.

Our leaders of tomorrow would need to consider this element in the running of organisations.

DNA of a future leader

Collectively, these trends will lead to the emergence of a CEO who is agile, highly entrepreneurial, able to access and use data effectively, and able to see beyond traditional networks of stakeholders and a great communicator.

  1. On strategy, I still recall the long-drawn-out strategy planning meetings that sought to develop five- or three-year strategic plans.In light of the speed with which things were changing in the market we were in, these plans were, in my mind overly ambitious.

    If this trend continues, the duration of these “strategic plans” would necessarily decrease as our nimble CEOs have to be quicker to identify the need to change course, and have an organisation poised to do so.

  2. The need to work in teams will still be crucial. Our future CEO invests time in developing a deep understanding his/her non-traditional stakeholder universe and the complexities of stakeholder interdependence.
    He/she must also have the ability to translate this into action – building and empowering cross-functional teams which may comprise internal and external partners.
  3. In mapping that stakeholder universe, our intrepid and socially conscious CEO needs to be able to communicate and connect in a manner that takes into consideration the needs and concerns of multiple stakeholders, all the while ensuring that communication is in both directions.Through various media, customers and investors alike have direct access to senior leaders, watching their every move and being more vocal when mistakes are made.
  4. Over the years, I have experienced firsthand how senior leaders in the United States and our Asia Pacific region, have changed in the way they communicate with their people and also in their openness to listen.In fact, leaders of today realise that listening and responding to their frontline teams is less of a choice, but a necessity and should be very much a part of their repertoire.
  5. Our future CEO further recognises the importance of developing and delivering on a strong employee value proposition, with corporate culture and values that his/her people are aligned with, and are proud of.Mirroring the need of peers as well as employees for meaningful work, CEOs need to ensure that employees are engaged.

    Our CEO would also need to be skilled at managing workforces in a state of flux due to, for example, changing employee preferences and the ongoing introduction of new enabling technologies.

  6. Likely to have been comfortable with an iPad from the moment he/she mastered motor skills, our innovative CEO would be able to connect the dots and identify potential disruptions that technology can bring not just to customers, but to the competitiveness of the organisation as well.
  7. Our leaders of the future will increasingly understand the value of information – how it flows within organisations and externally, and how to use data effectively to adjust his/her strategy in a fluid environment.
  8. CEOs of social enterprises with conservation being one of their social goals, may already have a foothold on the redefined “war for resources” (even if their environmental considerations are grounded on different organisational objectives).As climate change affects the wanton use of perceived “limitless” natural resources, organisations have to increasingly be more aware of their choices and business decisions and CEOs need to prioritise sustainability in their agenda.

“A combination of factors—the rising number of women in executive ranks, the high level of education and training among global employees, and the ability for people to work anywhere—may reduce the urgency of the war for talent.
We anticipate an important new addition to the C-suite: the chief resource officer (CRO), whose role will be very different from anything existing now. The CRO will be responsible not only for human resources, but for all nonfinancial resources.”

Source: strategy&

In our next article gazing into the future, let us take a look at the steps for developing the CEO of the future.

Karen firmly believes that nature, and her creatures big and small, is a great teacher of leadership and that staying away from nature for prolonged periods of time is to her own detriment. Drop us a line or two in the comment box below or email us at For more Be A Leader articles, click here.

Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 28 March 2015

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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