Why CEOs of the future will be leaders-for-hire

MT at 50: Jean Martin of insight and technology firm CEB predicts that future leaders will be brought into firms for short periods to do specialist tasks.

by Ian Wylie
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2020

Jean Martin is talent solutions architect at insight and technology firm CEB. She predicts that the CEOs of the future will be leaders-for-hire – brought into organisations for shorter periods.

Why do you think the average tenure of a CEO will decrease?

We're working on a new study that shows that leaders' abilities and their ability to perform and achieve high results are extremely context-dependent. We're seeing leaders who have achieved outsized performance in one context going on to underperform in others.

So in 30 years' time, I think we will see leaders who are known for their ability to do specific types of things, whether that's mergers and acquisitions, turnarounds, international growth or diversification.

The investor community is less patient with CEOs, with boards and activist investors demanding best-in-breed skills that match the opportunity in hand. The contractual relationships between CEOs and their organisations have not evolved at the same pace, which is why we still see enormous inefficiencies in the form of huge pay-offs.

But the markets will become much more efficient, and the leaders-for-hire concept will become more prevalent.

What will make a successful leader in the future?

No matter how skilful you are as an individual, you will not be enough to offer the full solution for the complexity of the task. So your job will be to lead across the organisation in a way that sources the right support for that enterprise. Organisations will become much more porous as skills flow in and out as required.

More sophisticated data analytics should mean leaders will spend less time in meetings, but they will have more strategic discussions with their board and stakeholders.

What does this mean for leadership development?

There will need to be a shift in leadership development towards strategic thinking, managing information and critical thinking. And a new emphasis on systems thinking. It may mean using coaches rather than line managers. There are some profound implications for MBA programmes too. In 30 years' time, there will be leadership micro-learning opportunities everywhere.

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