The Future CEO: 5 Key Traits Business Leaders of Tomorrow Need Now

As technology and a new generation of workers influence the business space, leadership is changing. Here are 5 ways CEOs need to adapt to steer their companies into the future.
October 27, 2014

From the critical tasks of driving a vision and inspiring innovation via collaboration to creating a culture that fosters talent and investing heavily in millennials, tomorrow's business leaders will need skills and approaches that meet the expectations of a new workforce. Ten to 15 years from now, the values and ideals that the best CEOs are likely to adopt will differ somewhat from the focus of today's business leaders.

"The leader of the future recognizes that two heads are better than one and that micro-managing and negative feedback stifle creativity," offers Alessandra Ceresa, marketing director at GreenRope, a business marketing software provider. Of significant influence, she believes, is the advent of the millennial in the workforce, which experts predict will account for some 86 million employees by 2020, or 40 percent of the working population.

"Millennials are encouraged from a young age to collaborate, innovate and share," Ceresa says. "These characteristics provide a strong foundation to build upon … and, more and more, millennials are becoming leaders and entrepreneurs, making the evolution of the modern leader quite organic." 

In addition to the expectations that the millennial generation is poised to present to tomorrow's chief executives, there are a number of other issues forward-thinking CEOs will need to consider.

Let's look at five key traits that business leaders, experts and analysts say future business leaders should cultivate today.

1. Transparency

When it comes to the goals and mission of a business, the CEO of tomorrow will bring the entire team into the bigger conversation. "Employees must feel the values of, and have line of sight and involvement in, the vision of the company," says Beth Thomas, executive vice president and managing director of consulting services at HR outsourcing and consulting firm Sequent. "Be sincere and genuine about your employees—that creates loyalty and engagement more than anything else. Always let them know where they stand and what's going on with the company." 

2. Flexibility

The nature of business is continually reinventing itself in both the digital space and (often consequently) in the brick-and-mortar workplace. Successful CEOs already have to have the capacity to embrace change; they'll have to do so even more in the coming years.

"Big data and all-device connectivity allow for extreme amounts of information to be processed and sent to you wherever you are," says Rachel Miller, chief listener at sales management software company Pipeliner. "Future CEOs must possess the ability to quickly evaluate and advise personnel in real-time."

3. Collaboration

"Millennials grew up on social media and have a more collaborative approach to work," says Rick Ramos, founder of Rick Ramos Consulting, a marketing consulting firm. "CEOs need to get away from the top-down structures of the past and embrace a flatter management and reporting structure." In other words, the leader of tomorrow will do better meeting their team at the open-space table rather than from behind a desk in a closed-door, corner office. 

4. Empowerment

Leadership in the remainder of this decade and into the 2020s and 2030s is almost certain to be deeply connected to the idea of the whole employee. The concept's roots are intertwined with the millennial worker's mindset: Your job and personal life are an integrated pair of experiences, more so than they were for their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors.

"To foster collaboration and innovation, CEOs ought to nurture their sharing personalities," says Vikram Rajan, co-founder of blog content creator phoneBlogger. "No longer are their personal lives, values and hobbies private … embrace this."

5. Host (Not Hero)

If there's a single thread that helps tie together these four preceding characteristics, it may well start with the very idea of how leadership works in the environment we've just considered. The underlying motivation of leadership itself may have to change.

"Most people start leading from a heroic stance—they get things done by knowing more or working harder than anyone else," says Mark McKergow, Ph.D., author of Host: Six New Roles of Engagement for Teams, Organizations, Communities, Movements. "In time, the smart ones become aware that the role of the leader is more like a host than a hero—drawing people together around an issue or challenge, engaging them and getting results through others." 

An open approach to information. Freedom from the constraints of job descriptions and team silos. Encouragement. And the concept that a leader is the center of gravity for the workforce they're helping to create. These traits are set to define business leaders in the decades to come. Developing them within yourself now will prepare you to lead your company into that future. 

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