The role of the CEO is changing, a shift due in part to new technology.
CEOs have always been responsible for growth in the companies that they lead. For all of the stereotypes of penthouse suites and high-octane business meetings, the bottom line is that this class of leaders bears the burden of innovating and moving forward. And nowadays, stagnations bears an even higher price than it has in the past.
The age in which we live is akin to a new industrial revolution, where exponential improvements in technology shape every industry and aspect of life. On one hand, this makes it easier to innovate, and gives companies the freedom to deliver better strategy, products, and services. On the other, it is now a lot easier to be left behind in a short period of time.
There is an old guard of CEOs that has been slow to adapt, and they have been punished for it. Once-iconic companies, such as Blockbuster, have become irrelevant for failing to see the writing on the walls. Others, such as Netflix, have evolved to embrace new technology and are now staples because of it.
The Netflix/Blockbuster dichotomy is perhaps one of the most jarring examples of companies reacting to new technological developments, but all industries are impacted in some way. This is why any CEO should be willing to learn about these changes and the ways that they may be affected. Not every CEO is going to be a tech expert—which is why it is important for them to stay humble and defer to the expertise of others in their companies that may have better insight into these issues. However, it is worth it for them to have enough of a working knowledge to move forward and be proactive instead of just reactive to these changes. It’s not enough for a CEO to copy a competitor’s technological adoption because it’s an “industry standard”—they should strive to improve upon these practices and identify new opportunities.
This is why some of the world’s most prominent tech CEOs have stressed the importance of creating a “learning culture” in their companies. While opinions differed in some respects, the general sentiment was that challenging old opinions and surrounding oneself with talented individuals was a path to success. None equated their success with solely their own prowess; perhaps insight into the broader tenets of leadership.
The renewed focus on learning and growth has contributed to the importance of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO). Both positions exist to identify areas of improvement and keep informed on the many opportunities available in any given industry. These roles started out as endemic to technology-focused companies, but since their inception, have spread to more and more businesses as it has become increasingly obvious that everyone is along for the ride when it comes to new developments.
Prioritization has become more important because of the pace of advancement. If a CEO is too broad in their examination of technology, they can easily lose focus and company tempo as a result. They need to be able to process information as fast as possible and determine whether a change should be passed over or is worth examining more closely. This also extends to internal company structure; organizations such as boards may be due for an audit if they have stagnated. For a CEO, it’s worth evaluating top performers in a company and making sure that they are in a position to facilitate innovation.
CEOs are being forced to reexamine themselves and the companies that they lead. The pace of new developments has created an environment in which no company is safe and their fortunes rest on a CEO’s ability to adapt. However, with a mindset of continuous learning and a strong team, any leader can prepare their organization for the future.