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By: Jonathan Dahl, Chief Content Officer
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” —Napoleon Bonaparte
Have the great men and women who run our corporations begun to lose hope? You start to get that feeling when you look at the rising number of CEOs who have been leaving their jobs. Sure, some are retiring, some are being asked to go, but let me tell you, the overall numbers don’t look good.
In fact, at current clip, they may break a record. Coming off a low turnover year in 2022, more than 900 CEO changes occurred in just the first half of 2023. By now, it’s well in to the 1,000-plus—and this is for a role that has long been one of the most prized jobs in corporate ranks.
But is it that prized today? Granted, it’s never easy at the top, as the saying goes, but CEOs today must juggle far more duties than Jack Welch could ever dream of. Never mind just overseeing the firm’s operations, strategies, and budget—or dealing with boardrooms breathing down their necks. The “modern” CEO must be a master at knowing which ways the fickle winds of that government’s politics are blowing and know the proper response to a host of pressing societal issues. When it comes to handling investor groups, employee needs, and their own C-suite, CEOs must be the quintessential diplomat, lest they risk a corporate calamity.
In the past, it was earnings and stock prices that kept CEOs awake at night. Now, on top of all that, it’s knowing how to navigate responses to one new headline after another. And doing it at a lightning pace.
Sure, we pay our corporate leaders millions. They live lives far insulated from the trials of people in their workforce. But at the same time, you can start to see why so many are throwing in the towel, or at least suffering from the burnout that so many in corporate ranks—high and low—complain about in the post-pandemic era.
The obvious answer might be to redefine what we expect from a CEO. The smart CEOs, I’m told, have learned fast in recent years to spread their duties better among the C-suite. Expertise among boards is growing too, which can mean CEOs are able to seek help both from above and below the corner office.
Some have done better at becoming more visible, finding time to do all those town halls and media appearances that make them more human in the eyes of those who judge them (and being seen as human can always reduce at least some stress).
But I suspect the reality is that we have hit a true, changing-of-the-guard moment. It’s been years in the making, but the combination of shifting demographics (hello millennials, Generation Z) and a business world that, yes, is a lot more complicated than it ever was, means a new breed must take over. Out with the old, in with the new—it’s not what I suspect most leaders want to hear. But based on the turnover rates of late, it is one I think they are listening to.