The Government is to launch a recruitment drive next year to bring more talent into colleges from outside further education.
A three-year pound;33 million package will include measures to identify future leaders and managers and to help colleges appoint people from outside. It comes as colleges and other providers find it increasingly difficult to fill senior posts. The situation is likely to worsen as a high proportion of managers are over 50 and likely to retire in the next decade.
The Centre for Excellence in Leadership says outsiders are often put off applying for senior posts because of negative perceptions of FE.
Lynne Sedgmore, the centre's chief executive, said: "We believe that the succession issues are so tremendous that we have to look outside. We support what the Government is saying, because there simply aren't enough people from within the sector.
"We don't see going outside as any kind of insult to the sector. It's about the size of the issue we have to face over the next five to ten years."
Proposals to attract leaders from outside the sector were set out in the FE white paper. One measure, called "Business talent", will help colleges and other providers identify critical posts which need external appointments.
It will also help successful candidates to adapt to the sector.
Another scheme is a graduate training scheme similar to those in the health service, local government and civil service, to be open to existing staff and those seeking a career in FE.
The Department for Education and Skills expects to recruit 50 graduates and 50 managers a year.
The CEL also aims to consult managers already in FE who have come from elsewhere about the pros and cons of their career path.
Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford college, worked in local government before moving to the newly-privatised electricity industry in the late 1980s. He joined FE as a finance director in 1996 after working for the Further Education Funding Council. "This is the best job I've ever had," he said.
"That's why I'm a great advocate of getting other people out of the private sector or other parts of the public sector.
"I think some of the things that have been said about people coming in from outside are a bit insulting really. You can get people who are successful in other spheres who do care deeply about the products and services they offer.
"As long as you can select people who have that public-service ethos from the private sector, you can learn the education management bit - it doesn't need to be in your DNA."
Mark Flynn, principal of South East Derbyshire college, trained as a chartered accountant and worked in the private sector for six years before joining further education 12 years ago.
"What I found difficult was the lack of pace, both in decision-making and also in resolve to sort issues out," he says. "It's improved in the last 13 years, but it still needs to move on."
Despite not being a qualified teacher, his jobs have included deputy principal for teaching and learning.
"In some respects, I don't think there's a big difference between running a teaching and learning organisation and running, say, a firm of accountants or solicitors. At the end of the day, it,s all about how those professionals work."
Martin Penny, principal of Stratford college, joined FE after a 16-year career in the army followed by a stint in higher education administration.
"I think the real thing it brings to the job is that I have a very wide view of leadership and management styles from very different places. It gives you a very different view from having just worked in FE."
John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, says that, while bringing in leaders from outside will inject new perspectives, they need to understand the sector.
"It's a very different culture," he said. "In bringing people in, we have to make sure that they have the requisite technical skills, and also an understanding of the business issues that are likely to arise. There have been examples of people who have come in as principals who haven't been hugely successful because they sometimes lack that dimension."
Another potential issue is how the sector will attract leaders from industry. Although some college principals earn up to pound;130,000, the average is pound;83,000 - way below the pay of chief executives of many small companies.
And how would they take to the targets and tickboxes? "Bureaucracy is a major problem," says Mr Brennan. "A lot of business people wouldn't have any patience with the kind of constraints, rules and regulations that we have to put up with."