Do you believe there is a mismatch between the skills that people possess and the skills needed for future business success? If so, how can this be addressed?
Konstantin Korotov, associate professor, European School of Management and Technology (KK): Many of today’s managers have been educated in the paradigm of planning, organising, staffing, leading and controlling. Planning is often the foundation for everything else but too often it is based on wrong or outdated assumptions. This makes it difficult for executives to ‘change the game’, particularly after so much effort has been invested. Redirecting these efforts by learning to experiment and give up something that no longer makes sense might be a good way to address the challenge.
Peter Brews, dean, Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina (PB): Smart machines and smart systems are driving humans out of repetitive task-based employment, meaning workers in the 21st century will only do what machines can’t. This will mostly revolve around creating new products, services or solutions, and/or building the machines and systems that produce them.
Moving creative ideas from prototypes to new products, services or solutions that consumers value and competitors struggle to imitate are the skills required of high-value workers at the leading edge of productivity. These are not present in the majority of workers today.
Connson Locke, deputy director, Executive Global MSc Management, London School of Economics (CL): The old-fashioned model of leadership no longer works in today’s constantly changing environment. That model emphasised a leader with a single vision who led from the front, expecting the troops to follow.
While leaders still need to have vision, it is equally important these days for them to have a global mindset and be skilled at adapting to change.
If they are too focused on their own vision or their own backyard, they may not see the changes sneaking up on them from the periphery. One way of being flexible and open to change is to listen to your employees, especially those who are customer-facing. They often have the best sense of where the next changes might be coming from.
Karl Moore, associate professor, Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University (KM): There is a disparity between the demands of global business and the skills that are available. The ability to work productively on multicultural teams is today becoming a highly prized skill, and yet not everyone has come to terms with this, nor tried to gain the appropriate experience.
Furthermore, there is a shortage of people who understand big data. Business and universities are working on it, but people who go out and get experience and education on this will be in high demand for many years to come.
What kind of leadership capability will be needed across the globe?
KK: The ability to embrace diversity is going to be of paramount importance. Diversity will be manifested not only by ethnicity, gender, age, and other familiar dimensions, but also by values, moral standards and notions of what it takes to be a good manager and human being. Consequently, a manager’s motivational or developmental efforts will elicit different responses among employees.
CL: Future leaders need to be skilled at adapting to and perceiving change. They must have peripheral vision – the ability to see potential changes from all directions – while moving toward a strategic goal. As the world is so interconnected now, even leaders of local or regional businesses need to be aware of changes at a global level.
PB: The gap between developed and developing countries is so wide that global leadership is first about determining what works where. Leading in Boston is not the same as leading in Bangkok. The products or services that middle-class Americans consume differ from what might be purchased by middle-class people in Afghanistan.
Global leaders adapt their leadership styles to fit the context they work in, just as they must determine what sells where. As economic globalisation continues to spread, it’s imperative that global leaders’ skills work across different cultures.
KM: Beyond multicultural leadership skills, there are three groups that we need to learn from to broaden our leadership skills for today’s world: Generation Y, introverts and senior female leaders. Understanding Generation Y’s strengths is a challenge for many over-45s who seem content to focus on their perceived weaknesses. Older executives and managers must learn to appreciate Generation Y’s worldview, and how it differs from theirs, to be able to work with them effectively. The results of my own research, in which I have been interviewing CEOs on the subject of introverted executives, suggest that 25%-30% of senior executives are introverts.
This contradicts commonly accepted wisdom on the topic and suggests that recognising the leadership skills of introverts (listening, not needing the spotlight, and not making snap decisions, for example) is an area of growth for many. Finally, as more female executives achieve senior ranks, there is increasing recognition that many women have strengths that are particularly relevant in today’s economy. The results of academic research suggest that these include listening, empathy, emotional management and a more sensible view of risk-taking.
How can current leaders start to develop these capabilities in their successors and in emerging future talent?
CL: Current leaders need to develop these capabilities in themselves so that they can model them for their emerging talent. It requires a change in mindset as well as a change in daily operations. Once the mindset has shifted to one of increasing global awareness and flexibility, the changes that are necessary in the organisation become clearer.
KM: Senior leaders should push for greater diversity on their team by employing more people from Generation Y, introverts and women, along with team members from as many different nationalities as possible. Research suggests that diversity leads to great innovation and creativity, which is critical to every industry today.
Beyond seeking out this diversity, I would suggest that senior leaders give their people opportunities for foreign work assignments or travel to become more engaged in where future market opportunities may take us.
KK: Developing a dialogue with employees, exploring their views on work processes, values and life in general may be a low-cost and very effective way of learning to embrace differences.
Unfortunately, many managers shy away from talking to employees even on work-related issues, preferring to send emails.
People bring their bodies and minds, but also their fantasies, hopes, fears, anxieties and aspirations to work – all of these influence the intensity and persistence of work-related efforts.
What’s your advice to aspiring future leaders to develop a global mindset and navigate uncertain times?
CL: Start developing your skills now. A global mindset does not have to mean working with a different country – it could mean working with a different part of your business.
Break out of your immediate surroundings and learn to cooperate more broadly. Working across a diverse set of businesses, locations and people will help you build your ability to adapt to change in these uncertain times.
KK: Invest in processing new experiences and distilling them by working with a coach.
Learn jointly with a peer coach (someone who is also developing as a manager) or simply keep a diary about what has been learned. Unprocessed experiences may be wasted learning opportunities.
I would also recommend investing in understanding humans. A global mindset and ability to navigate uncertain times requires interacting with and engaging others. You can’t be a leader if you have no followers.
KM: Seek out global opportunities early in your career. Once you have those experiences they stay with you for the rest of your life and make you more attractive in an uncertain economy.
I am hard-pressed to think of an industry where global competition and opportunities are not the future.
Konstantin Korotov is a professor at the European School of Management and Technology and director of the ESMT Center for Leadership Development Research.
Dr Peter Brews is dean of the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. He holds two PhDs and has received awards for both his teaching and research.
Dr Connson Locke is assistant professor in management and deputy director of the LSE Department of Management's Executive Global MSc Management.
Karl Moore is an expert in leadership and management and an associate professor at Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.