Bright young things: future leaders

Vision explores how our potential future leaders are shaping up to transform the way we live and work

Try to picture a “leader”, and images of an authoritative, egotistic and slightly awe-inspiring individual spring to mind. However, in the future, leaders will not be praised just for their own qualities and strengths, but for how good they are at bringing out the qualities of others.

Leadership in the future will be impacted by several megatrends that will transform economies, societies and policies, argues Hay Group. In its Leadership 2030 research, the global management consulting firm lists the trends as: accelerating globalisation; climate change – its environmental impact and scarcity of resources; demographic change; individualisation and “value pluralism”; digital lifestyle and work; and technology convergence.

Georg Vielmetter, Hay Group’s Regional Director for Leadership and Talent, and Founder of the Leadership 2030 research, says that because of those new paradigms, the days when a leader was a strong, charismatic person in a position of authority are numbered. The new generation of “digital natives” entering the workforce are anti-hierarchical, and want to work in flatter structures, he explains. “Leaders in the future are not focused on themselves and their strengths, their ego. They will have to focus on the group and what they do together. They are great team players and collaborators.”

Visionary

Leaders in the future will have to derive meaning in the work that people do, will need to be inspiring, visionary and strategic, and have strong conceptual and strategic capabilities, he argues.

So what will they sound and look like, and where can you find them? Dubbed by the media as the “Junior Davos”, the One Young World yearly summits are the gathering of today’s youngest and brightest minds, and the making of tomorrow’s leaders. Here you will likely cross the path of the next decades’ most influential individuals in politics, business and the environment. “You are the leaders of tomorrow, and you can be the change if you want to see it,” said Kofi Annan to an aspiring audience of international delegates during the 2010 summit.

“No youth-dominated event outside the Olympic Games brings together more countries than One Young World,” say the organisers, a London-based charity founded by Havas Global CEO David Jones and Havas Worldwide UK Group Chairman Kate Robertson. Many of the delegates, who are between 18 and 30 years old, have already tried to implement change in their homeland in areas such as the role of business in society, transparency in business and government, climate change, global health and hunger relief.

Under the baton of One Young World “Counsellors”, which include some of today’s most inspiring personalities, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan or former rock star turned mass fundraiser Bob Geldof, these driven young individuals can meet, debate and create solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

Mai Shoeib, a One Young World Ambassador from the UAE who attended the 2011 summit, described the event as an eye-opener. “Attending One Young World in 2011 was an incredible experience, especially hearing the perspectives of global leaders from across a range of different sectors. Desmond Tutu was brilliant and had great stories to share on acceptance and spreading love among all those you encounter,” she adds.

The concept of giving something back to the community through social enterprise is omnipresent among today’s aspiring leaders. In the UAE, Mai Shoeib is part of a small group of One Young World ambassadors in the early stages of forming a new project to support foreign construction workers in Dubai by giving them an outlet to engage in social activities with their friends and colleagues.

“We are looking for sponsorship for a cricket tournament, a favourite sport for them. This activity will help encourage teamwork between them, make them feel appreciated and act as a positive influence on the workers,” Mai explains.

Ethical behaviour

Hay Group’s Georg Vielmetter agrees that future leaders will bring in an “ethicalisation” of the business world as the desire and the need for things to adjust grow, especially in the ecological field. “From a business perspective, leaders of the future will have to behave ethically. Because of climate change and the scarcity of resources, they will need to be careful with their environment.” And make tangible differences. “Green-wash is not an alternative,” he warns.

For future leaders raised by striving parents on a sustained regime of team activities, collaborative work is vital. Networking, teamwork and exchanges through social media are essential for success. Mai Shoeib found it useful that One Young World summits offered her a chance to meet other young people from all over the world who are trying to make a difference through social enterprise.

“Hearing people’s experiences about the particular issues they are concerned about reinforced the idea that we all have common goals. It was useful to know more about the challenges they face, and the range of opportunities they encountered and the support they received from the community,” says Shoeib.

One Young World has altered the way Shoeib feels, thinks and acts about many things, she says. “It has encouraged me to be more environmentally cautious of my actions, allowed me to make better food choices, given me a wider perspective on the underprivileged, and provided me with tools to make a difference in these areas, which were all focus topics at the summit.”

With such optimism and drive, the leaders of the future may not fulfil all their aspirations for transforming the world, but they will, at least, provide a welcome positive breath of fresh air in the stale world of leadership.