Leadership is a much discussed virtue in management literature. However, like Peter Drucker says, there is no ideal type of leader. “Leadership personality’, ‘leadership style’ and ‘leadership traits’ don’t exist”, he writes in The Leader of the Future. The emergence of a leader is the result of a complex interplay of two factors – personality traits of the leader and what needs to be done at a given point in time. The moment the two become congruent, a new leader could emerge on the scene and deliver the goodies!
There is no doubt that the leaders of tomorrow would need personality traits which would be qualitatively different from those of today. Here is my take on what business environment circa 2025 would be like, and how our future business leaders would be tackling it.
2025 – A Likely Business Scenario
What would be the business environment like in 2025? Several CEOs I spoke to said that business leaders in 2025 shall be working against the backdrop of a world which would, in all likelihood, be a multi-polar one, with Asia, particularly China, exerting more influence on global events. It would be a world which would be more inter-connected, commercially and otherwise. Thanks to new communication means, the individual empowerment levels would have risen significantly. Also, it would be a more urbanized world. Thanks to the rise of a new global middle-class, society in general would have reached a higher level of aspiration, resulting into a much higher demand for energy, food and water. On the flip side, income disparities would have risen substantially. Changes arising out of our climatic patterns would also pose a formidable challenge to the leaders of those times.
We could still be in for surprises, though. Disruptive changes are quite likely to overwhelm us. These changes could come in the form of impact of new technologies in the field of robotics, biotechnology, space sciences and communication. Increasingly, governments world over may start becoming enablers of entrepreneurship, faced as they will be with direct and intensive pressure from those they govern. We shall surely be seeing more entrepreneurs amongst our midst – whether in the commercial sector or in the societal sector.
A Business Leader in 2025
Decision Making Under Higher Uncertainty
Since the level of entropy in the system would have gone up further by then, a business leader of circa 2025 would have to be adept at making decisions under a higher level of uncertainty. The abnormal today would be the new normal, and many a leader would be feeling more like experts at river rafting in our economic and statutory rapids, often being called upon to go against the current.
I am not an expert in Econometrics, but could venture to guess that for those who are quantitatively inclined, advanced statistical tools would come in even more handy. I say so because there will be an overdose of data as well as information available to a business leader then. However, ultimately, his/her intuitive abilities – based on personal experiences in their formative years – would prove to be more valuable.
Sir Colin Marshall, the ex-Chairman of British Airways, transformed his organization into one of the premier customer service kinds in the days of yore. The uncertainty he faced in the period of his association with BA was monumental and serves as an example to be followed by CEOs of future.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon came up with the concept of ‘predictive analytics’, paving the way for all of us to enjoy the convenience of shopping on-line.
Higher Trust in Instincts
A logical corollary of the above would be the need for a leader to be ahead of the curve. Those who have counter-intuitive responses and place a higher trust in their natural instincts would surely fare better. In turn, there would be a strong need for a much higher degree of inner resilience, because this alone would enable them to keep their stress levels under control even in trying circumstances. Dynamism will be yet another critical input. It would ensure that they are able to steer their businesses through the dense economic fog enveloping the business highways.
The World Economic Forum had proposed a theme centered on the twin traits of resilience and dynamism for 2013. Given that there are no risk free growth models available to leaders and CEOs of the future, one could not agree more with this proposition.
A good example of facing flak and not losing sight of one’s goals is that of Larry Page of Google. He continues to trust his instincts and doing what he thinks is best for his business.
A Global Mindset
Given a much more inter-connected world, a business leader in the future would need to possess a vast knowledge of commercial, behavioral and societal norms followed in different parts of the world. A primary task would obviously be to ensure that his/her organization has world-class management processes. Only those institutionalizing best practices in strategic planning, marketing and human relations would be able to make their organization a successful one. The fact that a leader would, in all likelihood, be leading a multicultural team of followers would pose a challenge – irrespective of whether the situation demands a leadership which is ‘transactional’ or ‘transformational’.
When one considers the example of Compaq’s Eckard Pfeiffer, who was a leader in a race against himself, it becomes clear as to how organizational renewal can be brought about. “No matter what industry a company competes in”, he said, “it must live with one foot in the present and the other in the future….there is simply no other way to build world leadership”.
A Democratic Style
The profile of the followers would also be different. Hierarchical authority is already proving difficult to manage change; there is no reason to believe this would not be even more so in the future. The followers would demand a higher degree of participation in the decision-making processes. Leaders who recognize this need of their followers and create a working environment which enables the same would achieve higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in their business processes.
Creating a non-coercive environment in which employees and other stakeholders are clear about the corporate identity and the mission would be far more important than it is today. Reverse mentoring would be more a norm than an exception in the days to come.
Monsanto’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, had the ability to go against traditional hierarchy. He initiated strategy sessions with cross-sections of employees of different ranks, specialties and geographical perspectives and reaped rich dividends for his company.
The Moral Compass
Leaders who believe in sustainable businesses would not only use their commercial compass while determining the direction to take. Using a moral compass would be a valuable trait amongst the future leaders. A strong inner core, embedded with a value system which recognizes the needs of the society at large, would be a great quality to have. A pre-condition for employing key managers would be their endorsement and support of the core values of the business.
When the likes of Siemens and Wal-Mart come clean on their misdemeanors, they set an excellent example of probity in the business world. When Mr. Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of India’s salt to software conglomerate rues his inability to enter some fields of business because of the absence of a level playing field in India, his focus is on one of the core values of his business.
Indra Nooyi is charting a unique course for PepsiCo globally, shedding traditional markets and going in for healthier food products instead.
Preparing Leaders for 2025
Captains of industry today can set a personal example by getting cross-functional teams in their organizations to come up with suggestions to face the challenges of future effectively. They can also emulate some of the traits, thereby leading to a trickle-down effect across the entire organization.
HR honchos can re-design their appraisal processes and re-assess training needs of key managers to address this issue.
Those in senior management positions can consciously plan to hone their skills in areas they find themselves deficient.
Management institutes can tweak their course content to ensure that those leaving their hallowed portals possess these traits, so as to improve their contribution towards the organizations they decide to either float or serve.
And our time to start preparing the leaders of tomorrow starts now!