Who Is the Leader of the Future? by Vineet Nayar

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blogs.hbr.org

Who is the future leader? One who asks the right questions or one who provides the right answers? A shepherd or a catalyst? The one in the driver’s seat or the navigator who sets the direction? Would a future leader be a financial architect, a social architect, or the green architect?

The dark clouds gathering around business were overlooked for a couple of days in Florida last week as 600 business leaders searched for the rainbow beyond the storm at Unstructure, the HCL Global meet. Powerful questions, debates and thought provoking ideas stamped the proceedings. I cannot help but come away feeling positive, recharged and optimistic that the world of business is in safe hands.

So what do the roles and responsibilities of the future leader look like?

It has been obvious for a while now that leaders have no option but to be good change managers. Markets have changed, circumstances have changed, business plans have to change. We can either make change a proactive decision or a reactive compulsion.

The leaders of today have the responsibility to shape tomorrow. It is definitely not a time to feel sorry about tough circumstances. It is an opportunity, a new day.

At the conference, the participants engaged furiously to brainstorm “survival” techniques in the recession. The interesting question here is: What does survival really mean? Does it mean simply “not to die” or does it mean “succeed”? Leaders, who understand this difference today, are likely to adapt, innovate, re-create and not only survive, but thrive.

Looking at the nuts and bolts of business management, in order to carve success, a future leader would need to focus on sustaining a healthy balance between business and technology; taking advantage of the unique opportunity of emerging markets coming centre-stage; finding ways to enhance and monetize innovation; creating a lean business that optimizes efficiencies without sacrificing quality; and finally – and most importantly – aligning employees with business.

Issues viewed as a challenge today will open new opportunities. It is for us to hunt them out. Former US Vice President and the champion of Green Planet, Al Gore, inspired the participants to eschew short-sightedness and embrace a long term strategy for sustainability. He stressed that companies who think green, also end up becoming more efficient and cost effective businesses.

Is green then the new opportunity awaiting us? It is our planet and saving it is in our hands alone. Is it time for business to come centre-stage? If we still look away, will we be doing injustice to our subsequent generations?

While some might argue that the leader of tomorrow would be the Chief Risk Mitigator, there is no doubt that this leader would need to be the Chief Motivating Officer.

As Warren Bennis, a recognized authority on organizational development, leadership and change, and also a participant at Unstructure, puts it simply: “A leader doesn’t just get the message across – a leader is the message.” And the biggest message a leader of the future can give his people is that of confidence and positive forward momentum.

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One thought on “Who Is the Leader of the Future? by Vineet Nayar

  1. I’m happy to see your blog post, and to see that so many others are contemplating that we need to not just survive, but thrive, and that our leaders are essential to that equation.

    In some respects, it seems the definition of leader, whether for past decades or future, hasn’t changed. It’s the person who does what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether they want to do it or not, and frequently under trying circumstances with fewer than optimal resources.

    Having said that, I really liked Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey’s entreaty at the MIX Mashup that the 21st century requires conscious leadership. Conscious leadership, he said, requires emotional intelligence (understanding yourself and how you relate to others) , spiritual or values intelligence (ability to discern and communicate purpose), and systems intelligence (ability to see the impacts of your actions on the whole, not just the parts). He said leaders are entrepreneurs of meaning.

    I wrote a little about this with an example of modest conscious leadership happening at a small state park in South Dakota in my blog, Renewable Enthusiasm: http://renewableenthusiasm.com/2012/08/27/nurturing-a-mountain/ . It’s happening not just with large multinational companies, but in small communities that also need nurturing to thrive, not just survive.

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