Millennials Speak! 5 Future Leadership “Must Haves”

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

October 6, 2014

Learn the five key characteristics that are critical for global leaders of the future!

by Marshall Goldsmith

Millennials speak up! You need an “equal say” in your company’s future leadership. Here is why.

To begin, let’s start with a premise I hear over and over.

The most important job of the CEO and the Board is to pick the next CEO. Succession is critical.

The next CEO, or the next leaders, are about the future. So, why do most companies go about picking their next generation mired in the past?

Think about it. What are the chances that the typical current CEO, most likely a baby boomer, is well positioned to identify all the characteristics of the organizations’ future leaders?

And, should that CEO be joined in picking those CEO characteristics with a board filled with his or her same generation?

The truth is that companies that only choose wise, experienced people for this task of succession are mired in myopia.

Those companies are much less likely to find the best and most comprehensive leadership qualities and candidates, because they are limiting their view of the world.

It is a company looking into the future like a horse with blinders. They see only what is in front of them. They do not envision the periphery of all of what could be in front of them.

The Proof

My proof is based upon work between Accenture Consulting (with the Alliance for Strategic Leadership). We engaged in a multi-country research project aimed at helping global organizations understand the most important characteristics of the leader of the future. As part of our research we asked leading companies to identify future leaders who have the potential to be the CEO of a global organization.

Rather than the usual process of asking today’s leaders (who will not be there) to describe the future of leadership, we decided to ask tomorrow’s leaders.

In comparing the desired characteristics of the leader of the future with the desired characteristics of the leader of the past we found both similarities and differences.

Characteristics like vision, integrity, focus on results, and ensuring customer satisfaction were seen as factors that were critical in the past and will be so in the future.

The 5 “Must Haves” for Future Leadership

Yet, five key factors emerged that were seen as being clearly more important in the future than in the past include:

1)  Thinking Globally

Globalization is a trend that will have a major impact on the leaders of the future. In the past, even major companies could focus on their own country or, at most, their own region. Those days are almost over.

Several suggested that future leaders might need to spend time in multiple countries to better understand how multi-country trade could help their organizations achieve a competitive advantage.

Global thinking will take a global perspective.

2)  Appreciating Cultural Diversity

Motivational strategies that are effective in one culture may actually be offensive in another culture. The same public recognition that could be a source of pride to a salesperson in the USA could be a source of embarrassment to a scientist in the UK.

Leaders who can effectively understand, appreciate, and motivate colleagues in multiple cultures will become an increasingly valued resource in the future.

3)  Demonstrating Technological Savvy

High-potential leaders from around the world were consistent in expressing the view that technological savvy will be a key competency for the global leader of the future.

One trend on this issue was clear—the younger the participant, the greater their emphasis in the importance of technological savvy.

• Young future leaders often have been brought up with technology and view it as a part of their life.

• Current leaders often still view technological savvy as something that is important for staff people, but not for the line officers that run the “real” business.

What does “technological savvy” mean? It means that leaders will need to do the following:

a) Understand how the intelligent use of new technology can help their organizations;

b) Recruit, develop, and maintain a network of technically competent people;

c) Know how to make and manage investments in new technology; and

d) Be positive role models in leading the use of new technology.

4)  Building Partnerships

Building partnerships and alliances of all kinds was viewed as far more important for the future than the past. Many organizations that seldom formed alliances in the past (such as IBM) are regularly forming alliances today. This trend will be even more important in the future.

Reengineering, restructuring, and downsizing are leading to a world where outsourcing of all but core activities may become the norm. The ability to negotiate complex alliances and manage complex networks of relationships is viewed as becoming increasingly important.

The changing role of customers, suppliers, and partners has deep implications for leaders. In the past it was clear who your “friends” were and who your “enemies” were.

It is a world of “co-opitition.” Roles are becoming more blurred. In fields as diverse as energy, telecommunications, and pharmaceuticals the same organization may be a customer, supplier, partner, or competitor. On one initiative you are competitors, on another partners.

5)  Sharing Leadership

In a world where leading across a fluid network may become more important than leading from above a fixed hierarchy, being able to effectively share leadership is not an option.

In an alliance structure telling partners what to do may quickly lead to having no partners. All parties will have to be able to work together to achieve the common good.

Not only did our participants believe that the leader of the future would be different than the leader of the past, they also believed that the employee of the future would be different. Many of the future leaders saw that the management of knowledge workers was going to be a key factor in their success.

Peter Drucker has noted that knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do. In dealing with knowledge workers old models of leadership will not work.

Telling people what to do and how to do it becomes ridiculous.

A Final Note to All CEOs

So, in thinking about sharing leadership, if you are a CEO, are you bringing Millennials to the table—or are you stuck in the past? Are you sharing leadership?

If the next generation does not have a say in tomorrow’s leadership, they will leave.

And, by the way, Millennials are a company “must have”—if they exit, there goes the succession plan.