What Does the Future of World-Class Leadership Look Like?

Talk to anyone in business and it won’t be long before someone comments on the pace of change – whether it’s political, technological, or people’s changing expectations of work. However, the big question we wanted to ask, was whether the old models of leadership skills and roles are fit for purpose in this ever-changing world, or do we need a new type of leader for the future?

To find out, we carried out in-depth interviews with more than 20 board-level executives and directors across private, listed, and private equity-backed businesses, with turnovers ranging from less than £20m to more than £1bn. What we discovered was truly fascinating, and we’ve published the findings in a research report, titled ‘The World Class Leader Report’.

The report reveals what world-class leadership looks like and what will be required of future global leaders. It’s been hugely popular and the report’s findings now underpin our executive assessment methods and inform our innovative, tailored approach to seeking leadership candidates overseas and in the UK.

‘The World Class Leader Report’ is now available as a free download on our website, along with a newly launched infographic that offers a summary of its key discoveries.

Whilst it’s a given that world-class leaders will inspire those they work with, we looked at how the best global leaders engage, communicate and influence. Our research also digs deep into how future leaders can be identified and developed as well as recognizing the traits the best world-class leaders possess.

We’ve been able to divide these into six core areas which include:-

(1) Emotional intelligence

(2) Absorption and commercialization of ideas

(3) Listening

(4) Clarity in the execution of the vision

(5) Valuing social responsibility

(6) Understanding existing and future generations

It soon became clear that the old models of leadership have been edged out of the boardroom. Instead, today’s most successful leaders need to be self-aware and have excellent clarity of thinking in order to understand themselves and others. They must have strong emotional intelligence as well as genuinely live and breathe the core values of corporate social responsibility.

Importantly, they must listen to their teams and peers from across all industry sectors, in order to maximize opportunities. Good listeners who network extensively grasp new ideas quickly and great communicators can implement visions effectively.

The emotional side of leadership will continue to grow in importance – some of the best ideas will evolve from the bottom up – and it takes a leader that can listen, place value on new ideas, evaluate and accept elements of risk, whilst using their own experience to commercialize them.

We also found that technology, and the ability to embrace it, is another vital quality that leaders need. World-class leaders must relish what the younger, digitally engaged, generation brings to a business. It’s not something that can simply be delegated, the best future leaders will be open-minded to new digital and technological solutions, but crucially, understand them too.

However, ‘The World Class Leader Report’ suggests that successful implementation of the latest technological advancements can be a challenge for many older business leaders. From automation to Artificial Intelligence (AI), right through to embracing digital marketing and social media opportunities, we found that many business leaders lack the skills to implement future technology solutions.

Generally, it seems that smaller businesses and those with younger CEOs and dedicated technology teams, are savvier and adopt a more connected approach to absorbing and implementing new technologies.

The research showed that CEOs who are in the latter stages of their working careers, typically struggle more to fully understand how new technological advancements can benefit their business, but this, in turn, presents an opportunity for the best leaders to find new ways to tackle the problem.

Great leaders appreciate that they don’t know it all, they must be hungry to keep learning and emotionally intelligent enough to understand that other people will only share their ideas if there is a real open platform to do so  – and this is something that has to come from the top. The best leaders must engage with all their employees, industry associates, and professionals from the wider business environment, and really listen to them, if they want to see the long-term value and commercial success.

About the author: Jason Saunders is a co-founder and managing partner at the global executive search and leadership consulting specialist, TS Grale. The Leeds headquartered company provides leadership consultancy, executive search, and advisory services across industrial, consumer, engineered products, materials handling, construction, facilities management, and life sciences sectors in the UK, Europe, and North America.

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