Leadership’s New Direction
January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
Coauthored by John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, and Oliver Segovia
On April 6, 2009, as the world was reeling from the impact of the global financial crisis, the Guardian ran a feature titled“Academies of the Apocalypse?” Arguing that U.S. business schools and recently-minted MBAs should shoulder most of the blame for the crisis, the article triggered a series of follow-on pieces in the world’s most-respected publications, manylambasting the value of top business schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT, and questioning the ethical and moral convictions of their graduates.
As the public developed their own views on whether or not MBAs were to blame, we felt that a key voice was being omitted from the debate: that of young business leaders themselves. With 100,000 men and women graduating from U.S. business schools each year, surely MBAs aren’t all ethically-starved, power-hungry, and deceitful, are they?
The answer, of course, is no. Today’s young leaders are growing up with the belief that business can provide them with a way of translating a meaningful, personal purpose into work that impacts the world in a positive way. These are 20-somethings in the early stages of their careers, holding roles that require tremendous amounts of responsibility and judgment — whether it’s managing a brand, starting a new venture, or transitioning the family business.
We wanted to get to know this new set of emerging leaders better. After analyzing the stories of young leaders and conducting a survey of over 500 current business school students, we discoveredthat their worldviews and backgrounds differ strikingly from previous generations. For example:
- They’re highly educated: 54% of Millennials have college degrees, compared to 36% of boomers.
- They’re focused on sustainability: 65% of MBAs believe that the scarcity of resources will significantly impact businesses in the next few decades, compared to 29% of CEOs.
- They seek meaning: Intellectual challenge is the most important reason for choosing a job.
- They’re global: The average number of countries respondents intend to work within ten years of graduation is 4.6.
- They’re looking to “connect the dots” between sectors: 84% believe it is essential to understand the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
These statistics describe only a fraction of what we’ve learned about the trends of these leaders. Young businesspeople are thinking about leadership in different ways, and a new leadership ethos is emerging.
For starters, young leaders are creating opportunities across sectors — and borders. One of our survey respondents argued, “Business leaders will be forced to recognize and serve a broader community of stakeholders than in previous generations.” This “broader community” transcends both sector and geographical boundaries. Furthermore, the fast-paced nature of globalization was summed up by another young leader: “Simply understanding national surroundings will no longer be sufficient.” The world is becoming global, and these leaders plan to respond.
What is striking, though, is the strong emphasis on the personal and ethical dimensions of leadership. Young businesspeople are viewing leadership with a sense of grace, humility, and serious responsibility. Emphasizing the nature of ethical leadership in the wake of the financial crisis, one respondent argued, “Leaders will be forced to be more transparent about everything from their decision making to their personal lives.” On the importance of personal authenticity, another said, “Leadership will be less about climbing a ladder within an established organization — the 21st century is more about defining the ladder through one’s actions.”
These leaders are starting to live into these beliefs, and organizations need to follow suit. Senior managers and executives can harness the energy of this talented group of future leaders by focusing on the organization’s authentic mission, providing young leaders with meaningful opportunities to learn and grow, and promoting transparency. Organizations that pursue such cultures will maximize their chances of attracting, retaining, and motivating today’s young leaders, who, like never before, seek strong alignment of their personal values with their professional ambitions.
Leadership is changing, and it’s time for these leaders’ voices to be heard. Unlocking the talents of these young leaders can help more organizations use business as a force for good, and provide a new set of role models for the generation that succeeds them.