This week the World Economic Forum is proud to announce the Young Global Leaders class of 2015. Primarily in their mid-30s, these 187 individuals are challenging traditional leadership paradigms and bringing about positive change in the world.
Their organisations and approaches bring to mind a film of their youth (and mine) – the 1980s series Back to the Future, which predicted a futurist world in 2015 that blew our mind. In a time of Dictaphones, VHS tapes, the Sony Walkman, and the ground-breaking fax machine, the technology that Marty McFly confronted as he leapt 30 years into the future seemed other-worldly. While not all of their predictions have lasted or become a reality (remember laser disc players?), many of them (think flying cars, hover boards, an alternate currency and personal, wearable technology) are causing radical shifts in today’s society.
Over the same 30 years, an equally dramatic shift in organisational leadership has brought the world forward. Just as much of the 1980s technology has become defunct, these Young Global Leaders are proving that that decade’s leadership styles are also past their use-by date. Management by fear, rigid hierarchies, male-dominated workplaces and silo-thinking are increasingly anachronistic. The next generation of leaders are diverse in terms of gender and nationality, their work crosses the traditional divides between sectors and they take creative approaches to cracking tough problems.
In particular the YGLs from the class of 2015 are proving the importance of five key shifts driving their leadership:
- Radical Transparency – As the technology and speed of communication has increased each one of us is butt-naked. Leaders in today’s world realise that everything they say, do, and share could be made public. Authentic leaders will shine in this era and encourage their employees and organisations to live and work with a transparent, open mind-set. Increasingly, this is especially important in government. This is exemplified by new YGL Stela Mocan, the Executive Director of Moldovan e-Government Centre, which uses open data and various digital tools to encourage people to participate in politics.
- The Power of Giving – Is your organization merely operating as the sum of its parts? Or are you enabling a workplace of mutual support & giving to achieve loftier ambitions? Adam Grant, Wharton Professor of Management and Psychology and a new YGL, framed these issues with is book Give & Take, while leaders are putting this philosophy in action with organisations, communities and networks around the world.
- Constructive Conflict – Conflict can tear apart societies. When dealt with constructively, however, disagreement can also be a source for understanding, empathy, and new solutions to challenging questions. A current Young Global Leader, Lutfey Siddiqi of UBS, is encouraging leaders from around the globe to think differently about conflict and is working to educate young people to embrace this attitude.
- Tri-sector Leaders – Today’s global challenges are complex, interrelated and require collaboration across the three domains of government, business and civil society, as well as across cultural borders. Almost every Young Global Leader from the Class of 2015 has lived, studied and worked in different countries; many of them speak multiple languages; and a great number of them, as embodied by Gaurav Gogoi, an MP in India and entrepreneur, Kirsten Parker of IHS, or Andrea Cooper, the Executive Director of Liverpool Football Club Foundation, who represent the type of tri-sector leaders that are needed to tackle the world’s intractable problems.
- Beyond the Bottom Line – Successful in their individual areas of expertise, Young Global Leaders are dedicated to making a contribution to society more broadly. Whether in private or public sectors, academia or in the media, they consider themselves social entrepreneurs in spirit. The Class of 2015 includes notable social entrepreneurs such as Lauren Bush Lauren, Founder of FEED Projects, which provides lunches for hungry school children, and Kenya’s Lorna Rutto of EcoPost, which turns plastic waste into fencing. Many other YGLs, like Logan Green of the ride-sharing platform Lyft and Michelle Dipp of OvaScience, which focuses on fertility, are building their companies beyond the bottom line in the mould of Hill Valley’s eminent scientist Emmett Brown – seeking business solutions, including new technologies, to address societal challenges.
These shifts will not only change today’s working culture, but lay the foundations for the next 30 years. So how will the world look in 2045? As Back to the Future has suggested, many new technologies will surely alter the course of human history. We may be living on other planets, machines may have taken many of our jobs, and tech breakthroughs may help us deal with climate challenges. There’s no doubt, however, that a more constructive, inclusive, diverse and transparent kind of leadership will be essential in creating the kind of future we want.
Author: John Dutton is a Director at the World Economic Forum and Head of the Forum of Young Global Leaders.