Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

21st Century Business Leaders

In comparing the desired characteristics of future business leaders with the desired characteristics of the past business leaders there are both similarities and differences. Many qualities of effective leadership are seen as being important for yesterday, today and tomorrow. Characteristics like vision, integrity, focus on results and ensuring customer satisfaction which are still alien to Pakistan, are factors that were critical in the past and will be so in the future.

21st Century leaders will be thinking globally, appreciating cultural diversity, demonstrating technological savvy, building partnerships and sharing leadership.

Globalization is a trend that will have a major impact on the leader of the future. In the past, even major companies could focus on their own country or, at most, their own region. Those days are soon going to be over. The trend toward globally connected markets is likely to become even stronger in the future. Not only would leaders need to understand the economic implications of globalization; they will also have to understand the legal and political implications.

Two factors that are seen as making global thinking a key variable for the future are the dramatic projected increases in global trade and integrated global technology. There will be difficulty buying something made in one country because it will almost be impossible to determine what percent of the product is actually made in that country. Future leader will need to spend time in multiple countries to better understand how multi-country trade could help their organizations achieve a competitive advantage. In an environment where competitive pressures are rapidly increasing, producers will have to learn how to manage global production, marketing and sales teams.

New technology is another factor that is going to make global thinking a requirement for future leader. With the use of new technology it will be feasible to export even office and "white collar" work around the world. Computer programmers in Pakistan will communicate with designers in Italy to help develop products that will be manufactured in Indonesia and sold in Brazil. Leaders who are stuck in local thinking will be hard-pressed to compete in a global marketplace. Leaders who can make globalization work in their organization's favor will have a huge competitive advantage.

As the importance of globalization increases, future leaders will also need to appreciate cultural diversity. They will have to understand not only the economic and legal differences, but also the social and behavioral differences that are part of working around the world. Respect for differences in people is one of the most important qualities of a successful global leader. Developing an understanding of other cultures will not be just an obligation, it will be considered as an opportunity.

The appreciation of cultural diversity will need to include both the "big things" and "small things" that make up a unique culture. For example, few Europeans or Americans who work in the Middle East have taken the time to read (much less understand) the Qur’an.

The ability to motivate people in different cultures would become increasingly important. Motivational strategies that are effective in one culture may actually be offensive in another culture. Leaders who can effectively understand, appreciate and motivate colleagues in multiple cultures will become an increasingly valued resource in the future.

Technological savvy will be a key competency for the global leader of the future. It means that every future leader will be a gifted technician or a computer programmer. It also means that leaders will need to understand how the intelligent use of new technology can help their organizations; recruit, develop and maintain a network of technically competent people; know how to make and manage investments in new technology and be positive role models in leading the use of new technology.

New technology would become a critical variable that will directly impact organization's core business. I however feel pity for Pakistani executives who stubbornly think that they are either "too busy" or "too important" to learn the power of new tools. The organizations that have technologically savvy leaders will have a competitive advantage over organizations that did not.

Many of the future leaders will see the management of knowledge workers to be a key factor in their success. Knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing that 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. The leader will be more in a mode of asking for input and sharing information. Knowledge workers of the future may well be difficult to keep. They will probably have little organizational loyalty and view themselves as professional "free agents" who will work for the leader who provides the most challenge and opportunity. Skills in hiring and retaining key talent will be a valuable commodity for the leader of the future. Sharing leadership may be one way to help demonstrate this skill.

To successfully prepare for the next millennium, tomorrow's organizations will have to either change the mind-set of many leaders or change their employment status. For leaders who are near retirement, this may not be an issue. For middle-aged leaders who lack the needed new skills this may be a challenge. Leaders will have to learn why the new skills are important. They will have to understand what they need to learn and be shown how they can best learn it.

The "bad news" is that many existing leaders do not see the value of these new competencies. The "good news" is that almost all of the top high-potential future leaders do see the value of these new competencies. Future leaders may be recruited to help mentor and develop present leaders. If future leaders have the wisdom to learn from the experience of present leaders and present leaders have the wisdom to learn new competencies from future leaders, both parties can share leadership in a way that can benefit their organization. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation