A new generation of leaders want to challenge convention
So much has changed in the last few years. Starting around the turn of the millennium. The final decades of the twentieth century saw rolling positive change - years of postwar peace and reconstruction ushered in a sense of calm and hope across the Western world.
Telecommunications and computers brought us closer together and advanced science. Lower cost cars, holiday packages to far off places and cheaper air travel opened our minds, our borders and our cultures. The Internet unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit with seemingly limitless opportunity.
Businesses and banks roared through the 1990’s. They expanded into exciting new geographies such as China, and unlocked productivity gains through digitisation and lower cost global supply chains. Capitalism had won the day and free markets seemed to guarantee us eternal prosperity and growth.
But the turn of the millennium put a check on this period of extraordinary growth. Something changed. Something as innocent and naive as a millennium bug made us take a step back.
How could this new tech that brought us rockets and x-rays, mobile phones and ecommerce, fail to be able to cope with a simple date change for the sake of one digit? And if systems could not handle a millennium change, then in what other ways would they fail us? Could computer-riddled planes fall out of the sky? Would bombs get redirected? Could banks lose our money thanks to a computer error?
The somewhat cynical West started to look harder at technology companies and questioned their worth. This laid the ground for the collapse of the Internet bubble in the spring of 2000. In a few short months since we had ushered in a shiny new millennium we witnessed the collapse of tech companies, their investors and a period of unfettered hope. Western society was starting to feel a little bit less exuberant and all powerful.
A year later it took two small planes crashing into New York's twin towers to change everything. For good.
Ever since those extraordinary acts of terror unleashed by Al-Qaeda, the Western world has felt less settled. Less secure. Indeed, some would mark the end of the last millennium as the peak of Western power. The beginning of its decline.
The West has since been blamed for the excesses of capitalism (including climate change), the onslaught of personal privacy, the great recession of 2008 and the mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some have argued that the West lost its mojo, right at the time when the East was rising. When China looked like it could usurp the US. And when the European project faced a greater risk of break up than at any time since its foundation.
Covid-19 has amplified this Western confidence crisis as it eats away at some of its most trusted institutions: its healthcare and welfare systems, its leading employers, its freelance society and its leaders.
It’s as though the gung-ho, all-powerful Western styled leader, fashioned from the hubris of the 1990’s was more challenged than others when faced with a new world redirected by this most terrible of modern diseases.
It makes us ponder whether a new style of leadership is required so that the Western world can reimagine itself for the next era. Perhaps the powerful, strong, white, male, privileged leader so typical of Western institutions has run its course. Maybe we need something different.
The words most often associated with Western leaders - powerful, respectable, connected, strong and educated might be replaced with new key words. Maybe new leadership buzz words could include compassionate, upwardly mobile, fair, open, responsible, analytical and data driven.
The key traits for a next crop of leaders might include: digitally savvy, appropriately educated, travelled, emotionally aware, good at listening, good at looking around corners, democratic, decisive, detailed, open to all people and ideas, inspirational, entrepreneurial and media savvy.
Leadership is example. So, if the Western world requires a new style of leader to drive change, they are likely to look different, whether they are male or female, black, brown or white. They will behave differently, dress differently and live differently. They will operate under a different set of values and desires.
They are likely to live in a digital world, work more from home and care about inequality and the environment. They will value life experiences over certain kinds of materialism. They will prioritise quality of life, relationships and health. They will not assume that there are jobs for life and will value mobility. They are likely to be better informed and more savvy about who and what they trust. Our new leaders will have grown up in a cynical, social media fuelled world. They will have developed more advanced filters for misinformation.
The key will be how they build trust. Leaders have to deserve to be followed, to be listened to and to lead. ‘Our record is our reckoning’. They will have to be clear and considered about who they are, what they stand for and what they will deliver. And they will have to remain true to their promises. True to themselves.
Digital media has brought transparency to the process. Anyone can write about you, record you, photograph you and unfollow you. And when people stop following us we can only blame ourselves.
We are out of step.
Which is why we will have to be clear about exactly who we are and what we stand for. This is example.
The new generations are more open to challenging leaders and they have more tools at their disposal to carry this out. Black lives matter is a part of a larger movement that has been operating for hundreds of years. But today it has the tools. Now it can make the difference.
People are clear about what they want: opportunity, experiences, education, career, relationships, equality, diversity and health. Health for themselves and their planet. They like ‘authentic’.
And they are starting to think harder about how some of their leaders are failing to deliver. Are not authentic. Are not rooting for them.
At the same time, they believe that the current political system is somewhat antiquated. It is creaking and in need of modernisation.
The doubts are creeping in: Coronavirus, climate change, inequality, pollution, overpopulation and lack of opportunity. These are the issues and a new crop of leaders will need vision to drive change and a desire to fix the problems.
One issue is probably not for debate. The new generation is the digital generation. So, if we are not digital first we are not relevant.
Business and political leaders that are not steeped in digital will be challenged. And can fully expect to be unfollowed.
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