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Five Qualities Leaders Need in the Modern World Any leader who wants to avoid being made obsolete will have to adapt to the times

By Andrey Shapenko

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The world is changing at a blistering pace. In the coming decades, everyone will experience the consequences of globalization and automation. According to some analysts, machines will replace 30 per cent of the workforce within 10 years.

Any leader who wants to avoid being made obsolete will have to adapt to the times. Here are five qualities leaders will need.

Learn How to Learn and Unlearn

Of course, despite a plethora of projections, we can't predict which particular corporate departments are in danger of becoming extinct and which managerial skills will be in high demand. For example, some researchers are claiming that by 2030 Europe and the US will see a 14 per cent reduction in the need for physical skilled laborers, while technology professionals will be 55 per cent more sought after. Conversely, the World Bank predicts the proliferation of demand for soft skills. How can one be successful under either of these circumstances?

Develop the ability and constant willingness to learn new skills. And, no less important, forget any competencies that have become obsolete due to the latest circumstances.

Build Partnerships

The new world will require managers to be able to build partnerships. To understand why, we can look at research done by McKinsey & Company. According to their forecast, over the next 50 years the global GDP growth rate will decrease by 40 per cent and per capita income will decrease by 20 per cent in growth rate compared to today's pace.

Extensive growth as a result of an increasing number of consumers and emerging markets will give way to intensive growth, relying on innovations and active competition. Managers will be much more likely to succeed in so-called "pockets of growth," industries that will exceed the average global growth rate by ten or a hundred fold by 2025. The pockets of growth in developing countries (China, Brazil, Russia) include the automotive industry, agriculture, food manufacturing, and retail. And globally, managers should pay attention to economic sectors that consistently implement new technologies, such as mobile Internet, bio and robotics technologies, the Internet of things, and renewable energy.

Innovative industries particularly value the leadership skill of building partnerships, as a company's success now depends not on efficient internal management, but on effective external politics.

Understand Cross-cultural Context

The world is going through globalization of culture and values. A teenager from Shanghai will understand another teenager from New York, Rio or Tel Aviv much better than he does his own grandfather. Even language barriers are no longer a serious barrier to communication.

Does this mean that cultural differences have completely disappeared? It doesn't, but new massive cultural communities have emerged. The youth all over the world watch the same cartoons, play the same videogames and laugh about the same memes.

So if your goal is to build a fruitful partnership with the new generation of businessmen and employees, make sure you can connect beyond national cultural norms. Being able to alternately use the universal slang of online gamers and discuss recent Twitter memes will be a useful skill.

Be Relatable and Sell Yourself

The world's gig economy is rapidly growing, and more and more business is taking place online. China's WeChat messenger is a great example of these phenomena. It serves as an ID and a medium for closing business deals; its online messaging can be used as evidence in court. Employees are no longer tied to their physical workplaces or even countries, which poses two simultaneous challenges to managers—remote management of many employees, and recruiting and retaining employees.

One can attempt to land top employees from the enormous global labor market using higher compensation. However, fat paychecks are not the most reliable source of motivation for millennials. Given a large variety of offers, top professionals pick the positions they feel interested in, which means leadership positions will continue to be occupied by those able to sell themselves and their company to potential employees. A feeling of "It's cool to work here," is perhaps one of the most important factors for the new generation when choosing their employment.

A piece of good news is online motivation and competency translates to offline. Studies of MMO games, such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Guild Wars, have shown a player's rank directly correlates to his or her leadership potential. A true leader will also prove to be one in the online realm.

Be Able to Analyse Yourself and Situations

No matter how uniform the global culture becomes, there is no such thing as a universally effective leader, and there never will be. A leader is someone who is able to analyse the situation at hand appropriately and make good decisions about what to do and how to lead based on the unique circumstances. The formula for leadership could be written as follows:

Leadership = understanding and managing self + understanding and influencing others + understanding and navigating context.

Obviously, all of these components are unique in every company and on every team, and that is why you are the only one who can teach yourself how to lead effectively. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, practice empathy to understand what other people want and how to motivate them to pursue collective goals. The only way to achieve these things is through direct experience, practice, feedback, and reflection. You can read dozens of manuals about riding a bicycle, but you will only ride competently when you do the pedaling and balancing yourself.

Andrey Shapenko

Associate Professor at the SKOLKOVO Business School


Andrey Shapenko is Associate Professor at the SKOLKOVO Business School and expert with the HKUST-SKOLKOVO EMBA for Eurasia Program. He is an experienced professional in strategy, project management and people development with a track record in leading Russian and international industrial corporations. Andrey holds an MBA from IMD and a Ph.D. in Economics and Masters in Project Management from Russian State University of Oil and Gas.


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