C-suite executives today understand the imperative for agile and entrepreneurial leadership that can shake up old approaches to business. They seek talent that is empathetic and combines critical thinking with an innovative mindset. “We depend on attracting young talent that has the pulse of the market at any time, and that has the ability, drive and ambition to challenge the known. It is crucial for a company’s ability to move forward, evolve and develop,” said a Nordics-based CEO in the technology sector.
More than 850 senior executives who participated a recent survey by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) identified four top leadership attributes enabling next generation leaders to deliver competitive advantage to their organisations.
Gen X and Millennial talent both offer qualities that are ripe for leading change, ranked by global executives in our survey as the top leadership quality of next generation executive talent that could positively impact their businesses. With the average age of global C-suite executives roughly mid-50s, the older end of Gen X has already been stepping into the C-suite, occupying senior management roles for a few years now.
Gen X’s younger cohort will continue that trend over the next decade, while Millennials start to follow. Both generations have experiences of heightened uncertainty and sweeping change, and thus both are comfortable in climates of fast pace and instability. “Next generation is more open to change and adapting new ideas, which is important for companies to keep evolving and growing in today’s world,” stated a Regional Head within the consumer and retail sector in India.
For Gen X (with birth years approximately 1965-1979), their formative years included economic booms and busts, the end of the Cold War and eventual collapse of the Berlin Wall. While not digital natives, they were the first generation to grow up with personal computers and immigrated from analog to digital with ease.
As a result, they are highly comfortable with digital platforms and have grown up with a constant evolution of technology, positioning them well to leverage its potential. “We have to keep abreast with the times and take advantage of a younger workforce that is more tuned into the cutting edge and often disruptive developments, especially in technology,” stated a COO in the technology sector in the Middle East.
For Millennials (with birth years approximately 1980-1995), the Internet, the September 11 attacks and rise of global terrorism, as well as the Great Recession, were all formative societal experiences. They are fast adopters of new technology and have grown up in a digitally connected society, so pre- digital experiences and processes are foreign to them.
Many Gen X leaders are well positioned to drive digital transformation in their organisations, understanding the experiences of both Baby Boomers and Millennials who have grown up on either end of the digital divide, so instilled with the empathy and emotional intelligence required to rally teams and foster a culture conducive to enterprise- wide shift. Millennial leaders are well positioned to pick up where Gen X leaves off and drive digital to an immersive and innovative new level.
“We need to make sure that those approaching the executive level where they need to make strategic decisions are able to do so. The younger generation has a different view and approach to business and strategy, and we need to be able to incorporate that into the business,” commented an Africa-based CHRO in the Consumer and Retail sector.
Business leaders look to the next generation for their entrepreneurial abilities, ranked by business leaders in the AESC survey as the second top quality next generation executive talent has to offer, and ranked first by executives in Consumer and Retail, Financial Services and the Professional Services sectors.
“The businesses of today are not going to be the same as tomorrow’s entities. Our next generation of leaders will need to be entrepreneurial,” commented a US- based CEO in financial services.
C-suite leaders know their organisations and industries depend on innovation, but that innovation becomes increasingly difficult in today’s rapidly changing climate. Next generation leaders bring experiences aligned for innovative thinking, with both Gen X and Millennials more diverse than their Baby Boomer predecessors and thus leveraging diverse perspectives and a wider diversity of thought. With Gen X shaped by an individualistic outlook and quest for the alternative and Millennials demonstrating a greater openness and preference for collaboration, business leaders are wise to leverage this experience for competitive advantage.
‘Innovative’ ranked in the AESC survey as the top leadership quality of next generation talent by business leaders in the Professional Services sector and the top five by business leaders globally. “There is a big change related to new and future technologies, digitalisation and big data, and thus there is a need to align adaptable leaders in this new environment,” said an Industrial sector Division Head in the Spain & Portugal market.
Both Gen X and Millennials offer leadership qualities conducive to collaboration. While Gen X is well known for its individualistic streak, Gen X leaders are building bridges between their Baby Boomer and Millennial colleagues, both as conduits for digital transformation and as developers and mentors of their Millennial workforce, accelerating Millennials to take on leadership roles. Millennials as a generation are well known for their preference for collaboration, and Millennial leaders will thrive in flat, dynamic organisations with few formal hierarchies.
Global business leaders ranked ‘collaborative’ among the top ten leadership qualities of next generation talent. “We must break the traditional chain of command leadership to collaborative leadership,” commented an industrial sector VP of Sales in the Spain and Portugal market.
Next generation executive talent is values driven and prioritises transparency. Gen X leaders exude no-nonsense characteristics and shun unnecessary process, preferring transparent methods and protocols, while Millennial leaders will bring life experiences centred on transparency and a culture of sharing.
This bent toward transparency and values positions next generation executive talent as internal and external bridge builders among their organisation’s various stakeholders—customers, shareholders and employees. At the same time, building a culture of transparency will also foster diversity and inclusion, creating an environment ripe for innovation.
Business leaders ranked ‘emotional intelligence’ as a top three leadership quality of next generation talent in the AESC survey. Today’s senior management understands today’s best leaders must be able to rally and inspire a multi-generational workforce under a common vision, must position their brands in the market for an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural customer base, and foster cultures of transparency and inclusion. Only leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence will be able to flourish in today’s complex, connected, global business environment.
Cultural acumen will be critical for next generation leaders and their abilities to emotionally connect across generations and cultures will position those organisations that leverage their talents an advantage in the marketplace.
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