What will tomorrow’s chief executive look like?

Today’s chief executive (taking an approximate average across all Fortune 500 companies) is a white, western man in his 50s. But it would appear from a number of recent blog posts from management thinkers that tomorrow’s leaders will be very different.

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, proposes in her blog that leaders of the future will need to be able to tolerate the ambiguity that comes with living in a fast-moving world and being interculturally sensitive. She wrote:

It’s nigh impossible to become tolerant of ambiguity if your life has been structured and predictable, and it’s hard to become interculturally sensitive if you have only grown up with people just like you.

Speaking of the heterogeneity of, for example, India, with its multiplicity of languages, cultures, religions, cuisines and customs, Prof Gratton suggests this provides rich cultural compost for future chief executives. Tomorrow’s leaders are more likely to come from fast-paced, melting-pot environments, she argues.

Jan Chmiel, chief executive of the UK’s Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, takes a different angle. For him, leaders of the future will need to know how to create value in a world with limited resources.

Chmiel argues that while in the past global manufacturing meant corporate leaders needed expertise in delivering economies of scale competitively, and that chief executives have, in recent times, needed strong financial backgrounds to generate value through mergers and acquisitions, the future will be about doing more with less. No longer a “nice to do” for the corporate and social responsibility paragraph in the annual report, environmental issues are already centre stage and likely to remain so.

Nandan Nilekani, the former chief executive of Infosys, the Indian technology company, blogs about what he calls the flattening of the world as emerging economies leapfrog over the declining west. He writes:

Last year, America graduated 70,000 engineers. India graduated 350,000 and China more than 600,000.

The pace of innovation in technology, together with the advantage of younger, better-educated brains, provides China and Asia with a huge competitive advantage, and we’d better get used to it.

Coping with uncertainty and learning how to manage outside your comfort zone, irrespective of your cultural origins, will, it would seem, be essential qualities for a journey to the C-suite. Diversity – and not just gender diversity – has a major role to play.

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