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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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.