Scanning the horizon for factors affecting the corporate leadership landscape reveals some pretty clear indicators by which business leaders might transform the leadership capability of their enterprise.

Here’s a view on what those indicators are:


As developed economies took advantage of emerging markets to sustain their own growth in the past, the balance of economic power is now shifting from the west to the east. The west can longer use the east as their low-cost engine room. Today, organisations that originate in developed economies require a presence in Asia, not merely for their supply chain, but as a market destination for their goods and services. As the scale and opportunity of markets in Asia grow, corporate organisations and their leaders need a mindset that respects and knows how to collaborate with partners who have greater economic power than they do, in cultures and countries they barely know. The economic power tables have turned.


The technology boom and the convergence of radio, tv and telephony with online, mobile and social media has led to a proliferation of new market places, value chains and consumer understanding, enabled by big data. In the same way that the internet undermines traditional, established hierarchies in society, the technology boom undermines the power and control of corporate organisations and their leaders – unless they embrace it, too. Digital enterprise is not an IT project. Corporate organisations and their leaders must learn how to lead it.


Knowledge used to be in the ivory tower. Now, it’s at everyone’s fingertips. Everything we know, and everyone we know, is online and networked. Citizens, customers and employees can find anything, and work everything out, for themselves. Creating new and useful knowledge is not an exclusive privilege of research institutes, like universities and business schools. While old school knowledge-keepers might worry that others now know more than they do, organisations that get comfortable with delegation and empowerment will, through their employees, increase the advantage that flows from knowledge, networks and experts. Successful organisations will have leaders who understand the advantage of ‘setting employees free’ to use the massive knowledge and network resources available to them, while still holding them accountable for results.


The state of the planet may not be in every conversation but, as more people in the world become aware of it, it’s on everyone’s mind. Global warming, natural resources drying up and running out, population growth and food shortages, these are all challenges to our existence, with no known solution. Corporate organisations are part of the problem and must be part of the solution, even if an incentive for car-sharing feels like it makes no difference, at all. The reality is, corporate organisations share responsibility for the earth’s environment and, increasingly, corporate leaders are expected to demonstrate what they are prepared to do about it. Corporate organisations and their leaders need to show how improving the planet is part of their purpose.


From the time when the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, to the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement of recent years, a generation of people has taken a stand for democratic, social and human values. In addition to the natural environment, corporate organisations share a responsibility for their impact on culture, society and community, too. Corporate organisations need a social conscience and increasingly, the prominence and authenticity of their social purpose will be a source of differentiation and choice for prospective customers, employees and other stakeholders. Leadership for a return on equity, must be enhanced by leadership for a return to humanity, too. Corporate organisations and their leaders need to be proud of the social purpose their economic activity drives.


As people travel internationally in their domestic lives and, as organisations trade globally in their corporate world, awareness of cultural diversity grows. Corporate sensitivity to cultural understanding requires leaders who believe in the provision locally and personally meaningful products, services and employment practices. On top of this, we have a new generation of people who treasure their individuality and expect their employer to value it, too. In fact, the employer will be a loser if they don’t. The rise of individualism is a great place to begin the argument for creating a new, inclusive, collaborative intelligence – a new ‘collective mind’ – at work. The complexity of today’s challenges, individual access to massive knowledge resources (mentioned earlier) and the employee’s desire to be engaged in meaningful work, all add to the argument that corporations can only thrive if they are collectively intelligent. After decades of individualism, the pendulum is swinging to collaboration in which brilliance is not just inside our heads but between us, in conversation. The corporate advantage of a new, collective mind requires leaders who know how to create it and make it work.


Demographic changes mean there are fewer people, in the right places, with the right abilities, for organisations to realise their vision. The idea that some organisations might face a challenge called ‘no more people’ would be inconceivable to earlier generations of corporate leaders. But, today, many professions already face real scarcity. To avoid the risk of ‘no more people’, organisations have to invest more time, effort and expertise in training and developing people with the skills they want to employ. And, to make the supply of skilled people sustainable, organisations need the systemic architecture of a perpetual school to never be without the skills they need. More than that, as the cycle time of innovation, new knowledge and the need to adapt gets faster, organisations have to embrace the integrated synchronicity of learning and performing in every employee’s job. Learning used to be something you do on a course, or when you are reading a book. Now, learning needs to be ‘always on’. Leaders need an orientation to their organisation as a constantly developing human system. They need to be the architect and a role model for it, too.


Corporate organisations exist to create value and, in a market economy, they aspire to do so against severe competition and constantly rising standards. The era when shareholder value was the prevailing measure of success has been re-defined. Corporate organisations and their leaders have many stakeholders and each of them has an increasingly powerful voice. It’s still true to say ‘performance matters’. But today’s organisation needs to deliver performance on many more fronts. Customers, partners, suppliers, employees, governments, regulatory authorities, interest groups and society at large put a demand on corporate performance that only the brave would undertake to deliver. To succeed, organisations need leaders who can harness the collective capability of their leadership team in meeting such a diverse and potentially overwhelming demand for results.


These global trends create the context in which organisations and their leaders seek to do well and thrive. Clearly, it’s no easy task. To address the challenge, a large part of the solution is to have leaders with the ability the context calls for.

From our analysis of the corporate context, we see a requirement for leaders who can:

  • Collaborate with partners who have greater economic power than they do, in cultures and countries they barely know.
  • Create or transform their organisation so as to harness the potential of digital enterprise
  • Engage employees by empowering them to leverage their access to knowledge, networks and experts
  • Protect and improve the natural environment to make life on earth sustainable
  • Find their social conscience and translate it into a social purpose that’s relevant to their corporate life
  • Capture the advantages of diversity and individualism by leading the creation of a new collective mind
  • Embody the synchronicity of learning and performing and create a culture of constant innovation, adaptability and fulfilment for everyone
  • Deliver performance that matters to all stakeholders by harnessing the collective performance of their leadership team


The development of future leaders, with the capability required to address the challenges on today’s horizon, is a matter of urgency.

Senior executives, together with their HR partners and leadership specialists, should review and, where necessary, refresh their leadership development agenda to ensure their pipeline of leadership talent is equipped with the capability fit for today’s business world.