Shaping the leaders of tomorrow

The next generation has a tough task on its hands. What is big business doing to help them on their way?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
For those just embarking on their careers, the world’s a scary place. High unemployment, low salaries and riddled with debt - they’d be forgiven for giving up before they’d even started. Unfortunately for them, though, they’re the ones saddled with the task of fixing the previous generation’s mistakes. At last week’s One Young World event in Zurich, 1,400 of the world’s most promising young leaders came together to discuss how to sort out the mess left by their parents. What’s big business doing to help them on their way?

On a sunny terrace overlooking lake Zurich, MT sat down for a chat with Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ head of retail banking and the man in charge of the company’s ‘citizenship’ (aka CSR) programme. He said the qualities the company looks for in those being recruited to its future leadership programme, a sort of fast-track to management, has changed. ‘It’s a combination of people’s track records, certainly - but it’s also what we see them do in the workplace, their motivation. You’ve got to have both things - you’ve got to have the ability, but for us, it’s really about motivation at the end of the day.’

The point, he added, is that these days, those in line for leadership roles have to be able to see the bigger picture. ‘We very much believe in running our business for all of the stakeholders in it. Of course our shareholders, but also our customers, our employees and ultimately, society’. Clearly, that represents a significant transformation in attitude, even from five years ago. Although, with Bob Diamond - the notoriously risk-loving former head of Barclays’ investment banking arm - in charge, whether that change in attitude will translate into a change in corporate behaviour is another question entirely.

What’s interesting about the next generation of leaders is that, in some respect, they’re already ahead of their older counterparts. As Lucian Tarnowski, one of OYW’s delegates and a founder of career social network BraveNewTalent put it: ‘A lot of them are already ahead in terms of the communication channels they’re using and their engagement with each other.’ In other words, social media is transforming the way we work - and those at the forefront are the those still taking their first steps into the workplace.

With natural skills like that, big business is having to adapt swiftly to put them to use. David Jones, OYW’s founder and the CEO of advertising firm Havas, pointed out that gives them a natural advantage. ‘In my day, if they were equally intelligent, a smart 40-year-old could probably make a lot more of a contribution than a smart 20-year-old. But technology has just given a dramatic shortcut to that 20-year-old’s knowledge. As a result, this is the smartest generation of young people we’ve ever seen - and they understand more about the world.’

Of course, it is a double-edged sword. After the downturn, corporates have realised it’s important to instil the sense of responsibility into the next generation of leaders that many of their predecessors have been accused of lacking. ‘We say, you have every right to be demanding of us as an employer - but we’re very clear that we expect them to hold up their end of the bargain,’ says Jenkins. So while in the past, leadership has been about the pursuit of profit, if OYW has anything to do with it, the future’s leaders will take an altogether more well-rounded approach.

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