Future leaders for the upcoming crises: who will they be?

You have gone through the treacherous waters of consecutive and parallel crises. You have managed to get your country, the company or the organization you lead out of a pandemic, the economic recession, extreme weather disasters, disruptive changes in technology and upheavals in geopolitical balances. You are a leader who has achieved significant successes in critical times. Today, you may now feel more secure than ever, ready to focus on goals you had to put aside. But, are you prepared for the crises that follow?

“The future is not fixed. A multiplicity of different futures is conceivable over the next decade”, warns the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks report, referring to a list of possible events that would negatively impact a significant proportion of global GDP, population or natural resources until 2034.

The role of the leaders who will carve the path out of those forthcoming crises will be crucial. Whether leading a government, a corporation, an institution, a religion or other group, those leaders will need to fulfill additional qualifications and, after adequate preparation, they will need to stand out for their capacity to successfully respond to a series of new and fast-evolving risks.

The essential future leaders’ skill set

Does that kind of leader, who could thrive in times of even more intense turbulence and new crises, exist?

It is indisputable that a future leader must have ambition, initiative, attention to detail, business acuity, creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills. But is that enough if he/she has to deal, for example, with the adverse outcomes and the perils of the rise of Artificial Intelligence, which grows rapidly and eliminates certainties one after the other? And, even more, if he/she must deal with the consequences of a possible outage of vital infrastructure?

We may be referring to a next-level leader. He/she is known for additional qualifications, such as different thinking, creativity of thinking, adaptability, persuasion, storytelling, emotional intelligence, self-managing, managing others, and the ability to take advantage of digital technology. But will he/she be ready to overcome crises of scarcity of natural resources and over-concentration of technology by few actors, which are more than expected in the coming years?

There are also the so-called futurist-leaders, who precede well ahead of trends and are focused on action. They literally “see” the future and make it happen. They give others the opportunity to see the future too and they motivate them to be bold looking ahead. But how much freedom of action would that leader have, if he/she was trapped in a world swamped in misinformation and social polarization, threatened by an existing warning for use of nuclear weapons and limited by the crises that all those phenomena reproduce?

Will a leader still embody the qualities that he/she has, if he/she has to face another global economic crisis, an armed conflict and the new massive flows of environmental, economic or political refugees that it will cause, the collapse of transit networks, the destruction of infrastructureand other disruptions that the -not so distant- future has for him/her?

Given the increasing complexity and uncertainty of the future, leaders will need to adopt additional leadership styles, in which they will be comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation and able to learn from failure. And even if they do all that, they should remember that the world is not going to remain as we know it today. The year 2024, a record year for the number of elections around the planet, could affect several international alliances, cross-border partnerships and business interests. Which leaders feel ready for the upheavals in the distribution of global geopolitical power at stake?

A future leader for the upcoming crises

So, we can talk about a set of qualifications required for every executive who will lead organizations, institutions, and groups during the next decade.

Therefore, tobe properly prepared for the undergoing multiple long-term structural transformations of the world, a future leader should also stand out for his/her:

  • Stamina (the perfect mental, psychological and physical state)
  • Devotion to truth and honesty
  • Excellent and solid personal reputation that inspires trust, authority and hope
  • Commitment to the common good and to widespread welfare
  • Ability for successful handling of crises, as a competitive advantage

And yet, despite risk assessments confirming the critical importance of specific leadership qualifications, the world doesn’t seem to prepare itself towards this direction. Markets, consulting firms, academic communities and institutions around the globe have not focused yet on the need for proper preparation of the leaders. They still train their executives as if we expect times without much deviation from today.

As a result, current and future leaders prepare themselves thoroughly in an ideal, theoretical, greenhouse environment, as if the crises described above are not going to happen. Doing that, they reflect the stance of society itself, since we all act as if we don’t want to face the truth. We act like saying “We don’t want any more. That’s enough!”. We end up adopting an emotional approach, looking away from reality.

Still, the crises will come. And the leaders who will outstand and make a substantial difference will be the ones who will lead the way effectively though the forthcoming crises, for the good of the many. Because the risks are now huge! They will be the future love leaders.