• Young people are demanding concrete action to address the world's issues
  • Today's leaders must adapt to meet these demands
  • Lessons include having a clear vision, focusing on mentorship and encouraging teamwork

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution changing the way we work and live and a new generation entering the workforce, we must redefine what it means to be a leader.

The new generation who is joining the job market for the first time is very different from the baby boomers or even the millennials. They care more about having a sense of purpose and having a positive impact on society and the environment.

According to the most recent Global Shapers Survey report, which featured the views of 30,000 people aged 18 to 35, young people feel that they are perceived as lazy, impatient and entitled and, as they are known as the “job-hopping generation,” care little for work. The data, however, shows a different picture: the top two most important criteria for young people when considering job opportunities are “salary/financial compensation” (49.3%) and “sense of purpose/impact on society” (40.6%).

Youth’s desire to contribute to improve the state of the world will have to be matched with leaders who are capable of dealing with VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Here are eight traits needed in modern leaders:

1. Have a clear vision

Not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers. The main difference between the two categories is that managers have objectives, while leaders have a vision. In general, managers are selected to manage people and de facto become the boss, usually because they excelled in doing the work they were trained for. However, they are not necessarily trained for job of leading people.

Managers are usually left on their own to become leaders. Leaders should have a clear understanding of themselves, know their strengthens and weaknesses and spend an important part of their efforts in learning and continue building their capacity. By focusing on setting a vision and showing a desire to improve, grow and inspire, leaders look at the future beyond the short goals and obstacles, thus helping them to persevere and bring everyone along.

2. Be proactive

A few years ago, leaders had the luxury to wait to get at least 80% of the necessary information before taking decisions. Unfortunately, this has become impossible with the amount of information around us today.

Today, leaders can’t afford to wait for the relevant needed information; they must be prepared to act with what information they can gather. Leaders who are not afraid of leading in ambiguity while supporting their teams in order can deliver success.

3. Develop your team

More than 70% of a leader’s time should be spent in managing people and finding ways to develop them. Simon Sinek in one of his talks shared that “Leaders are concerned about their status or position within the organisation that they forget their real job. Their real job is not being in charge but taking care of those in our charge.”

The primary role of a leader is to make sure that their team members have the resources and the capacity to do their jobs while thinking on how to create synergies between the team members. It’s important also to note that personal and professional development is crucial in developing a strong team, thus should be a priority in leading a healthy team.

4. Mentor your successor

It is often believed that if managers are doing a good job, then they should stay in the same position forever. Managers often thus maintain the status quo, which is not acceptable in today’s world. Innovation, creativity and agility are the core business of a manager.

Leaders doing a good job are the ones who are training their colleagues to take over. I truly believe that, in any organisation, life positions should be abolished moving forward. Leaders should be challenged in new positions, or at least get more responsibility, and, thus, be pushed outside of their comfort zones vertically and horizontally.

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5. Create a safe space

It is important to build a safe space for the whole team, a space where everyone is valued and where they can feel true to themselves. It is the duty of leaders to create a safe space where their colleagues are not afraid to share their disagreement and are allowed to challenge the leaders.

Part of creating the safe space is attributing success to the team and taking responsibility and blame for failure. If there’s a fail, it’s the leaders’ fault. If there’s a success, it’s thanks to the team’s hard work. It’s as simple as that.

6. Don’t micromanage

What happens when leaders are away? The power of a successful team can be known when the leaders are not in the office. Is the manager contacted for every single decision? Are the teams taking full charge of their responsibility? Do they have the guts to take decisions? Will leaders back their team’s decisions once back?

A successful team should have the capacity to function even when their leader is not around and should be able to take decisions within their sphere and job description.

7. Give productive feedback

Leaders should always share honest feedback with their colleagues. Effective communication is a crucial trait of a leader. Different feedback has different effect on people. Adapting the language and the words to every colleague is important to communicate the vision within the capability and task of every single person. Detailed or general and focusing on one group of people might leave others behind.

In the same line, there should open channels of productive feedback between all members of the team. Leaders should also crave feedback, as it’s their tool to develop themselves.

8. Be a follower

The best leaders are the best followers. When entrusting anyone with a responsibility, a leader is also a person who knows how to step down and follow others’ leadership.

For many decades, we were told that leaders were born as such. Later, we were told that titles make some leaders. However, I truly believe that every person is a leader in their own way. The way we cultivate the energy and efforts of colleagues and friends is what make them shine and thrive in creating long lasting positive change.

In a whole, we should look at leadership as a process where a team works towards an inspiring vision, beyond individuals. In Switzerland for example, I am sure that only few can name the President, simply because leadership the work of a team of seven people rather than an individual.

So what’s the future of leadership? Through the work of the Global Shapers Community, we’ve seen a shift in how young people are craving for opportunities to learn but also to engage the older generations to create long lasting impact through meaningful partnerships and cross generation work. Young people, with their passion and engagement, are embodying a new generation of leaders who are compassionate, caring, purposeful and willing to do the necessary to improve the state of the world.

This article is part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January 2020.