3 ways leaders can activate responsible leadership in uncertain times

The skills and approaches required to deliver good leadership in uncertain times are changing.

The skills and approaches required to deliver good leadership in uncertain times are changing. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ida Jeng Christensen
Head of the Forum for Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum
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  • The challenges that leaders face today, in an uncertain world, are different from those of the past.
  • Today, leadership requires responsible and decisive action, focused systems thinking, overcoming bias and with cooperation at its heart.
  • Now in its 20th year, the Forum for Young Global Leaders continues to nurture leaders committed to these values and provide opportunities for them to deepen their relationships and work together.

The global leadership landscape has fundamentally changed in the past two decades — and these new challenges mean our leaders need to adopt a host of new skills and new approaches to lead responsibly.

Twenty years ago, when the Forum of Young Global Leaders was established, leaders were grappling with challenges posed by globalization, economic uncertainty and the rise of digital technologies. The Forum’s mission was to create a community of next-generation leaders capable of addressing these dynamic global challenges head-on.

Fast forward to today, as the World Economic Forum announces the latest cohort of Young Global Leaders for 2024, the world confronts a new array of challenges and opportunities that demand responsible and decisive leadership.

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The changing face of leadership

Today's leaders face a complex web of interconnected crises, from climate change to technological disruption, social inequality to geopolitical tensions.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Cooperation Barometer 2024 underscores the specific challenges in fostering global collaboration and argues that revitalizing cooperation is necessary for advancing resilience, growth and security.

As a result, leaders across sectors are called upon to exhibit new skills, heightened resilience and visionary leadership to navigate the intricacies of our times.

The Forum of Young Global Leaders brings together exceptional leaders who embody the qualities necessary for the future: adaptability, resilience and a steadfast commitment to driving positive change. Through our programme, we facilitate connections across geographies and sectors, provide leadership development opportunities and enable impact initiatives — all with the goal of improving the state of the world.

As we launch our new cohort of more than 80 Young Global Leaders today, it is clear that nurturing these qualities will be essential for them to effectively navigate the complex challenges of our time.

Hailing from diverse corners of the globe, these leaders are already making significant strides in addressing the pressing issues of our time in their own right. Together, they tackle a broad spectrum of challenges, ranging from water scarcity to gender disparity.

3 key approaches to responsible leadership

With these imperatives in mind, there are three key approaches leaders should take to confront the issues of the 21st century.

1. Champion multistakeholder approaches

By embracing multi-stakeholder approaches, today’s leaders have the potential to drive transformative impact and shape a more inclusive, sustainable future. Leaders must acknowledge that addressing complex challenges requires collaboration and alignment among diverse stakeholders. By actively engaging all relevant parties, leaders can tap into a wealth of perspectives and resources to drive impactful change.

Within the YGL community, countless examples abound of leaders from varied backgrounds coming together to deliver real impact. For instance, YGLs Jessica Jackson and Jared Genser united their expertise in criminal justice reform and legal advocacy to advance efforts to end mass incarceration. By mobilizing international support and championing human rights, they exemplify the power of multistakeholder collaboration in effecting systemic change.

2. Apply systems thinking

In our interconnected world, leaders must adopt a holistic approach to problem-solving. By understanding the interrelation of issues and potential consequences, leaders can prioritize solutions that benefit entire systems. For example, YGL Lady Mariéme Jamme founded iamtheCODE, a global movement seeking to get 1 million girls coding by 2030, with the aim of addressing the systemic failure of gender inequality in technology.

Jamme, with support from multinationals and universities, has trained and mentored thousands of girls each year in under-served areas in Africa, South America and the Middle East. Similarly, YGL Diane Binder, Chief Executive Officer of Regenopolis, joined forces with the World Economic Forum’s 1t.org programme to launch the Alliance for the Great Green Wall.

This ambitious project is being implemented across 22 African countries to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million green jobs by 2030. Through transformative projects like these, leaders demonstrate the potential of systems thinking to drive sustainable and equitable solutions.

3. Bridge divides

In an era blighted by polarization and division, leaders must strive to build bridges and foster unity. The YGL community embodies this ethos, with members actively working to promote inclusivity and belonging.

For instance, since joining the community, YGL Luana Genot, the Executive Director of Instituto Identidades do Brasil, has been organizing a series of hackathons that bring together YGLs and Global Shapers to share their perspectives on these crucial issues, exploring their realities, tools and ongoing efforts to promote equity.

Similarly, YGLs Lisa Witter, Robyn Scott and Daniel Sachs co-founded the Apolitical Foundation to update political leadership for the 21st century through a worldwide nonpartisan movement. To date, they have helped accelerate 17 Political Leadership Incubators in 36 countries. In a world of rising public mistrust, the Apolitical Foundation's efforts to facilitate dialogue, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building are crucial.

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