5 strategies Young Global Leaders  use to navigate complex times

Members of the Forum for Young Global Leaders class of 2024.

For members of the Forum for Young Global Leaders, agility, empathy and planning for the unexpected are key traits of a good leader. Image: Forum for Young Global Innovators

Kulé Galma
Community Engagement Specialist, Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum
Danny Richmond
Community Lead, Young Global Leaders, World Economic Forum
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  • The skills and capacities that our leaders need are changing as the world around us evolves.
  • Today, empathy, agility and flexibility are among the key traits of successful leaders.
  • Here are five key things that members of The Forum for Young Global Leaders think all leaders should be doing to navigate complex times.

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the role of leaders in navigating complex environments has never been more critical. As leaders face a cascade of interconnected crises, the demand for agile and adaptive leadership strategies has surged. Adaptive leaders can swiftly respond to changes, pivot strategies effectively and harness opportunities that emerge from uncertainty — all skills needed now more than ever.

From May 6-8, 2024, 60 members of the Class of 2024 convened in Geneva, Switzerland, for the EMERGE: Young Global Leaders Class of 2024 Gathering. This event celebrated their achievements, kicked off their learning journey and fostered strong bonds within their cohort.

Central to the discussions was a critical question: What strategies can leaders adopt to effectively navigate and thrive in complex environments?

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5 things leaders do in complex times

Here are the five key reflections Young Global Leaders (YGLs) shared on how to leader effectively in complicated times.

1. Map and anticipate risk

Although preparing for the unknown may seem counterintuitive, leaders must map potential risks and devise adaptable scenarios for complex disruptions. Many YGLs emphasized the importance of using probabilistic rather than deterministic outcome predictions. Probabilistic predictions estimate various possible outcomes and their likelihoods, embracing uncertainty and variability. In contrast, deterministic predictions assume a fixed set of inputs will always produce the same output, without accounting for randomness or uncertainty.

“In these complex and dynamic times, leaders need to constantly think ahead of the curve on how their businesses will be disrupted. They also need to set up systems that allow them to make sense of the immense amounts of data and use it to make the right decisions.”

Shashwat Goenka, Vice-Chairman, RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group

2. Embrace humility and inclusive listening

In complex environments, humility is a vital leadership trait. Leaders must acknowledge what they do not know and be willing to unlearn biases and assumptions to uncover innovative solutions. Many YGLs underscored the significance of comprehensive information flows for informed decision-making, highlighting the need for include all stakeholders — especially those that would be impacted by their decisions.

"Sometimes all the information we need to make a decision is not present to us at the beginning — we need to find it. However, many of our societal structures have prioritized developing rebuttals and counterarguments rather than attentive listening. We need to relearn how to sit and connect with others, sometimes in silence, rather than bolstering our ego and making hasty decisions with imperfect information."

Raylene Whitford, Director, Canadian Sustainability Standards Board

What is a YGL?

3. Foster empathy, openness and trust

Navigating complex landscapes requires leaders to manage varying tensions and engage with diverse stakeholders who may hold competing visions. YGLs agreed that that empathy, openness and trust-building are essential in overcoming obstacles and missteps.

"Leaders need to be open to finding solutions that no one person could have come up with alone, drawing on collective wisdom."

Raylene Whitford, Director, Canadian Sustainability Standards Board:

During times of crisis and complexity, YGLs also highlighted that it is crucial to remember the everyday human impacts of decisions. Embracing more openness and recognizing our shared mission can guide more effective leadership.

4. Divide the problems into smaller parts

Amid the tidal wave of problems that leaders face in polycrises, it can be overwhelming and paralyzing to pursue impact. The YGL Class of 2024 emphasized the importance of having a north star; a vision, backed by values, to guide decision-making. This allows leaders to be agile in pursuing long-term changes while avoiding the trap of short-term crises.

"Complexity is a fact of our times, so it helps to understand complexity as a series of smaller problems that can (and must be) solved."

Anna Schrimpf, Director of Innovation, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)

By breaking down complex problems into clusters of smaller issues, leaders can find solutions while keeping the larger purpose in mind.

5. Build a culture of resilience and perseverance

Navigating and adapting to multifaceted and unpredictable challenges necessitates resilience. Resilience enables leaders and organizations to withstand and recover from disruptions, leveraging complex scenarios to foster innovation and growth. Thus, resilience and perseverance are not only responses but also strategic assets in managing complexity effectively.

"It's important for leaders to possess the ability to engage and inspire those around them who may not initially share the same concerns. This capability to mobilize others amplifies their impact and cultivates a broader sense of responsibility and awareness across their teams and communities."

Rina Akimoto, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Vivid Garden

The EMERGE Young Global Leaders Class of 2024 Gathering in Geneva underscored the need for a new leadership paradigm developed in the height of complexity. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of YGL this year, we are reminded of the profound impact and legacy built over two decades. As we navigate these turbulent times, the insights from YGLs provide a roadmap for leading effectively through uncertainty, fostering a culture of resilience, and driving toward a visionary future.

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