Commentary: Demanding a New Breed of Leadership

A sign of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is seen at the Congress center in the Swiss resort of Davos on January 24, 2012.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
A sign of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is seen at the Congress center in the Swiss resort of Davos on January 24, 2012.

The World Economic Forum \(WEF\), convening this week in Davos, recognizes that our globalized world demands a new style of leadership. The old, hierarchical command-and-control approach is increasingly outdated. Instead, the ability to seek out diverse viewpoints and identify blind spots has become essential.

Today’s inclusive leaders know that they don’t have all the answers. They’re interested in and engage with diverse stakeholders across multiple borders. Recent Ernst & Young research,The World is Bumpy: globalization and the new strategies for growth, highlights this leadership shift with two-thirds of the 1,000 executive respondents saying that they will increase the number of external partners with whom they work over the next three years.

To lead by example, the WEF has committed to more diversity among attendees and presenters, including a new mandate, instituted last year, which requires the Forum’s 100 strategic partners to bring at least one female executive among the five delegates they send to Davos. It’s a work in progress but, more than ever, they understand that diverse perspectives matter when trying to improve the state of the world.

Underpinning the need for a new style of leadership are the demographic shifts that represent one of the most powerful forces in the world. The makeup of our global workforce is changing across multiple dimensions and the leaders of tomorrow will come from the under-represented demographics of today.

"The focus and commitment must move beyond programs and practices - it has to get personal."" -Global Vice Chair, Ernst & Young, Beth Brooke

Talent management issues differ greatly in the developed and rapid growth markets but one thing holds true: good people are hard to find. Companies must make an effort to ensure a strong and diverse talent pipeline that will provide them with the skills and capabilities to thrive in constantly changing conditions. If organizations keep their eye on the long game, even in tough economic conditions, they will start to reap advantages over competitors who are too slow to see the value of inclusive leadership and the impact of global demographic changes.

An important element of ensuring a strong and diverse talent pipeline is gender parity, a topic that will be debated and discussed among business leaders and the media at the WEF annual meeting. The Forum takes place in the wake of a six-month progress update on Lord Davies’ Women on Boards report in the UK, which proposed targets to ensure greater representation of women in top jobs, and in a global climate where discussions around mandated quotas have gained increasing momentum.

Although much work has been done on gender parity issues over the last two decades, there is still a glaring lack of women in corporate leadership ranks. This is despite knowing what works in advancing women to leadership in the private sector – a strong combination of C-suite support and accountability, sponsorship and mentoring, talent development programs, and flexible workplaces.

It’s important for organizations that have been quick off the mark in grasping the relationship between inclusive leadership and organizational success to lead by example. Ernst & Young has recently assisted the WEF in developing a global repository of successful practices in advancing women. This online tool, which will launch this spring, offers case studies of high-impact diversity initiatives among companies throughout the world, searchable by geography and industry. It highlights initiatives that have been successfully implemented and, importantly, have driven measurable progress all along the gender gap – from entry level to c-suite.

Knowing what works is only valuable if companies commit to investing in gender parity – as well as broader diversity practices – and hold their leaders accountable. Governments in several countries have grown tired of waiting for the numbers to move and have started mandating quotas, but this will only be effective if we are continually building the pipeline of future female leaders.

The focus and commitment must move beyond programs and practices - it has to get personal. Each of us has to think differently and act differently as leaders. This is the new imperative for effective global leadership – it’s about collaborating and seeking diverse perspectives to make better decisions and achieve better outcomes. It’s time for the global economy to reap the rewards of the broadest pool of talent.