Leadership in a rapidly changing world

In the past few years, more and more business leaders have begun speaking a new language – talking about, taking action on and defining their success in terms of things that used to be the preserve of political leaders and NGO activists – the contribution their core business makes towards addressing today’s most pressing societal challenges. This shift in rhetoric is being matched by a shift in action, with many organisations engaging in innovative partnerships prioritising activities that create stakeholder value as well as shareholder value. This is all the more surprising coming at a time, in the wake of the financial crisis, when negative stereotypes of business leaders are flourishing in public debate.

  • What does this shift mean for how we think about business leadership?
  • Is there an emerging group of business leaders that are leading in a different way to the generation that went before them?
  • If so, what does that mean for everyone else?

These are some of the questions that Ashridge Business School and the International Business Leaders’ Forum have been exploring in a landmark study.

The report finds that a growing number of business leaders are adopting a different perspective on their role and purpose, and reframing what counts as success. As a result, they are not only finding they need to lead complex cultural change within their organisations, but redefine the scope of their role and think of themselves as leaders in wider society, playing an active role contributing to public debate and leading systemic change in society in partnership with others.

The study has important implications that anyone playing a leadership role in an organisation cannot afford to ignore. It also has significant implications for those working in talent management and leadership development.

Read a summary of the key findings published as part of the Harvard Business Review Insight Center on the Next Generation of Global Leaders

The study has been conducted on behalf of the United Nations Global Compact Principles for Responsible Management Education to inform debate and action at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.

Download the full report

Read more about the follow up research and the implications for leadership development: Building Leadership Capability for a Rapidly Changing World