What is the single most important skill that the leaders of the future need?
Dr. Angel Cabrera (Presdent, Thunderbird School of Global Management): Probably the single most important thing a leader has is trust of followers. Right? There is not a leader if there are no followers. And any follower takes a leap of faith in pretty much spending your own judgment and trusting the judgment of somebody else. Trust is all you have. It's hard to build. It's easy to lose. And in the era of new communications tools, where you're constantly being exposed, for good and for bad, I think the probably the most important tool that a leader will have going forward, is how to use all the tools at your disposal to build trust, to preserve trust, and not lose it.
Bill George (Professor, Harvard Business School): Actually I think leadership is not about skills. It's about the character of the leader and the person within. And I think the most important leader has to do, is find their authentic voice in their authentic self. And then a person can be genuine and can establish connected relationships with people. But that comes from an exploration and understanding of one's life story, the difficult times they've had, dealing with things like destructive emotions. And then having a sense of purpose, passion, and, mission of how they want to lead. Because if you don't know where you're going, why would I want to follow you? So every leader has to have a sense of, what is my purpose in leading? What do I want to accomplish here? And can I rally people and align them around this common sense of purpose? And then can we lead with a common set of values? So that everyone in the organization is congruent with what those values are.
Daisy Wademan Dowling (Executive Director, Leadership Development at Morgan Stanley): I think leaders can be effective unless they have two things. And this is a very personal answer. Maybe not an academic answer. And the first is that they need empathy. So they have to understand the people around them. Understand where they're coming from. Because if they can't have that human connection, and really understand the people they're leading or working alongside, I don't think they're going to be able to lead effectively. They won't be able to understand people's motivations. They won't be able to get them excited about the direction that they set for the organization or for the company. So I think empathy is one thing. And I think just a relentless desire to build capacity in the people around them. So in other words, I think leaders need to be teachers.
Andy Zelleke (Lecture in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School): I think the leaders of the future will continue to need what they've always had. Which is a devotion to the interests of others. In their community, their society, their nation, their organization, whatever the unit of analysis is. And I think that's a timeless aspect of leadership.
Batia Mishan Wiesenfeld (Professor, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, NYU): I think probably the most important trait when a leader is giving direction is to get into the habit of always explaining why. So the act of giving an explanation of why you're asking someone to do something, why you're doing something yourself, forces you to identify the underlying values that are driving your behavior or your request. They allow you to ensure that you’re conveying those, you're communicating those to others. And it creates a dynamic of accountability where the reason that you're asking something to do something -- the reasons, the explanation, the values that are underlying them – get aligned with the practices. And so I think actually explaining why is probably the most important skill for leaders to develop.
Evan Wittenberg (Head of Global Leadership Development, Google, Inc.): I think one of the most important skills for leaders of the future, or behaviors, is curiosity. I think the world is terribly complex. And as leaders are working more across boundaries -- across organizational boundaries, across countries, et cetera -- the only way to do that effectively is to understand that you don't know everything. And to be curious and inquisitive about different environments, new places, not make assumptions. So curiosity would be a big one for me.
Dr. Ellen Langer (Professor, Harvard University): Not surprisingly, since I've been studying mindfulness for over 30 years, I believe that the leaders of the future would prosper enormously by becoming more mindful. Mindfulness as I study it is a very simple process of noticing new things. When you notice new things, that puts you in the present. When you're in the present, that allows you to take advantage of opportunities and to avoid the dangers not yet arisen. The net result of having mindful leaders is that you'll no longer have people applying yesterday's solutions to today's problems.
Scott Snook (Associate Professor, Harvard Business School): The most important skill that leaders of the future need is a clear sense of their calling, of their purpose. You see so many leaders that are technically competent. Wonderfully skilled, either in technical knowledge and skills, or whatever their trade or the craft is. But just not sure in the service of what. Why? The bigger questions. And we find this search in all of our students. We find it in executives. All the way down through elementary school. I mean the search for meaning, why am I doing what I'm doing? So that clarity of purpose for me is the base, the bedrock, of what leaders of the future need.