Are Companies Ready for the New Global Executive?

HR executives believe that tomorrow’s leaders will be more diverse than today’s — which will create special challenges.

In a 2012 survey, 197 human resource executives from global companies said they believe that top leadership groups in the future will have people with greater diversity of experience and “thought styles,” such as making decisions based on analytical analysis rather than gut instinct. They see this kind of diversity as being more prominent than diversity of age, nationality or gender.

In that same survey, conducted by Accenture’s Robert J. Thomas, Joshua Bellin and Claudy Jules and Nandani Lynton of China Europe International Business School, more than 90% of the HR execs said they also think that next-generation leaders will have to work more collectively.

Taken together, “these two findings suggest that leaders from highly diverse backgrounds will need to work together more effectively” the researchers write in “Developing Tomorrow’s Global Leaders” in the Fall 2013 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

They note three things to consider, however, about this future vision:

“It’s often difficult to promote both diversity and collective action at the same time,” they write. Diverse groups often have more disagreements than homogeneous groups about group processes. That can lead to inertia and endless debates about how to get things done — which can be a recipe for dysfunction.

Proactive skill development in group dynamics can help. HR executives grooming the next generation of leaders need to make them aware of the challenges if they are going to get through them successfully. “Companies that were most confident that their leadership-development programs equip high-potential employees for leadership success,” the authors write, “reported having more formal policies aimed at developing leaders collectively” and individually.

HR executives also are looking toward personalized learning programs. The executives with the highest degree of confidence in their leadership development programs “recognize that diversity extends to learning styles — individuals respond in different ways to teaching, coaching, mentoring and action learning,” write the authors. “They therefore avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to learning.”

None of this is easy. At least 40% of the surveyed execs said they were dealing with constrained budgets, administrative complexity and inadequate accounting for cultural differences. However, emphasize the authors, “those who can surmount the roadblocks and help their companies build diverse global leadership ensembles will stand the best chance of maximizing returns on their leadership development investments.”

For more details, read the full article in the MIT SMR archives.