Cultivate the Five Attributes of Effective Leaders (Part 1)

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IBM’s study, Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study, is part of a bi-annual series of interviews with 1500 senior leaders to get their perspective on the most pressing challenges to which they must respond in today’s competitive and economic environment. The need for innovation, often number one, dropped a notch in this study, as the leaders focus on a new issue: complexity. Almost 80% anticipated greater complexity ahead. This includes disruptions as well as new opportunities made available through increasingly interconnected economics, enterprises, societies and governments. Significantly, over 50% reported that they feel ill-prepared for today’s more complex environment!

To help today’s leaders and the Next Generation of leaders to handle the issues, we recently delivered a webinar at’s Conference on “Developing Organizational Leadership Capabilities” on the attributes leaders will need. In this part of a two part blog, we’ll focus on the challenges leaders face. In the second part, we’ll focus on the attributes Leaders need.


The 21st century offers new challenges that leaders must be able to meet. These include:

  • A “flat” world in which transnational approaches are helping companies grow.  As Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble show in Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere the developed world no longer is the center for innovation which leads to outsourcing of production elsewhere; today people everywhere can be the innovators of products, services and processes.
  • A significantly more diverse workforce. Today’s workers come from a larger number of geographic, demographic and societal cultures than ever before. They pose challenges in forging teams, collaborating and aligning themselves to meet strategic objectives.
  • A virtual workforce requires new organizational models to achieve the strategy. In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the USA to send a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the century. As Leonard Sayles and Margaret Chandler showed in Managing Large Systems, a new organizational model was created (e.g., matrix management with temporary project teams) to enable the goal achievement in July, 1969.  Today, we are witnessing the growth of a new organizational model: “network management”. By recruiting people committed to the vision and mission, and then controlling communications by network members, terrorist organizations, like Al-Queda, are achieving their goals regardless of location.
  • Virtually instant communications create pressures for speedier decision-making. In a world where all the facts cannot be had at all times, leaders need to build structures to facilitate the best possible decision-making with what’s available. They also can enable greater collaboration for partners, regardless of where they are located.
  • Innovation no longer is the domain of a selected few in R&D. Harnessing the creative energy of all potential stakeholders, including employees, customers and strategic partners is  critical to developing innovative solutions to process, service and product challenges.