What Leadership Challenges Face Enterprises in the Future?

Answers from the Global Network for Advanced Management

On 27 April 2012, twenty-two Global Network Deans and Directors, along with selected faculty and MBA students from the Yale School of Management, formed breakout groups to discuss what leadership challenges face enterprises in the future. Yale University President Richard C. Levin and Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer added insightful commentary to the breakout group reports and ensuing discussion. (See a list of contributors to the discussion.) The answers to this central question can be organized into three parts:

  1. Context: What is different about the challenges facing enterprises for the balance of this century?
  2. Imperatives: What competencies and capabilities are most important for global enterprises and senior executives?
  3. Implications: How does management education need to change to educate leaders for this future context?

Context: Globalization has made the world more complex and uncertain. While the world is flattening and societies are more connected, there is little convergence on a wide range of factors. In addition, there is constant data overload, which amplifies the complexity. Complexity and uncertainty, however, create opportunity for leaders who are able to rigorously assimilate disparate data, connect the dots, and be intuitive, while still operating within sound frameworks. Entrepreneurship is likely to drive much growth in this uncertain, complex world.

Imperatives: Global enterprises must embrace diversity and recognize the importance of collaboration. Both are critical to operating across boundaries. Global diversity itself is multi-faceted. For example, a Chinese company might have a three month project in Brazil led by Japanese employees. Leaders will have to determine how best to develop and organize these capabilities. Enterprises will thrive if they invest in human capital and promote cultural diversity, emoying teams comprised of people with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds throughout the enterprise. Leaders need to try to understand the cultural environment and mindset everywhere they operate, but also need more humility, recognizing they cannot know everything, but still must lead and make decisions.

Several Deans and Directors favored a broadening of objectives - enplterprises cannot just focus on profitability. To succeed, enterprises must recognize they have social responsibilities across a variety of dimensions including environmental sustainability. Others emphasized the opportunities to activate markets. In this regard, the discussion underscored that in emerging markets, growth often comes from small enterprises, but these entities face a variety of challenges in organizing their activities and in accessing resources. Also, top talent often leaves emerging economies, making it harder to develop small enterprises.

Implications: The discussion raised challenging questions about whether current models of business school (and also undergraduate) education were optimally matched to the future context and to the nature of the capabilities needed to succeed in a complex, unpredictable, global world. It is clear that while fundamental frameworks and rigorous analysis are important, future education models cannot just focus on traditional management subjects such as finance, marketing, strategy, operations, and accounting. Future leaders must be intellectually curious, broad-minded, and able to ask probing questions, analyze thoroughly, communicate effectively, and make decisions that reflect an understanding of the social and political landscapes. And there needs to be more emphasis on exercising creativity and thinking unconventionally, as well as more exposure to foreign languages, other cultures, and the economic and political systems in other countries.

The discussion concluded with cautious expressions of optimism that the Global Network for Advanced Management can expose future leaders to global diversity and develop the abilities needed to navigate complexity and uncertainty. Moreover, with its membership representing countries at different levels of economic development, it may provide an excellent forum to evaluate how to restructure management education to address these challenges, similar to a World Economic Forum for global management education.