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Are we a nation of unambitious leaders?

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The majority of senior leaders believe the answer to successful leadership is integrity, according to the New Oxford Leadership survey. The report asked 152 senior international business leaders, past participants of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, to consider the three most important leadership qualities.

Respondents tended to describe their ideal leader in altruistic terms. Out of the 22 options, 52 per cent of respondents chose the term integrity as the most important aspect of leadership today.

Roberto Murray Meza, one of the most prominent business figures in Central America, believes that selflessness is the foundation for real leadership potential and commented: “I work for the people in my company, not the other way around.” 

Among the least popular terms to define leadership were “authority” (three per cent); “risk-taking” (three  per cent) and “ambition” (five per cent). Professionals have grown tired of self-interest, short-termism and greed. The report underlined a genuine shift in the values and characteristics of leaders.

“We have been working with more than 1000 senior leaders from more than 60 countries for 30 years, providing a high-impact, transformational development programme designed to help them think deeply about themselves as leaders,” explained Tracey Camilleri, director of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme. “In that time we have seen major shifts in the practice and understanding of leadership.”

Leadership concerns

The survey asked business leaders what keeps them awake at night, and the most frequent responses included: 

  • Responsibility towards their stakeholders: The need to provide fulfilling roles for staff; the need for companies to “do the right thing” more broadly; and to consider the environmental impact of their decisions;
  • Leaders mentioned a fear of failure;  the negative impact of company politics; the unrelenting pressure of the role and the scrutiny it attracts;
  • The need to choose the right people to work in a global context; identifying talent within the organisation and developing it; and
  • The sheer complexity and uncertainty of the business environment. 

The Future

Business leaders anticipate a future of disruptive change where SMEs need to be agile in anticipating the unexpected. Many stressed the need for constant innovation and the role of technology in helping manage information overload. Others focused on geographical shifts in power and wealth; the drive and creativity of Latin America, Africa and Asia contrasting this with the complacency of Western economies. 

The expectations of new generations are changing, and new desires to customise a job to make it meaningful are rising. There is a new drive for organisations to make a difference, not just a profit, if they are to appeal to employees and customers alike.

Ali Hall, a specialist in generational diversity, commented: “As traditionalists and baby boomers retire and employee proportions change, organisations will need to evolve both their language and expectations in hiring and retaining generations.

“These generations have entirely different approaches to work, to how they learn, to how they communicate, and to what they expect in return for their commitment,” said Hall. “This landscape will become still more challenging for organisations, and they need to develop a strong awareness of generational diversity and how to manage it, if they are to thrive.”

This survey provides a valuable snapshot of leadership in 2012, and how business leaders are required to adapt to a changing social and professional landscape.

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