What kind of leaders will Gen Y be?

4 Minute Read | Author: Theo Chapman


The women and men who will head our largest companies in 2030 are being shaped in business schools, universities and corporations around the world and they will have more in common with the leading lights of the Renaissance than with current captains of industry.

These future leaders will combine multidisciplinary knowledge with superlative people skills and original, creative thinking. They will share a vision with the people they work with and their goal will be to make the world a better place as they create value for their shareholders.


"They will also have a global perspective," says Sarah Kelly, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland Business School, "gained from immersive experiences in different countries where they have collaborated and worked with people."

The business school provides such experiences as part of its MBA course. "This year we're doing India, China and Silicon Valley to get first-hand field exposure of how to do business in those countries," Kelly says.

As well as meeting business and government leaders, students are taken into slum communities in India, Africa and Argentina to see how micro-finance projects work and talk to the people who benefit from the loans. The experience gives students a genuine understanding of community issues, Kelly says.


The executive director of Queensland University of Technology Business School, Bob O'Connor, notes that agility is another key skill our future leaders will have. "It's the ability to inspire people through a vision of the future and to bring the whole organisation through a change process that is no longer an annual planning cycle, it's a weekly occurrence."


O'Connor says that the best way to teach leadership is to get people to understand themselves by learning how other people see them. "Once you get people to really understand truth about self they are ready to make the next move to address their perceptions of others. [You build skill in this] using techniques like reflective practice [where they think about what they've done and how they could have done it more effectively]."


The future leaders will need to engage more with the creativity within their workforces, says Roy Green, dean of UTS Business School, because their staff will have very different ideas about how to run an organisation and how it should communicate and connect with its customers and the broader community.

"Organisations, large or small, need to behave like start-ups because otherwise they will be replaced by them. The business models, as well as the products and services that an organisation supplies, are going to have to be constantly renewed," he says.

"There will have to be a process of relentless innovation but the innovation will be about engaging, connecting with and making the best use of [staff] talent and creativity."


Future leaders will be highly original in how they approach things, says University of Queensland's Kelly, and that comes from a broad education. "[It requires a] sort of Renaissance [approach] to studying things like music, art, languages, history and anthropology, in conjunction with technical courses such as business, law, engineering and finance."

Leaders will find there are a lot of ethically grey areas as companies navigate international markets, while dealing with the pressure of having to please impatient shareholders.

"Some of those grey areas can be complex to navigate your way through, but it can be taught," Kelly says. "To have had some rehearsal of that [at business school] and exposure to case studies gives you a few tools to think, 'Well, I know the right way to go here because this is similar to this circumstance [I studied in class].'"


Ethics are key, UTS's Green says: "Unless leaders can authentically deliver on values they will have a very tough time making their organisation successful." The sharemarket will ultimately catch up, realising profits are not the only driver of success, he says.

The ASX is on the cusp of generational change as the last of the Baby Boomers (the youngest are now in their mid-50s) head towards retirement. QUT's O'Connor says that means in the next 10 years we will see far greater diversity in the ranks of those running our largest companies.


"Diversity is the mix and inclusion is the lever," says Greg Whitwell, dean of the University of Sydney Business School. "We need both if it's to have positive effects.

"What the inclusive leader is trying to do, through what he or she says or what he or she does, is to encourage and appreciate the contribution made by others – particularly others who are very different to the leader."


"Compassion is the most important attribute now among humankind, especially in people in positions of power," UQ's Kelly says. "It affects shareholder value and can make the workplace culture critical in managing and retaining talent."

"We're asking a lot of the leader of the future," says University of Sydney's Whitwell. "We will have leaders who have a genuine concern not only with profit but also with people and planet.

"The leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future knows how to ask. To ask questions is to demonstrate a willingness to learn but it's also a mark of humility."