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What can Next Gen Leadership not do without?

Matthew Dallisson, Signium Partner and Global Head of Consumer Practice,

As the current captains of industry, today’s C-suite should maintain a sharp focus on creating leaders of the future to ensure they can pass the corporate baton to those who can successfully navigate their organisation through the turbulent landscape ahead.

Clients engage Signium to enhance the “Next Gen” leadership in their own organisations by identifying a pipeline of upcoming external candidates who embody vision, resilience, innovation, and agility; to cultivate teams that will ensure continuity of winning business practise, and the implementation of creative systems that will meet novel and unexpected demands.

We asked Signium clients Anja Zapka-Volkmann, Director Human Resources Continental Europe & Legal at ARYZTA in Germany and Sean Walsh, Chief Executive Officer of Kaap Agri in South Africa to share their thoughts on what personal Next Gen characteristics they see as critical, and how to develop those earlier in their career into positions of leadership.

When asked “What do you believe to be the top three attributes of a next generation leader?” Zapka-Volkmann noted, “Professional communication skills to address messages in a polite and inspiring manner; high flexibility in leadership styles; and resilience and inspirational attitude”. She also asserts that younger business people seem to find the communications style of their older colleagues somewhat “brash”.

Walsh pointed out that a leader must determine firstly whether their candidate is driven by a “customer first” work ethic, particularly if they are in the service industry. “Bearing in mind that leaders influence people, I’d say the key attributes for the next generation of leaders are talent-with-attitude; agility and resilience.” Talent without attitude, Walsh posits, “means nothing. Without a customer-centric outlook, all the qualifications in the world won’t keep you in business”.

Zapka-Volkmann added that innovation requires continuous reflection from both current and future leaders: “Ongoing contemplation about what we do and how we do it is essential. Any standstill means a setback, and deliberation is needed to maintain innovation.”

What empowerment means to business and employees
While Clients of Signium understand empowerment is vital for executives and their employees, Walsh pointed out that the term itself must be defined by region. “In South Africa,” he says for example, “the word ‘empowerment’ brings to mind diversity and inclusion, where it’s really about the development of all employers to be leaders.”

Zapka-Volkmann concurs: “We invest significantly in leadership skills and impart our values and what behaviours we expect from young people,” she says. “One of the core competencies is not only to be aligned with these and be transparent, but also to be decisive and strong in execution.”

Both clients assert that agility is vital, but so is resilience in Next Gen. Says Zapka-Volkmann: “It is more important than ever after Covid19, where our environment and parameters changed rapidly. It determines how we will continue doing business.” Walsh, too, highlighted the fact that the companies who didn’t have the agility and resilience to work around potentially stifling rules during the pandemic are no longer with us.

Bottom line: What can Next Gen Leadership not do without?
“All of the above plus a mentor,” says Walsh. “Not only is it vital to learn how the job is done in order to improve upon it, but having a mentor that you can work with and emulate gives you a head-start on young want-to-be executives who learned by book and not solid human experience.”

Zapka-Volkmann adds that the business leaders of the future must learn to solve problems in parallel in a time-poor world. “This can only be managed as long as individuals and teams are resilient and stay focused. Having a mentor often provides the experience a young executive can build on.”

In conclusion, it appears that the current generation of leaders are indeed looking to pass on their skills to a new generation and ensure business continuity. While we keep reading about the “great resignation” and the “silent resignation”, there are huge opportunities for both experienced executives and their less experienced but energetic and optimistic colleagues.

When reflecting on whether candidates are focussing more attention on the values and ethics of companies they choose – or refuse – to work for, two topics come up with clients of Signium and other key thought leaders time and again: The first is, if you are a talented young professional, your path will be accelerated by seeking out diverse viewpoints and robust mentorship. The second is one Warren Buffet believes is probably more important than talent: Practise your communication skills, both spoken and written. They will help you reach places knowledge alone will not.

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