As Kenya, the UK and the rest of the world confront a raft of global challenges, effective leadership will matter more than ever. But what constitutes good leadership in today’s world? Research by Cambridge University for the British Council has highlighted some of the skills next the generation of leaders will need to navigate an increasingly globalised and interdependent future.
Research conducted by Cambridge University’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership suggests that in today’s global context, a “global mindset” is a critical leadership attribute to cultivate, developing skills of open-mindedness, inclusive, long-term and systemic thinking, and an ability to navigate complexity.
The research looked at perspectives on leadership from around the world with a focus on China, India, Egypt, Kenya and Mexico, offering international comparisons of how leadership and leadership development are understood across different regions. Honesty, intelligence and decisiveness emerge as the leadership traits that matter most.
In Kenya, leaders are expected to be charismatic, inspirational, visionary and team-oriented. Seventy seven per cent of Kenyans rank integrity as the most important characteristic of good leadership.
Many of today’s global concerns such as security, climate change and migration are seen as too big or too intractable to be solved by national governments alone. The ability to collaborate across borders is considered the most important leadership trait.
“Collaboration” has also been found to constitute one of the top three expected leadership traits across regions. However, successful global collaboration may provide its own challenges, and demand that leaders change or adapt their traditional style if they want to succeed. The study also highlights other differences between countries’ conceptions of leadership.
It finds that many countries value consultative and participative leadership styles over autocratic approaches. Charismatic leadership is most preferred in the West. It’s less popular in the Islamic Middle East and Confucian East Asia, which show greater preference for a more team-oriented collaborative approach.
According to the research, effective leadership is best exercised through policy change, often led by “policy entrepreneurs”: people who are able to build broad coalitions and work across jurisdictions to create public value.
In Africa, leaders like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah might fit this bill. Here in Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai personified this leadership in her tireless efforts to build environmental awareness.
21st Century Leaders will need to demonstrate high order intercultural empathy as they collaborate with other nations to tackle shared challenges. Their leadership will, according to the Cambridge Research be exercised increasingly through policy change, often led by those able to create a shared purpose around their vision for change.
To support the next generation of leaders in Kenya to develop some of these skills, the British Council has launched Future Leaders Connect, a new global network for emerging policy leaders from 11 countries. Some 2,200 Kenyans applied to participate in the programme. This week, 10 Kenyan Future Leaders will compete for the five places available.
The five will join a long-term global network of young people in the UK and across the world. They will have an opportunity to connect to some of the UK’s leading institutions, develop their policy leadership skills at Cambridge University and attend private meetings with inspiring leaders and policymakers.
This will culminate in a conference in the UK Houses of Parliament this October to discuss the most pressing global issues facing the next generation. Those issues may be challenging, but it is hoped that a new generation of leaders will have the skills needed to address them. Kenya’s Future Leaders will undoubtedly make their presence felt in the UK. —The writer is the Country Director British Council, Kenya