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OCT 18, 2016

The Best Leaders Are… Different

By Yoshito Hori

From migration to trade, aging to climate change, there’s a host of challenges crying out to be dealt with.

Why do we struggle to make any progress against them?

The answer’s simple: Lack of leadership.

Such, at least, is my interpretation of the way that the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils have evolved.

These WEF councils—there are currently around 80 of them—are made up of around 20 members from academia, politics, business and the non-profit sector, and are tasked with studying the “the most pressing issues facing the world” from climate change to cyber security, and water to space.

A couple of years after the councils program began, the WEF set up a council specifically to explore New Models of Leadership. 

Clearly, that’s because whatever issues we want to solve, we won’t do a very good job without strong leadership in place. The mission of the council was to examine how leadership is evolving and why leaders are having trouble delivering results. (Full disclosure: I was on the council.)

One thing became clear to me as soon as I began thinking about the subject: Women and minorities are becoming increasingly prominent in key leadership roles around the world. A quick scan of the list below should prove my point.

•    The president of the United States and most powerful man in the world is an African-American (Barack Obama).

•    The de facto leader of Europe (i.e. Chancellor of Germany) is a woman (Angela Merkel).

•    The managing director of the International Monetary Fund is a woman (Christine Lagarde).

•    The president of the World Bank is a Korean-American (Jim Yong Kim).

•    The president of Harvard University is a woman (Drew Faust)

•    The Dean of Harvard Business School is an Indian (Nitin Nohria)

In the Western world, the “old guard” of white Anglo-Saxon protestant males is already being displaced. (In Japan, the equivalent of the WASPs are old male graduates from a handful of the same top universities.)

In both the West and Japan, the traditional model resembled a Victorian gentlemen’s club, where possessing the “right” background and adhering to the “right” code of values was what qualified one for leadership.

The world, however, has moved on and become a whole lot more diverse. Leadership has to reflect that change by welcoming more women and minorities into its ranks.

At the same time, old-style leadership, based on ordering people what to do, no longer works. In diverse and pluralistic societies, the role of a leader is to communicate, motivate and inspire, not to browbeat, bully and command.

This is where women and minorities’ traditionally disadvantaged position suddenly gets stood on its head and transforms into a major positive.

How so? 

Because people raised without any sense of entitlement never make the assumption that bossing other people around is their God-given birthright. In fact, the lack of the power and status necessary to tell people what to do, has prepared them perfectly for painstakingly building consensus by communicating and motivating others. 

A disadvantaged background equips women and minorities with more empathy to put people at their ease; greater ability to nurture and to build rapport; greater readiness to think and explain; and more willingness to find common ground with others

You might say—if it is not gender stereotyping—that the modern leadership style should be more “female” than “male.”

That’s why I’m hoping that the recent election of a female governor of Tokyo and appointment of a female Minister of Defense heralds the dawn of a new model of leadership in Japan too.

As part of that change, I also hope to see more non-Japanese leaders, like Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Nissan, and Christophe Weber of drugs company Takeda, not to mention more young leaders, more LGBT leaders, and more physically challenged leaders.

The result of more diversity at the top will be a higher quality of leadership and a more dynamic, inclusive and exciting society for everyone in Japan. 

What’s not to like?

[Photo credit by TATSIANAMA / shutterstock]