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  • Milano
  • 20 March 2024

        The current state of leadership must be analyzed within a framework of change and crisis. This involves concepts and models ranging from those that define the role of the ruling class, and how it is perceived, to the idea of intergenerational trust and the values that underpin the economic-financial system. Analyzing this system calls, first and foremost, for an exploration of the meaning itself of leadership.

        The world is experiencing a series of “black swan” events that are impacting the daily lives of billions of people, with planning for solutions and goals subject to continuous revision. In the most widespread of current views, the leader is seen increasingly less as associated with a top-down hierarchical construct. Instead, the most effective and desirable model would seem to be a horizontal one that incorporates ethics and receptivity, shoulders responsibility for risk and errors, seeks to innovate and places profitable sustainability ahead of sustainable profitability.

        A leader must be recognized as such, not self-appointed, and that goes for everything from politics to corporate management. It is worth recalling that leadership exists not only in organizations but also in small or even informal groups. In any case, the act of harmonizing and orchestrating the components of a team for the purpose of conducting efficient group action must be based on a clear value system. It therefore involves an empathic approach capable of recognizing and comprehending the problems of others.

        A leader must be neither a dictator – which would only mean leading without governance and therefore be subversive – nor a savior but rather, as the term implies, a guide. In order to truly be one, a guide must have weathered both external and internal crises; a person that has coped with the complexities of life, overcome fear and forged a personal path to growth is better equipped to help others address their needs. Moreover, a leader must be aware of being part of a constantly evolving world, eschewing the illusion of control and adapting willingly to uncertainty. Finally, unable to control everything, a leader must galvanize others with a view to fostering the collective achievement of results.

        In that regard, it is worth emphasizing the particular difficulties facing a leader of a start-up, for instance, or anyone confronted with the management of groups engaged in work with a high degree of virtuality. Indeed, the digital environment can make relational empathy difficult, especially in this open world, be introducing complications that include the absence of meritocracy, the presence of deep inequalities and obstacles to social mobility.

        One of the most important features of leadership therefore is the ability to harmonize skill sets, not least by recognizing lateral values such as curiosity. A central role in this can be played by training activities focused on optimizing talents and multiplying their potential without losing sight of central aspects such as ensuring the right to education. This is a particularly glaring concern in Italy, where the school drop-out problem and the early truncation of university studies contribute to the country’s low college graduate turnout.

        Another concern deserving of mention is the exclusion of young people from the upper business echelons and decision-making processes – a condition likely parallel to that of women; greater representation on executive boards as well as specific inhouse advancement policies aimed at gradual turnover are options to be placed on the table.

        Finally, as far as tomorrow’s leaders are concerned, consideration must be given to bright youth’s growing disaffection toward careers in the public arena. Indeed, more and more of the under-40 segment already well-placed in the private sector are keeping their distance from the political arena, which instead is in need of new blood. The public sector, moreover, stands to offer useful experience to anyone who decides to incorporate it into their private career, given its required development of listening skills, flexibility and commitment – all necessary features for those who would be leaders in our complex world.