These are exciting times for Indian leaders. In the recent years, we have seen an emergence of leaders groomed in India taking on global leadership roles. From being an exporter of Software and Technical talent, India is in the headlines for exporting Global CEOs. This includes Vikram Pandit at Citicorp, Anshu Jain at Deutsche Bank, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, Ajay Banga at Mastercard and Harish Manwani at Unilever. EgonZehnder, where I work now has an Indian CEO. Rajeev Vasudeva, a Partner in Delhi now leads a Swiss firm. The list can go on. While we should clearly celebrate the success of the CEOs who have made it big on the global arena, we should pause to ponder about how we think about creating the leaders of tomorrow, especially, as we go through a tectonic shift across multiple fronts
We live in a "VUCA" world - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. It is worth thinking about how we create the leaders for the future in the context of some of these accelerating changes that we have witnessed in the last several years. The ideas are my personal opinion and not necessarily endorsed by my company. Instead of using both genders (he/she, him/her), I have used the female gender throughout the note to simplify things. I would like to talk about how, given the VUCA world we live in, we need to think about how the children (and even adults) need to alter their thinking.
Building a curiosity engine
There is so much change around us that what we knew yesterday might be redundant in tomorrow's world. The only way to cope and succeed is to keep the curiosity engine running. The good news is that kids have this engine running by default. We are the ones that are guilty of dousing that fire because the "why" gets to us. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, Fooled by Randomness, talks about the notion of Anti-knowledge, knowing what we don't know. Having this self-awareness coupled with curiosity, the engine has almost become a hygiene factor for kids to be relevant in the world they grow into.
Resisting the Marshmallow
In a research experiment in the US several years ago, 4 year old children were kept confined in a room and were given a marshmallow each. They were given a minute and told that if they resisted consuming the marshmallow, they would get one more at the end of a minute. When they tracked the trajectory of the children several years later, it turned out that the kids that had resisted the immediate temptation did much better than the ones that did not. Postponement of gratification is all the more relevant today because of the extent of distraction today by means of TV's, Mobile Phones, Tablets, and Computers etc. This ability is expected to be the foundation for traits such as grit and resilience.
Asking the right question
A lot of us grew up in an environment where "knowing" answers to questions was a big deal. While it is important to build memory, we now live in a world where most of the information we need is available a click away on sites such as Wikipedia and Google. It is arguably more important today to know what questions to ask and to whom. This has become more relevant given the tonnes of information available on any topic. It is critical to impart this element of curiosity in children to ask the right questions in life than focusing their energies on memorizing the right answers. Else they might be lost in the tsunami of data that will hit them
Connecting the dots
Education (in school and at home) more often than not, focuses on solving difficult "Closed-ended" problems - questions with a unique answer. However, life often consists of open-ended problems with no clear unique answers. That can feel very unnerving when children are exposed to it for the first time. This is all the more important in a VUCA world where the right answer might change quickly as the various variables change. While learning tools in Mathematics and Accounting is crucial, it is critical to develop the skill-set to grapple with ambiguity and deal with a life that does not have "one right answer".
Kaizen on self
Carol Dweck refers to the notion of Growth Mindset, where she says that individuals should focus on being better than yesterday than celebrating the "talent" that they were born with. Sachin Tendulkar, in his farewell speech, talks about how he was discussing his dismissal in the first innings of the 200th test with his brother Ajit, if he had to come back and bat again. If Sachin, after breaking every record worth breaking in world cricket, can have the mindset of "developing self" at the end of a stellar career, we could take a leaf out of his book.
Learning to work with people
The true hall-mark of a leader is often not what she does on her own but to what extent she leverages the people under her and her peers. However, a lot of our emphasis is around individual achievement and individual excellence in school and college (as measured by grades). Several studies illustrate that academic scores and corporate success are often poorly correlated or even uncorrelated. As a leader, the key is how you are able to galvanize a team to pursue a passion and able to influence your peers in order to drive outcomes. Your skill as an individual contributor often becomes less relevant than your ability to drive results through others. Children get a better opportunity to build these muscles in extra-curricular activities like Sports, Music and Debates. While academic success is good-to-have, it by no means is sufficient to be an effective leader.
Building an internal compass
While it is helpful to have children do well in academics, it is critical to think beyond and give them a framework to cope with life so that they can make meaningful choices. In his book "How will you measure your life" Clay Christiansen, talks about how to focus on long-term priorities such as relationship with family etc., while the temptation is often to focus on the "here and now" at work. While developing children, we focus on building the engine but often miss out on giving them a steering wheel to navigate through life.
My objective, through this article, was to provoke few thoughts in your mind as you deal with children of today who will grow on to become the leaders of tomorrow. Wish you the very best!
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