It’s a matter of great importance to think about the qualities of a leader, especially the ones that leaders of the next generation will need to have. Even Pope Francis has thought about this question. In his recent exhortation to young people, he calls for youth programs that will form and develop young leaders. For our part, we have to think about how the current generation of young people view leadership, and recognize their distrust for those who put themselves forward.
This generation, commonly called Generation Z or “iGen”, has many positive qualities: they’re more sincere, more vibrant, have less social preoccupations and less fear of ridicule than previous generations. They also show more solidarity, have travelled around the world, and know many languages. They’re comfortable with technology and the internet, and are concerned about global warming, world hunger and the future of poor countries and people. That said, perhaps there’s room for improvement. There’s a strain of individualism, a certain lack of interpersonal communication and a tendency to think short-term. The leaders of today and tomorrow should recognize these shortcomings and help young people overcome them.
What kind of leadership does Generation Z aspire to? First, Their ideal leaders are demanding with themselves and understanding of others. That is, leadership is applauded when it demonstrates exemplarity in personal standards and real concern for others. We no longer admire the leader who makes unreasonable and harsh demands… the aggressive shark or lone wolf who triumphs in business by unscrupulously trampling on others.
This all calls to mind what J. K. Rowling said in her 2008 lecture at Harvard:
“One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”
What Rowling means to say is that she achieved literary success because of her determination in the face of interior battles. Leaders need that inner vitality, that personal struggle. This makes it possible for them to overcome failure, weariness, or betrayal.
Second, to be a leader is literally to lead, to go forward. Leaders strive to improve themselves and the team entrusted to them. They’re committed not only to their own personal growth, but to the growth of each of the members of their team. Leaders make sure the team is prepared and ready for their tasks. There’s no limit to this kind of formation because there’s always more room for growth.
Leaders don’t worry if members of the team quit and do their own thing. That’s not a “lost investment”. On the contrary, a leader cultivates freedom and personal initiative. Their thoughts align with Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, who famously defined his management style thus: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.”
The third thing is that leadership is not so much a choice as a calling. In this sense, leadership demands not only tenacity in moving things forward, but also humility to recognize mistakes, rectify them and ask forgiveness. Leaders, like everyone else, make mistakes. But they’re also the first to apologize and make good on their errors. Leaders are not supermen or superwomen. If they’re better than their peers in anything, it’s in the recognition of their limitations and their desire to be corrected and improve. In all, they are determined to change the world, to make it better, to make it more human.