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Leading globally. Future Leaders Connect. Photo ©

British Council

June 2017

As the UK and the world confront growing challenges, effective leadership will matter more than ever. But what constitutes good leadership in today’s world? Ellen Berry, British Council Future Leaders Connect Manager, discusses research by Cambridge University for the British Council.

A Global Mind-set for a Global Century

A global mind-set is the most valued characteristic of leadership, suggests a new report by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), commissioned by the British Council. 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 and contexts.

Despite the perceived crises of trust in leadership demonstrated by the growing support for anti-status quo political leadership across Europe and the US, research into global perceptions shows that leadership is seen as one of the most important responses to international challenges. 

Global concerns such as climate change and mass migration are increasingly seen as too big or too intractable to be solved by national governments

As global concerns such as climate change and mass migration are increasingly seen as too big or too intractable to be solved by national governments, according to much of the academic literature the ability to collaborate across borders is considered the most important trait a leader can possess. This ‘global mind-set’ is seen by many as requiring skills and attitudes such as cosmopolitanism, a passion for diversity, and inter-cultural empathy. ‘Collaboration’ has also been found to constitute one of the top three expected leadership traits across every major region, possibly reflecting the cross-border nature of many of today’s problems, and the perception that national governments are ill-equipped to deal with them. 

But successful global collaboration may provide its own challenges, and demand that leaders change their style if they want to succeed. The CISL study also highlights other interesting differences between different countries’ conceptions of leadership. It finds that many countries value consultative and participative leadership styles over more autocratic or ‘strong leader’ approaches. This may confound various expert pundits who comment on the predisposition of some of these countries for leadership strength. However this can depend on changing political contexts and can get more complicated as ideology is confronted with reality. For example, the proportion of Egyptians who thought that democratic rather than ‘strong hand’ leadership was the best way to deal with the country’s problems had declined significantly since the 2011 revolution. 

Another example raised is that charismatic leadership (including the ability to inspire others based on your own values) is the most popular leadership approach around the world, but is most preferred in the English-speaking West. It is somewhat less popular in the Islamic Middle East and Confucian East Asia, which show relatively greater preference for a more team-oriented approach. 

‘Policy Entrepreneurs’

According to the research, leadership is 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

All this suggests that perceptions of success on a global stage may demand a degree of fluidity if inter-cultural empathy is to be achieved. It will require an active demonstration of intercultural skills. This is perhaps particularly important in the policy context, where according to the research – leadership is 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. 

To support the next generation of leaders in developing these skills, the British Council has launched Future Leaders Connect, a new global network for emerging policy leaders. Open for applications in the UK now, Future Leaders Connect will offer the next generation of leaders the opportunities and understanding they need to develop their skills in leadership and policymaking in an international context, while at the same time building a life-long connection to the UK. 

They will join a long-term global network of young people in the UK and across the world who will be amongst the shapers of global policy making in the years ahead. They will also connect to some of the UK’s world 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, discussing the most significant 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.

The Future Leaders Connect programme is currently open for applications from young people aged 18 to 35 in the UK until 20 July. We will be holding a drop-in session in Parliament on 5 July to share more information about the programme with politicians and policymakers. If you would like to join us to hear more, please contact us.

Ellen Berry, Future Leaders Connect Manager, British Council

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