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Leading in the 21st century

Here is an excerpt from an article from The McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company and written by Dominic Barton, Andrew Grant, and Michelle Horn, in which six global leaders confront the personal and professional challenges of a new era of uncertainty. To read the complete article, check out other resources, register to receive free email alerts, and obtain information about this extraordinary firm, please click here.

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It is often said that the principles of great leadership are timeless, or based on immutable truths. But when we meet with the men and women who run the world’s largest organizations, what we hear with increasing frequency is how different everything feels from just a decade ago. Leaders tell us they are operating in a bewildering new environment in which little is certain, the tempo is quicker, and the dynamics are more complex. They worry that it is impossible for chief executives to stay on top of all the things they need to know to do their job. Some admit they feel overwhelmed.

To understand the leadership challenge of our volatile, globalized, hyperconnected age more clearly, we recently initiated a series of structured interviews with the leaders of some of the world’s largest and most vibrant organizations. Excerpts from six of those conversations appear below. The leaders—Josef Ackermann, formerly of Deutsche Bank; Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Renault; Moya Greene of Royal Mail Group; Ellen Kullman of DuPont; President Shimon Peres of Israel; and Daniel Vasella of Novartis (see sidebar, “Leaders on leadership”)—represent a diverse array of viewpoints. All are grappling with today’s environment in different ways. But the common themes that emerged from these conversations—what it means to lead in an age of upheaval, to master personal challenges, to be in the limelight continually, to make decisions under extreme uncertainty—offer a useful starting point for understanding today’s leadership landscape.After presenting the ideas of these leaders on leadership, we offer a few additional reflections on the topic. They draw in part on the interviews, as well as on our experiences with clients; on conversations with dozens of experts in academia, government, and the private sector; and on our review of the extensive academic and popular literature on the subject. All reinforce our belief that today’s leaders face extraordinary new challenges and must learn to think differently about their role and how to fulfill it. Those who do may have an opportunity to change the world in ways their predecessors never imagined.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
The Leaders:
Josef Ackermann is the former CEO and chairman of the management board at Deutsche Bank. He recently retired after a decade as CEO and six years as chairman.

Carlos Ghosn is the CEO and chairman of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. He has been the CEO of Nissan since 2001 and the CEO of Renault since 2005. Together, the two companies produce more than one in ten cars sold worldwide.

Moya Greene was appointed CEO of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail Group in 2010. From 2005 to 2010, she was CEO of Canada Post.

Ellen Kullman has served as DuPont’s CEO and board chair since 2009. She joined the company from General Electric in 1988 and was ranked fourth on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2011.

Shimon Peres is the ninth and current president of Israel. In a political career spanning more than 65 years, he has served twice as Israel’s prime minister and has been a member of 12 cabinets.

Daniel Vasella has been chairman of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG since 1999. He served as the company’s CEO from 1996 to 2010.
The Article’s Co-Authors:
Dominic Barton is McKinsey’s global managing director, Andrew Grant is a director in McKinsey’s Singapore office, and Michelle Horn is a principal in the Atlanta office.
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