Creating future leaders for business is on the verge of becoming a crisis. Three reasons reign supreme on the subject: it limits power and threatens the future, companies aren’t good at it and the qualities of tomorrow’s leader are nothing short of the modern day Da Vinci.

In its recent regulatory filing, Apple disclosed their shareholders desire for a CEO Succession Policy. Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, has had a few health problems but still opposes such an annual proposal citing it will “constrain the actions of the board” and provide a competitive advantage to their competitors if they were to provide a detailed plan on their successors. Even family businesses struggle with such decisions. Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom and CBS, struggled horribly to find an heir to his throne. Apparently, this shift in power has very high stakes. So high, in fact, that Sumner asked both his son and daughter to leave the company for fear they would not be able to handle his role.

The leadership question has, and always will be, a challenging question. Do you think that Academia creates business leaders? What about organizations? The truth is that it takes both. Current economic conditions, however, have made this task extremely difficult. In IBM’s 2010 Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study, less than one-third of companies say they are effective at building the next generation of leadership capabilities. To make matters worse, a full 39% of respondents to the Stanford University’s and Heidrick & Struggles research survey said that they had "zero" viable internal candidates. The survey identified a lack of focus by the board as the primary complication in selecting the next leader. They just aren’t taking the time to prepare for this scenario.

In assessing the future requirements for organizational leaders, it’s more likely that we won’t be able to find many people who possess such superhuman characteristics. Nonetheless, the search must go on. Below are the five top traits of tomorrow’s leader. It’s important to note that these infer an exceptional mastery of whole brain thinking. A great example of one individual that captured many of these traits is Leornardo Da Vinci, who was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. Of course, he would not have been adaptable to continuous change, as the only constant he had in this regard was procrastination.

Master of geographic differences. It’s hard to question the concept that workforce investment follows opportunity anywhere on the planet. If efficiencies can be gained, the geographical hurdle can be overcome. As companies seek to grow, they monitor and respond to growth markets, mainly by seeking and acquiring talent in those markets, wherever they are. In the US, most companies hire talent based on referrals from their existing employees, assuming that the potential employee holds the same values as the referring employee. Now, consider the need for acquiring talent in a location outside of your normal expertise. Do you know how to attract and retain this talent in a foreign land? Can you keep them in both a growth and mature market? If leadership is your quest, you will be required to understand and appreciate how to drive employee performance and motivate them from different cultures and backgrounds.

Change expert. Leonardo Da Vinci once said “He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.” Da Vinci also felt that achieving your goals required a stern resolve. But you should already know that reaching the top of an organization commands resolution, even in the face of constant change. But, once you are there, a personal ability to manage change becomes insufficient. You’re leading an organization full of people who must also be able to mend and mold themselves to fit the constraints of any requirement. For many organizations, this new mindset will challenge the old in that we must now reward those who think outside the box and challenge status quo. According to the CEOs surveyed in IBM’s Capitalizing on Complexity survey, fifty-eight percent of CEOs prefer to persuade and influence, with only seventeen percent with an affinity for command and control. In becoming a change expert, you’ll need more than just effective change management, you’ll also need technical expertise.

Technical prowess. Normally, we don’t see the top seats in companies filled by the technically gifted. However, a little technical ingenuity is helpful as companies brace for dramatic increases in complexity, as they must be able to consistently mold operations to be faster, more flexible and capable of using this complexity as a competitive advantage. In dealing with complexity, you must be comfortable with ambiguity and experimentation. Finding the correct response to change demands not only thought but action, even if you’re wrong. It’s a closed loop system, where you analyze the path you need to take, put the company in drive, measure the performance and change the course as needed. And, yes, there will be problems for which a little ingenuity and innovative thinking must be brought to the surface. New customers in new geographies will bring with them new needs and demands for which the old way of thinking will fail to serve them. Future generations won’t use technology like we do. They’ll be much more creative than we are.

Creativity. While Leonardo Da Vinci is revered for technical ingenuity, he was renowned primarily for his ability to utilize the right half of his brain. He was a painter, an occupation driven by his skill at visualizing the big picture then the details; whereas, using the left brain would afford you the ability to see the details then form the big picture. This functionality is critical as the future may require an organization to constantly transform its business models in response to changing environmental conditions. You must be able to change activities, products, locations, partnerships and many other factors as the need arises. In IBM’s Complexity survey, sixty percent of CEOs cited Creativity as being the future’s most desired leader quality. Developing creativity requires experimentation, which aligns with technical prowess, and requires consistent interaction with imagination.

Collaborative Genius. As you can imagine, if we are going to a truly global economy, we won’t be able to create everything by ourselves. We’ll have to interact with other companies, cultures and people, maybe even partnering to complete our own products and services or simply to win the business from the customer. This new level of collaboration required envelopes the whole business environment, such as working with internal groups to create strategy for dealing with change, partnering with other organizations to provide new services and products to new geographies and collaborating with customers to develop new and better experiences. To make this talent more complicated, these new processes will demand a new level of speed and simplicity. Customers want what they want and they want it now. Your goal will be to create the appropriate self-sustaining team environment that generates value for all stakeholders.

As you can see from these factors, academia nor the organization can support the development of all of these skills. Academia can make you a technical expert but not necessarily a collaborative genius. The organization can make you comfortable in dealing with geographical differences, yet it may not be able to make you into a change expert. Creating tomorrow’s Da Vinci requires intentional effort. Academia can’t do it alone, nor can the organization. Organizations are even considering tapping into MFA programs to identify the next group of leaders, since these graduates are creative and taught by business professionals, but they won’t have all of these elements either. Organizations must understand that Academia won’t be developing Da Vincis.

If Da Vinci had an apprentice today, he/she would have to be skilled in both the technical and business arena. Most likely this would be a combination of academic accomplishments. The apprentice would already be somewhat of a collaborator, having identified and developed their own team of supporters to aid in the identification and development of required skills, abilities and knowledge. Such close support provides for honest feedback and support without the fear of political retaliation when failure occurs. It also allows the apprentice to develop skills outside of the workplace, since the support of the team would continue in other activities such as social networking. Leonardo would use such occasions to mingle and socialize with other mathematicians and artists.

If you’re looking for the next Da Vinci, they’ll probably be well educated and possess numerous tangible accomplishments. They contribute to their field of study. They’re published. They’re networkers, both online and offline, and drive their efforts to completion with passion. Friends are easy for them to find as they have a great personality and are quite likable. Their experience is broad as they have a great interest in learning as much as they can. The subjects they like are where their expertise really lies, as they will have spent many years of effort on them.

If you’re looking to build your own, you’ll need to prepare the right environment for them. First, you must give them room to experiment and learn. You can’t smother them with micromanagers. They are thinkers and have the ability to complete whatever you throw at them. They’ll also need their small informal team of supporters, which most build themselves. That should be encouraged. They’ll also need a mentor or two. This will be someone with considerable experience in many areas of business. Their assignments should reach many aspects of the business so that they can develop a deep understanding of the organization and how they can optimize it to meet the rapidly changing demands of the market. Lastly, they need support from management. Throwing them in a highly political environment where resentment, jealousy and contempt flourish will only serve to drive your Da Vinci into the arms of another organization. Your Da Vinci is your star player. Treat them that way.


IBM Global Business Services, Working beyond Borders. Insights from the Global Chief Human Resource Officer Study“, 2010.

IBM Global Business Services, Capitalizing on Complexity, Insights from the Global CEO Survey, IBM, May 18 2010.

Author's Bio: 

J. Todd Rhoad is the Managing Director for BT Consulting, an Atlanta-based career consulting firm, He holds a Master’s degree in Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business. Todd devotes his time to helping others achieve more success in their career and life. Learn more by visiting his blog, Stay tuned for his next book, “The MBA OWNER'S MANUAL,” and series of ebooks for MBAs.