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What Makes the Leaders of Tomorrow Tick?

The Buccino Leadership Institute at Seton Hall University has a distinct perspective about the nature of future leaders. The University launched an undergraduate leadership development program in 1995 for its business students. And then, based on the program’s success, expanded its reach in 2018 to students from all Seton Hall’s schools and colleges, making the experience more comprehensive and interdisciplinary.

In 2021, the institute conducted the first part of a multi-year research study to more fully understand how young people view what makes a good leader and the critical challenges leaders must face. To learn more, Seton Hall magazine editor Pegeen Hopkins spoke with Ruchin Kansal, the institute’s associate director and a co-author of the survey.

What is Vector Leadership?

Vector Leadership is how we define the future of leadership. A vector has two attributes: magnitude and direction. Direction is where something is pointing, and magnitude is how fast it is moving. Leadership itself is changing and evolving. Also, each aspiring leader has his or her own magnitude and direction, or values and competencies.

What was the genesis of The Future of Leadership Survey?

Most leadership literature provides insight from the perspective of current leaders, the people who report directly to them, or others with significant work experience. There isn’t much insight from the perspective of future leaders — people under 25 who are just beginning their career journeys.

That presents two challenges: One, if you don’t have future leaders’ insights, how can organizations respond to their aspirations and expectations? And two, how can organizations develop these leaders if they don’t really understand their perspective? The Future of Leadership Survey was developed to address this knowledge gap and begin to provide guidance.

What insights did the survey reveal about young leaders?

For one thing, they embrace diversity. Much historical literature correlates physical traits with a leader — with having a deep voice, being tall or being physically fit. This generation does not put that much emphasis on genetic traits. However, they do want leaders to be properly attired and healthy, things that can be controlled.

There’s also clear insight that leaders can be developed, and what this generation wants to see in leaders are traits such as collaboration, adaptiveness and communication. Aspiring leaders can cultivate these specific values and competencies.

Interestingly, despite the recent move to virtual work models, when it comes to leadership development, young people see it as a high-touch contact sport. They want on-the-job training programs, to shadow people, to have grad level and undergrad level leadership education. Companies will need to consider how this dichotomy will be handled.

In addition, future leaders are looking for a workplace that engages them and provides them with meaningful work. They are sending a clear message that employee engagement is as important to organizations now as shareholder engagement.

And since the average lifespan of companies is decreasing — one study found it is now less than 18 years — this presents a challenge companies will have to grapple with: How do they continue to invest in leadership development, despite the fact that these leaders and these companies may not be around for the long term?

What’s next?

For the next edition of the survey, we will be expanding our reach to a broader sample of survey respondents, either through partnerships with other universities or by using alternative recruiting methods.

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