Reflections on the global changing of the guard



Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve spent a lot of time this week at MBS thinking about what makes a successful leadership transition. In the early hours of Friday morning, the results of the general election marked the end of fourteen years of Conservative government, and a new Prime Minister in Labour’s Keir Starmer. In France, the country is currently mid-way through a tumultuous election process, which could see France’s right wing National Rally Party take control. And in the US, the recent televised debates between Biden and Trump have kicked off pressing conversations about what it takes to lead.

Paris
France is mid-way through national elections.

Indeed, this whole year has been a period of great political change. By the end of 2024, more than half of the world’s population will have headed to the polls, with general elections taking place in more than 80 countries and in the European Parliament.

As a result, our global leadership is beginning to look quite different. There are new governments already in place in the UK, Portugal, Mexico, and Taiwan, to name just a few. In India, South Africa and South Korea, general elections have served blows to the political influence of incumbent governments. Soon France could have a new party at its helm, as could the US by November, and it’s predicted that Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Japan’s Fumio Kishida may all lose their jobs in the not-too-distant future. I

While we don’t dabble in politics at MBS, we do have something to say on leadership – and so it’s been interesting to spend this week reflecting on the impact of this year of change, and in particular the challenges and opportunities faced by the emerging cohort of first-time global leaders. The UK’s Keir Starmer, Mexico’s Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, and Portugal’s Luís Montenegro are all new to their leadership posts,  for example, and on an individual level in Westminster, more than half of MPs in this new parliament are new to the House of Commons.

In a world of increasing geopolitical threat, as well as pressing challenges from the climate emergency and technological advancements in AI, does an inexperienced international leadership leave us open to risks? Take the G7 nations, for example. By this time next year, Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni could be the only current Head of State still in role, alongside Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission, leaving fewer people for the recently-appointed leaders to learn from.

“In a world of increasing geopolitical threat, as well as pressing challenges from the climate emergency and technological advancements in AI, does an inexperienced international leadership leave us open to risks?”

So how can these leaders – many of whom have possibly been voted in in rejection of what came before – set themselves up for success?

Building strong, diverse teams around them will be critical. This new generation of political leaders will need trusted advisors who can offer advice based on years of deep previous experience, as well as provide forward-thinking insight on what lies ahead. As outlined in Moira’s manifesto for the Board of the future, veteran industry experience is a critical building block for an effective Board – and the same applies to political leadership teams.

Ensuring real diversity should also be top of the agenda. Excitingly, Keir Starmer’s top team will be made up of the first woman Chancellor and the first black Foreign Secretary – but he must not lose sight of true diversity of thought. While new leaders rightly value political support, and will rely on trusted and aligned colleagues, leaders should surround themselves with people who bring challenge, fresh perspectives, and different ways of thinking, to avoid critical decisions being made in an echo chamber.

G7

Just as crucial is establishing a network of people who can provide support away from the day-to-day. Every leader needs mentors, coaches, trusted friends, and those with whom they can be truly vulnerable – on a human level as well as a professional one. In the same vein, leaders must be deliberate about carving out ‘downtime’, and identifying what it is that keeps them refreshed, sustained, and well.

For first time leaders, articulating a compelling vision for the future – and doing so quickly – will be an immediate priority, as well as drawing up and communicating a plan for the first 100 days. New heads of state need to set a clear agenda from the outset, taking action, and getting results, in a small number of critical areas.

“For first time leaders, articulating a compelling vision for the future – and doing so quickly – will be an immediate priority, as well as drawing up and communicating a plan for the first 100 days.”

This is also the time to engage with broader teams. At their most effective, newly-appointed CEOs spend their first few weeks in post sitting down with people from right across their organisation. In the same way, new political leaders should be looking to spend time with civil servants, doctors, nurses, teachers and others on the front line, encouraging them to buy into their mission and go above and beyond to deliver it.

Lastly, all new leaders – be it heads of state, political representatives, or executives – should brace themselves for a sudden spike in visibility, and for their actions and words to be scrutinised. At a time when retaining privacy is harder than ever, acting and reacting carefully, as well as communicating thoughtfully, is paramount.

It’s certainly a time of great change, and we will be watching our global leaders with interest as they navigate through the next few weeks and months. We’d love to hear any thoughts from our consumer-sector communities about what lies ahead – do get in touch.

@TheMBSGroup