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  • The Complicated Lives Of Today’s Leaders

    Why being at the top is harder than ever.

    Upstart: Gamechangers


    For insights into the ethics, values and competencies required of today’s global leaders, Knowledge@Wharton recently coordinated a Wharton Executive Education roundtable discussion with four fellows from The World Economic Forum’s Global Leadership Fellows Program. The program allows participants to work full-time at the World Economic Forum while developing leadership skills through training courses at top universities.

    The four fellows at the Knowledge@Wharton roundtable included Ian Rogan, Ramya Krishnaswamy, Carl Björkman and Sandilya Vadapalli.

    Rogan — project manager, corporate global citizenship, at the Forum — previously worked for the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics at Boston College and the John Kerry for President campaign. Krishnaswamy, who is involved with collaborative water initiatives, has also been employed by SSG Social Impact Advisors and McKinsey.

    Björkman is community manager, Europe & Central Asia, at the Forum, and has worked for the European Commission, the United Nations, the Waterberry Development Organization and Bloomberg LP. Vadapalli, project manager, environmental initiatives, previously worked for Emerging Venture Solutions, British Petroleum and Satyam Computer Services.

    An edited version of the conversation follows.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How has the nature of leadership changed in recent years, and what are the new complexities that characterize leadership today?

    Rogan: I don’t think the nature of leadership has changed, but the context in which leadership is exercised has become more complicated. We live in a time where there isn’t a news cycle; there is just a perpetual flow of information. To be able to manage that, particularly in a crisis, is much more challenging. As a leader, you need to be able to perform much more quickly but still in a manner that [allows] enough time to think through your decisions.

    Krishnaswamy: One of the things we have seen changing recently in the last year or two is that [the definition of] a stakeholder has actually widened … from the traditional capitalist ideal of being responsible to shareholders … to how much of a role the government, consumers and society actually demand of a corporation. We’ve seen that in the way government has stepped in to bail out failed companies; we’ve seen that in the way consumers have put huge pressure on [companies and governments].

    Because there are a lot more people that you are accountable to, the complexity of the way that a problem diffuses or spreads has changed as well. So the pace of tackling [problems] has increased, but the scale of the problems has also increased [due to] the large network of stakeholders.

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