Spotting 21st century talent and cultivating creative leaders

Spotting 21st century talent and cultivating creative leaders

Egon Zehnder is a Global Executive Search firm serving Fortune 500 companies around the world to fill executive board positions.  In the 2014 HBR article 21st-Century Talent Spotting, Egon Zehnder’s senior advisor Claudio Fernandez-Araoz explains that in the last few decades organizations have emphasized competencies in hiring and developing talent.


“Jobs have been decomposed into skills and filled by candidates who have them. Yet, past experience and skills no longer guarantee future business success” – today’s business environment is too volatile and complex for that. Moreover, globalization, demographic shifts and failure to retain talent through leadership development have resulted in an increasingly scarce market for top talent – a trend that will only exacerbate in the years to come. Egon Zehnder proposes that those responsible for hiring and promotion decisions must instead focus on potential: the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles. Managers must learn to assess current and prospective employees on five key indicators: motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.  Firms then have to help their best get better with smart retention and stretch assignments to foster and accelerate top talent potential.

Nurturing Creative Leaders at THNK

THNK is a school of creative leadership. Through our Executive Program, we support hundreds of social change leaders, commercial entrepreneurs and innovation managers from around the world in developing innovative solutions to large societal challenges. In coaching our participants on their leadership development, THNK uses a model with five key dimensions: passion and purpose, explorative mindset, envisioning a better future, orchestrating creative teams and leading breakthrough change.

We “stretch” our participants by engaging them in large social challenges through open innovation projects.  By stepping out of their comfort zone and exploring unchartered territories, participants develop their personal leadership skills and societal problem solving. These opportunities help turn potential into leadership ability.

“Motivation” meets “Passion and Purpose”

Fernández-Aráoz states that, above all, companies should look for hires with the right kind of motivation: a great personal ambition to excel combined with a fierce commitment to achieve big, collective goals. This requires deep humility, and the will to get better in everything you do. At THNK, we refer to this inner drive as Passion and Purpose. We attract creative leaders that combine personal ambition with a deep responsibility to create positive societal impact. By building off their unique set of strengths, working on their self-awareness and impact on others, and seeking continuous personal and professional growth, participants learn to align their inner compass to their endeavors.



Spotting 21st Century Talent and Cultivating Creative Leaders 4
Curiosity allows creative leaders to adopt a holistic perspective on the world. Click To Tweet

“Curiosity” meets “Explorative mindset”

According to the HBR article, the second distinguishing factor of 21st-century leadership potential is curiosity: the continuous quest for new experiences, knowledge, and feedback and the willingness to keep learning and changing. Realizing your potential requires the ability to turn inwards and discover the inner drives that motivate you without losing sight of what’s happening in the world around you. We refer to this as having an “Explorative Mindset”. Fear of the uncertain and unknown is replaced by unsatisfied curiosity about everything that is new and seemingly unconnected. Why? Because they know this might build significant future value.

Curiosity allows creative leaders to adopt a holistic perspective on the world. In adopting multiple perspectives, and viewing the world in different lenses, they become capable of integrating ideas stemming from seemingly unrelated fields into novel solutions and business opportunities. Moreover, such perspective enables leaders to handle paradox, uncertainty, and take disruptive stances wherever needed – key leadership abilities needed to thrive in today’s ambiguous business environment. In sum: having a curious, explorative nature supports leaders in their relentless search for outstanding concepts that bring structural improvements to business.


Spotting 21st Century Talent and Cultivating Creative Leaders 5
Storytelling allows leaders to link insight and vision to action. Click To Tweet

“Insight” meets “envisioning a better future”

Curiosity alone does not suffice, says Fernández-Aráoz – 21st century leaders must turn new information into a whole range of new possibilities by using deep insight.  At THNK, we refer to this as the ability to envision a better future: thinking globally and strategically about large potential impact to create triple bottom line value along the planet, people, and profit dimensions. This starts with using deep insight to make sense of all insights and information gathered. Equally important, however, is the ability to articulate a big vision of what the future could be like – all the while capturing and expressing the spirit of today. As such, storytelling is an integral part of our program, allowing leaders to link insight and vision to action, and inspiring others to act on that vision. Lastly, to make sure creative leaders become true pioneers in their own right, we help them become aware of and mitigate fears that hold them back from realizing their full potential.


7 Reasons Creative Leaders Should Play More Games 3
The role of creative leaders is to manage and push the creative energy of the team to the edge. Click To Tweet

“Engagement” meets “orchestrating creative teams”

Inspiring others to act is but one way of engaging with people. 21st-century leaders have a knack for using both emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people, according to Egon Zehnder. True engagement means that you empower others to create by coaching teams from behind to perform towards groundbreaking ideas and solutions. Engagement means casting the creative clash by attracting a diverse caliber of people that are not afraid to push boundaries. Here, the role of creative leaders is to manage and push the creative energy of the team to the edge, but never over it. At a firm level, this requires leaders to cultivate a culture that nurtures and cherishes ideas and experimentation, and allows risk-taking and failure. At last, engagement means keeping one foot in the outside world, by growing and harvesting outside networks through co-creation, interest alignment, and platforms, working towards achieving common goals together.


“Determination” meets “driving breakthrough change”

All the above lead up to determination and the ability to drive breakthrough change, without which all the others become void of meaning. We need leaders that possess the grit to make ideas and change happen. Fernández-Aráoz defines this as the “wherewithal to fight for difficult goals and challenges”. Determination is translated into action by several underlying traits and skills. First, THNK’s creative leaders focus on engaging the whole system for change, by creating a sense of urgency and inescapability. They combine this with their ability to guide and unleash change in their organizations and industries. And because they know how to deal with, and benefit from unpredictability and adversity – they become capable of driving organizational and systems change while safeguarding bottom line enterprise viability at the same time.

Why do the requirements for executives, for social change leaders and entrepreneurs look so similar? At THNK, we believe that the large challenges we face collectively are best tackled by creating a creative collision between the corporate, social and public sector. We need leaders that are well versed in all of these worlds. As a result, the language for 21st century leadership spotting becomes increasingly congruent.

To discover how the THNK Executive Leadership Program can help you further develop your potential into leadership ability, visit the program page.