Catherine Zhu is the managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Hong Kong.
Classroom vs playground: finding tomorrow’s leaders
I’ve recently been working to identify a CEO for a global internet company and have also spoken to two Hong Kong parents about their teenage children’s career prospects. Both conversations reminded me that we should look at a broader set of experiences when we seek tomorrow’s leaders.
Companies traditionally look for talent that has excelled in the classroom: people with top grades who thrive in a formal, rule-based environment. But, in the new economy, success on the playground is just as important: the ability to constantly adapt, make your own rules, and engage and influence a diverse group of people.
Consider our search for the new CEO, who will lead one of the most innovative digital firms worldwide. Because the company’s future is wide open, industry expertise and past leadership roles – in other words, formal CVs – are no predictor of future success. Instead, we’ve had to look at personality traits and broader life experience to identify those with curiosity, resilience, versatility and engagement skills.
The Hong Kong parents I spoke to were grappling with similar issues. Their daughter is achieving distinctions at school, while their son is a B student in the classroom but a winner in the playground – he has many friends, is deeply curious about the world, and already has his own hit YouTube channel at 12.
The daughter, who wants to be a doctor, is walking the more traditional path to career success. But, as the parents acknowledge, their son has the personality traits to live a more fulfilling life.
They intend to encourage their son to pursue his interests, through which he may develop an entrepreneurial instinct.
I can’t disagree with them. The boy’s creativity and open-mindedness are qualities we look for in leaders such as the internet CEO. Of course, academic achievers like the daughter still have promising career paths in many professions and areas of business. The good news is that a changing world offers opportunities to a broader set of talent.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Plan for possibility Beyond the box.