Inside Business: Tomorrow's leaders will have it tough

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MANY will find it hard to believe, but chief executives expect the job to be more challenging for their successors than it is for them, writes Roger Trapp.

Research for the Association of Executive Search Consultants carried out by London Business School indicates that European chief executives think those taking over from them will have to be good at even more things than they are. In particular, they will have to demonstrate adaptability in new situations, show international strategic awareness, have ability to motivate cross-border teams, show sensitivity to different cultures and have international experience.

All very well, but, as most of the respondents to this survey admit, "candidates with those skills seem thin on the ground".

The reasons for this are reckoned to include the fact that there are still too few managers who have lived and worked in other European countries. For all the rhetoric about the market for senior executives being international, it appears that compensation and relocation issues have traditionally made cross-border careers difficult, especially for senior managers.

In addition, most Europeans have been trained to think more about differentiating between country markets than integrating across them - a tendency that is at odds with attitudes of US counterparts.

Finally, many companies have not put a priority on succession management or on the new skills identified as necessary. Others, say researchers Maury Peiperl and Saul Estrin, "still manage succession in an insular, up-the-ladder fashion, creating in-bred heirs apparent who may not have the necessary exposure to changes taking place outside the firm".

By contrast, says the report Chief Executives in the New Europe: Challenges, Shortages and an Agenda for Change, US chief executives believe that leadership skills, rather than company or industry experience, will be the focus for top managers of the future.