After the success of the first event, Common Purpose hosted a second #InterGenLeaders event at a Birmingham school in the heart of one of the country’s most diverse cities, asking what skills a twenty-first century leader will need to survive and thrive.

Russell Bond, head teacher of the Jewellery Quarter Academy, welcomed attendees, which included senior leaders from the region as well as pupils from the academy and nearby Washwood Heath Academy.  Russell spoke of the focus the school has connecting pupils with employers to prepare them for the world of work, including work experience assignments with a barristers firm in London and the local business improvement district.

A global perspective

Andy Coxall, chief executive of Common Purpose Global Student Experiences, set the scene talking about our research with over a thousand young leaders, from across from the Commonwealth, to discover a new approach to leadership and the skills needed when the Commonwealth celebrates its centenary in 2031.  This research has led to Open Source Leadership; a new, crowd-sourced model for leadership, which aims to equip people with the competencies needed to be successful.

From the research, the Global Student Experiences team identified five leadership skills needed to be successful in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. They are:

  • Awake: We will be awake to intolerance and determined to counterbalance it
  • Interconnected: We will work to lift each other up
  • Trustworthy: We will rebuild trust by being trustworthy ourselves
  • Quick: We will be quick to adapt to a world turned upside down by Artificial Intelligence
  • Accessible: We will be accessible leaders

To help the next generation of leaders be better prepared, the team have designed a free online programme, Commonwealth100, which uses an interactive platform where participants work with a diverse group of young leaders from across the Commonwealth to explore Open Source Leadership and gain practical skills for the future.

A wish list for 21st century skills 

It was then over to the attendees to draw up their skills ‘wish-list’ for the next generation and to discuss how those skills can be developed to support inclusive leadership for the future. The discussions were far-ranging but the following key themes emerged;

  • Communication
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Resilience
  • Curiosity

Several of the groups talked about the need for more willing employers to be curious and create opportunities, both for students as work experience, which would equip them properly for the world of work, but also for schemes like reverse mentoring which would allow leaders to learn from younger people.

Communication and teamwork featured heavily in the list of skills needed, with all of the groups focusing on the need to understand and adapt to the diversity of the workforce.  Jayde Savage from HSBC commented that the session was “very beneficial; great to understand viewpoints from the students’ perspective – not always as different as we think!”  This was echoed by many of the groups who felt that with so many different types of people from different backgrounds in the future, it was important to recognise similarities but more importantly break down barriers, allowing people to work together in collaboration, rather than as rivals allowing differences to get in the way of work.

This idea of understanding difference and working with diverse groups ties in with the work Common Purpose is doing around Cultural Intelligence, and getting leaders to understand their Core and Flex.

Adaptability was another key trait that all groups chose in some form.  With a world that is rapidly changing, new technologies replacing old and predictions of job roles that will completely disappear from the market, there is a concern that the workforce may not be ready to move with it.  All of the groups felt that twenty-first century leaders need to be ready and willing to function in changing environments, embracing and moving with change.  Nathan Spooner, a teacher from Washwood Heath Academy, who attended the event, said; “It was a very good chance for students to question leaders and also voice opinions and concerns about their future.”  And many of the students echoed this.

Attendees also felt that the resilience to deal with an ever-changing world and acceptance to deal with change and learn new experiences would also put future workers ahead of the game.  Rather than see change as a negative, the groups perceived the conversations as signs of a positive future, with Sam Coles, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor from Birmingham Metropolitan College feeding back to the group “I’ve got hope now.”  It was this confidence, both in the future but also a need to be self-confident, that the group also see as important for their careers.

Wrapping up the event, Louise Teboul, operations director from Common Purpose UK finished by thanking guests for their input, reminding not only the students in the room but also other attendees to think of themselves as leaders, a thought echoed by Andy Coxall who praised the students and hosts for real examples of leadership in action.

For more information on our #InterGenLeaders series or any of the programmes we run, ranging from student work to senior leaders, please contact the Common Purpose UK Midlands team on