Five Trends on Leaders’ Minds This Year

It’s that time of year again. The world’s most influential leaders gathered in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. This year’s official theme – “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” – hinted at both political and economic tensions and was the starting point for discussions ranging from free trade versus protectionism, to trust in leadership, to the impact of innovation and the future of work. More than 3,000 CEOs, world leaders, philanthropists and social activists crowded in the Congress Center for the WEF’s formal discussions and set the entire town abuzz as they discussed the challenges ahead.  

As WEF 2018 wraps up, here are five key takeaways:  

1. Data is More Than a Buzzword

Leaders recognize that data provides quantifiable insight to inform strategy, measure impact and guide course corrections, if necessary. Data also enables transparency. However, to understand outcomes, it’s important not to get bogged down in data. Anecdotal information and expertise are equally important. Data – protecting it, maximizing it and expanding its capacity – was a big topic in the Congress Center and in all the venues along the Promenade – the main road winding through Davos. Microsoft* CEO Satya Nadella, for example, raised the prospect that “the world is running out of computing capacity.”

2. Business Leaders Have to Build Social Impact into their Business Model

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for governments. Launched at the beginning of Davos week, the Barometer highlighted that building trust is now the number one job for CEOs, more important than focusing on high quality products and services. This means business leaders are now responsible to develop and live a set of corporate values that are not only focused on the bottom line – but take account of society as a whole. Responsible leadership goes beyond business. In her speech this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said leaders had to develop multilateral and cooperative solutions.

3. Inclusion is a Leadership Requirement in an Uncertain World

Davos is a predominantly male affair, and both participants and organizers are acutely aware of the fact. This year, the WEF convened an all female roster of co-chairs, but only 21 percent of Davos participants were women. From The Female Quotient pop-up on the Promenade to several panel discussions on the topic, Davos was buzzing with conversations about inclusion. CEOs across the board agreed that companies have to create a strong and diverse talent pipeline through inclusion at all stages of the career cycle.

4. The Role of Emerging Markets is Changing, Just as the West Trends Insular

China, India, Indonesia, UAE and Singapore were at the top of Edelman’s Trust Barometer this year. The positive attitude in emerging markets is in stark contrast to the unprecedented trust crisis seen in the United States. On the heels of Brexit and the retreat of the U.S. as a global player, and many other complicated cross-border relations, the evolution of business, economies and politics in emerging markets must not be ignored. Saudi Arabia, for example, tries to accelerate its economy into a post-oil era by developing mega-cities and turning itself into a service economy.

5. Leaders are Leaving Davos with Cautious Optimism

A year ago, the World Economic Forum ended on a positive note. In 2018, the outlook is even more optimistic, especially among CEOs (in every region of the world) Still, Davos participants were also somewhat weary. The International Monetary Fund warned leaders to be on guard against complacency, as there are major challenges rooted in political, economic and social turmoil throughout the world. Uncertainty is the new normal and leaders must remain vigilant as the world accelerates into 2018.

Gina Maffucci is senior account executive, New York Corporate Affairs, and global knowledge manager, Family Business and Foundations.

*Edelman client