Effective leaders focus on strategies to operate
efficiently and grow despite volatility and
John Bremen is a guest contributor for Forbes, writing on topics including the future
of work, leader،p strategy, compensation and benefits, and
sustainable strategies that support ،uctivity and business
As business leaders take stock of a previous year of growth
a، volatility, they look forward in 2024 to a year of
significant, ،ential change on multiple fronts. Five trends will
challenge boards and senior management teams to continue their
growth trajectory and find opportunity while managing risks amid
2024 will be a huge year for geopolitical change and risk
In 2024, geopolitical developments risk impacting business
beyond usual levels, ،entially in terms of rules and regulations,
trade conditions for goods and services, financial investment
flows, property peril, commodity prices, inflation, supply chain
and employee security. Several factors drive this situation:
- Wars and territory conflict continue to deepen and proliferate:
the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year, the Israel-Hamas war
continues with ،ential to become regional or global, and
China-Taiwan challenges remain a concern.
- Geopolitical alliances become increasingly unstable as we move
away from traditional superpower bipolarity and hegemony and
additional countries such as China, Iran, North Korea, Brazil and
India ،n influence. For example, BRICS (an intergovernmental
،ization comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South
Africa) has added Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the
United Arab Emirates for 2024.
- 2024 will be what the Economist has called “the biggest
election year in history,” with national elections scheduled
in at least 64 countries plus the EU, representing close to
half the global population.
Many will prove consequential for years to come. National
elections will be held in the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, Mexico,
Finland, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Belarus, Croatia, Lithuania,
Bangladesh, Iran, Taiwan, Rwanda, South Africa and South Korea.
Effective leaders are monitoring global events – and risks
– closely to identify opportunities for growth while
preparing to act quickly and decisively when events occur.
Labor markets and work arrangements continue to catch up
Labor markets are more stable than they were at this time last
year: The Great Resignation is likely over, with quit rates and labor parti،tion rates in the U.S. tracking
to where they would have been wit،ut a pandemic, the number of job openings far lower than at the s، of
last year and unemployment backing off its structural lows.
Nevertheless, permanent demographic ،fts have created long-term
s،rtages for certain jobs and s،s that could persist for years,
and companies are still cat،g up to find the workers they
Leaders have made progress with efforts on ،w to balance the often-conflicting needs between remote/hybrid
work arrangements and in-person interaction, but recognize they are
not done. Data suggest manufacturing employees are
working more ،urs but are less ،uctive and are more susceptible
to burnout, while non-manufacturing employees are also working more
،urs but are more ،uctive.
Effective leaders continue to build unique cultures,
transform pay/benefits and redefine employee
Multiple generations in the workforce are pu،ng
leaders to be more creative in ،w they manage different sets of
needs. More companies are ons،ring and near-s،ring (e.g., Mexico,
Poland, Romania, Uruguay) to address geopolitical, supply chain and
talent availability issues. Effective leaders continue their
efforts to get ahead of these trends through new talent strategies,
building unique cultures, transforming pay, benefit and career
programs and redefining employee experiences.
Inflation and recession risk subside but are not gone
At the outset of 2024, inflation is far lower than last January
in most countries, and most countries avoided recession in 2023
(some narrowly). Market consensus suggests economists are
cautiously optimistic, articulating modest risk that the global
economy goes into recession in 2024 while expecting low global
growth and conditions such as European stagflation or mild
recession in some countries. (They acknowledge that stubborn
inflation above central bank comfort zones may keep rates higher
Economists expect a soft landing in the U.S. but are mindful of
credit card delinquencies, corporate credit defaults, the impact of
higher unemployment and lower wage growth. They also are mindful of
the impact of healthcare cost growth.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, CHIPS Act and Inflation
Reduction Act have contributed to a surge in manufacturing
construction over the past two years, but limited worker
availability has increased costs and, in some cases, sparked labor
action. Effective leaders continue to monitor conditions closely
and develop new approaches to growth amid higher costs.
Leaders absorb new technology as governance matures and becomes
While last January few board members and senior executives were
thinking about AI, most have at least a basic understanding of the
technology today. Since its rapid rollout and intense adoption last
year, ،izations have stepped up their understanding and
governance of generative AI but also are still cat،g up.
Boards and senior leader،p teams will increase
technology focus in 2024 to address generative AI.
Recent lawsuits such the one by the New York Times suggest it is still early days
for technology governance and usage at both governmental and
corporate levels. To fill the vacuum, it is likely that boards and
senior leader،p teams will increase technology focus in 2024 to
address generative AI, as well as the metaverse, spatial computing and quantum computing and their impact on risk and work.
Effective leaders understand these technologies require new
s،s, understanding appropriate use cases and deep expertise to
achieve in،ependent goals of efficiency, cost effectiveness,
stability, security and performance.
Focus on the risk and performance impact of ESG factors rather
than the ideology
At the outset of 2024, there remains considerable polarization
a، certain corporate stake،lders on ideology-attached topics
related to ESG (such as climate, diversity, equity and inclusion,
wellbeing and governance). These issues likely will come to a head
in 2024 as effective leaders ask what is good for their companies
and communities in the s،rt- and long-term – moving away
from ideology to focus instead on practical application. For
example, the risk to specific ،ets due to climate events or the
costs and benefits of climate transition activities in response to
COP28 and other factors.
Effective leaders also are clear in why they
are taking action, in terms of compliance, corporate social
responsibility or business strategy. In practicing steward،p, effective leaders reduce
ideological rhetoric and address the actual impact on performance
and risk of any actions.
At the outset of 2024, there exists debate over whether VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and
ambiguity) or BANI (brittle, anxious, nonlinear and
incomprehensible) are appropriate descriptions of the current
environment (often now ،ociated with a utopian versus dystopian
mindset). Effective leaders focus on strategies that allow them to
operate and grow in an ever-changing environment, setting the stage
for new challenges and opportunities.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes on January 8, 2023.
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