Companies are struggling to solve their most difficult problems because they don’t identify and empower the leaders with the right capabilities and attributes to solve them, says PwC in a recent report published by its Consulting Practice: Where are future leaders hidden?
According to the research only 8% of senior managers have the Strategist attributes required to affect change. Of 6,000 European professionals surveyed, the largest proportion of strategist leaders were found to be female and over the age of 55, an area of talent often “overlooked,” said Jessica Leitch, people and organisation consultant at PwC.
These females were more likely to be able to see situations from multiple perspectives, employ positive language and exercise power courageously, according to the analysis.
The report defined a strategist leader as someone who was likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure, which engenders humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work.
“Empowering strategists is not about finding a successful operational manager and giving them a job title with the world ‘strategic’ in it,” said Leitch. “It’s about finding people who can think and work outside the existing system, who can see what needs to change and are able to persuade or inspire others to follow them.”
For organisations this means expanding the definition of talent and “not just looking to recruit in the image of existing leaders. Historically women over the age of 55 would not have been an area of focus, but as the research suggests, this pool of talent might hold the key to transformation and in some cases, business survival.”
According to the report, a successful strategist leader was open to frank and honest feedback, an area that current leaders struggled with, Leitch said: “we should be encouraging leaders to take their personal development seriously“.
Strategist leaders are needed to solve the ‘wicked’ problems that, directly challenge business-as-usual thinking and even the business model itself.
Mark Dawson, PwC partner in People & Change, said: “Industries including retail, banking and healthcare have wicked problems knocking on their doors right now. How successfully they deal with these will largely depend on how well they can harness and retain Strategist leadership talent within their ranks.”
The good news according to PwC is that leaders develop thorough distinct stages, or types, towards becoming true strategists:
Strategists (8%) generate organisational and personal transformation. They are often shaped by different experiences to their peers and see the world differently to conventional leaders. As a result, they have developed a particular type of ‘action logic’ or leadership style that enables them to lead organisations through the most complex transformations.
Individualists (33%) interweave personal and company logic, bridge gaps between strategy and performance and are often effective in consulting roles.
Achievers (52%) juggle management duties and market demands. They are both action and goal orientated.
Experts (7%)rule by logic and expertise. They seek rational efficiency and are good as individual contributors.
The work of Strategists, the report proposes, is underpinned by inquiry-based experimentation. They see both the vision and detail, employ positive language and exercise power courageously. They also understand the complexity of the environment in which they’re working and are able to employ passionate detachment. Though Strategists reside in every grouping, the largest proportion of ‘Strategist’ leaders are found in women over 55.
Sadly though, traditional organisations are not always the most comfortable places for Strategist leaders, the report finds. The necessary questions Strategists ask, and the structures they question, often ruffle feathers, particularly in traditional businesses that rely on hierarchical management.
David Lancefield, PwC partner, Strategy and Economics, said; “Strategist leaders can fill the aspiration gap CEOs refer to when it comes to transformation. But the way many companies attract, retain and empower them requires an overhaul. Businesses must work hard to attract and retain Strategists because they hold the keys to transformation and, in some cases, survival.”
Jessica Leitch, of PwC People & Organisation, said: ‘Empowering Strategists is not about finding a successful operational manager and giving them a job title with the world ‘strategic’ in it. It’s about finding people who can think and work outside the existing system, who can see what needs to change and are able to persuade or inspire others to follow them”