Companies should look to recruit women over 55 to meet a critical shortfall of strategic leaders capable of solving the most difficult business problems, according to research from PwC which identifies this group as the ones most able to tackle complex challenges
The firm’s report, ‘The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders,’ - based on a survey of 6,000 European professionals’ leadership capabilities by psychometric specialists Harthill Consulting - found that only 8% currently have the ‘strategist’ leadership capabilities required to lead transformational change and tackle what PwC describes as ‘wicked’ problems which are complicated and often require that a large number of stakeholders work together.
Jessica Leitch, a consultant at PwC people and organisation team, said: ‘Tame problems are easily understood, and there’s usually broad agreement on how to solve them using tried and tested procedures. Critical problems resemble crisis situations where control need to be asserted.
‘Wicked problems, however, directly challenge business-as-usual thinking and even the business model itself.’
Though strategists reside in every grouping, the largest proportion of strategist leaders are found in women over 55.
The research suggests that because the highest performing operational managers believe that they (or someone else) have the answers, solutions to wicked problems often confound them.
In contrast, strategists see both the vision and detail, employ positive language and exercise power courageously. They also understand the complexity of the environment in which they are working and are able to employ passionate detachment.
Mark Dawson, PwC partner in people and 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.’
PwC’s research shows the proportion of strategist leaders has not increased since the previous survey in this area, where it was measured at 7%.
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.’