Wanted: women over 55

Middle-aged businesswoman working on laptop


Companies are struggling to solve their most difficult problems because they lack the kind of strategic thinkers required, many of whom are women over 55, according to a report by PwC.

The report, ‘The hidden talent: Ten ways to identify and retain transformational leaders’, shows how – even while organisations are grappling with rapid technological change, stalled growth, global restructuring and the need for forward-thinking – less than one in 10 managers have the capabilities, attributes and mindsets to lead transformational change and solve difficult problems that require new ways of thinking.

Professor Bill Torrbert, who designed the first diagnostic tools to deal with the dearth of strategic leadership in business, says that many successful operations managers lack the ability to reflect and take on board different viewpoints whereas strategist leaders tend to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure. He says this engenders a humility of perspective and resilience so that they know what to do when things don’t work.

The research behind the report, conducted through a survey of 6,000 European professionals’ leadership capabilities by psychometric specialists Harthill Consulting, finds that only 8% of senior managers currently have strategist leadership capabilities.

It says strategist leaders 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. It states: “Though Strategists reside in every grouping, the largest proportion of ‘Strategist’ leaders are found in women over 55.”

Companies have tried to get round the problem by hiring outside experts, but the report says this rarely works. However, the necessary questions strategists ask and the structures they question means they 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.

“Clearly, the incumbent operational management cohort will find some of that threatening, or at least uncomfortable. The challenge for organisations is to create the right environment so that distinctive voices become more common across the whole of the organisation. This is one of the ways to grow and retain the leaders organisations need to survive.”

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