Exploring Executive Leadership Approaches

posted about 3 years ago


 Author: James Warren | European Managing Director 

The latest research shows that executive level leadership is at a turning point, with a notable divide between traditional approaches and new ways of working. In fact, the 2018 DDI Global Leadership Forecast suggests that just 14% of CEOs believe they have the right executive leaders onboard to take the business to the next level, highlighting a major difference between the approaches that are currently being used, and the approaches necessary for businesses to thrive in this time of change and disruption.

Why Now?

Technological advances are having major impacts upon traditional business processes, not only within the technology industry itself but across a huge variety of sectors. Automation, for example, is now being used at an executive level within many areas, and this is something that holds the potential to make some particular positions obsolete. In fact, the PwC Global CEO Report claims that more than three quarters of CEOs are expecting new technologies to spark job losses. Executive leadership positions are anticipated to remain relevant, although technology will undoubtedly change what those roles entail.

Leadership is fragmented. We have disruptive leaders, and leaders in industries they’re trying to disrupt.

Traditional Industry Leaders:

  • value tried and tested processes
  • perform formally-assigned duties
  • ensure strong organisational structure
  • take a well-rounded business approach
  • encourage and promote what they know
  • undertake familiar tasks with excellence
  • work with well-defined, capable teams

Disruptive Leaders:

  • are always looking for new methods and processes
  • take more risks and aren’t afraid of uncertainty
  • focus on driving profit above anything else
  • value an agile, flexible, and diverse approach
  • perform various duties as dictated by context
  • rely upon dynamic networks of skilled individuals
  • will often stray from standardisation, preferring creativity

These differences in approach are widening the executive-entrepreneur gap.

Disruptive vs. Traditional Leaders

Which type is best? It’s an area that’s not as black and white as it may seem. What we do know, however, is that traditional leaders are often failing to meet business needs. McKinsey research shows that 70% of executives believe that one of the primary drivers of growth will be innovation; something that traditional leaders generally do not prioritise.

What’s particularly interesting about finding that traditional leaders are failing is that it’s the disruptive leaders that should, statistically, be more likely to fail. By taking more chances and greater risks, by adopting what consultant Doc Norton calls ‘the experimental mindset’, those deviating from tried and tested processes should be failing… but they’re not. That’s because we’re at a time when innovation is winning; when forward thinkers are helping businesses to thrive.

Disruptive leaders are winning. These are leaders that are more likely to embrace new technologies, and are more likely to nurture and help to develop innovative, forward thinking skills early on in careers. It is expected that companies with disruptive leaders will, on average, outperform those that don’t.

According to a Harvard Business Review report, titled ‘The Transformational Impact of Business Apps on the Enterprise’, businesses that are willing to take the leap and integrate new technologies into the workplace are more likely to experience increased sales performance, greater employee productivity, reduced costs, enhanced customer experience, and a strong differentiation from their competitors.

This drives home the idea that recruiters should be investing more in ‘people analytics’ rather than looking only at formal qualifications, ensuring they get the right talents onboard at the right times.

Hiring for Success

This recruitment-related aspect is something that deserves special focus, as it's these possible changes in the hiring process that will determine whether or not we create a generation of disruptive leaders. Businesses are being urged to consider the potential for disruptive leadership right from the start, bringing onboard groups of innovative, forward-thinking individuals who have the motivation, the mindset, the skills, and the confidence to be different, to try something new, and to implement change.

The classic ‘mad scientist’ may well be a poor example in terms of what’s actually going on today, but it does highlight the fact that it’s these individuals, who think outside the box and try new things, that are the ones we’re still talking about today. Imagine if chemistry-loving Frankenstein had gone into traditional medicine rather than humanoids… there’s no story, no interest, and no global reach.