Companies now need low-key, analytical bosses who are strategic, flexible, adaptable, tech savvy and data driven.
Since the GFC, organisations across the world have had to adapt and respond with lightening speed to an uncertain business landscape, requiring leaders who are agile and innovative.
According to ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2013’, released by professional services firm Deloitte in August, yesterday’s concept of what a leader should be no longer fits the changing needs of today’s marketplace.
Deloitte human capital partner Pip Dexter says the military term VUCA, meaning volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, is a useful way of describing the state of today’s business landscape.
“Leaders need to be quite comfortable in this complex environment and be able to make decisions and continue to adapt,” she says, adding that to lead effectively in this fast-paced world, leaders need to possess a suite of balanced capabilities.
“Not only do today’s leaders need to lead, they need to have good strategic insight, be able to understand and interpret complex issues and work collaboratively with others.”
Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles’ report, ‘Sea change in the C-suite as the world reboots’, says that today’s unpredictable business landscape needs effective leadership to steer organisations towards success.
Based on interviews with 62 Australian and New Zealand chairs, directors and C-suite executives, the report reveals that companies are looking for leaders who are innovative and strategic, can identify talent quickly, and can effectively put that talent to use.
What equips would-be leaders for this new role?
A mix of learning and development and on-the-ground experience are key. One might think the MBA is the traditional go-to qualification for the ambitiously inclined, but research undertaken last year by website Leading Company shows this is hardly the case amongst the current crop of Australian leaders.
Just one in five ASX 100 chiefs held an MBA, compared with 35 per cent of US Fortune 500 CEOs.
This may be a case of playing catch-up. MBAs have been part of the business landscape in the US for most of the 20th century, while the first Australian program was only offered in the 1960s.
Today most local universities offer the program in various guises and the trend is increasingly for younger people to undertake the qualification. Whether this is effective in building future leaders is a matter for debate.
It may signal future leadership intentions and dress up an otherwise slight résumé. University of Memphis research based on a survey of thousands of MBA students showed those who went to business school with no prior work experience reaped a strong economic return; meanwhile, for those with many years work experience the return on investment was relatively weak.
The counter-argument is that some employers may feel the younger MBA candidate may lack the requisite experience to really benefit from such a program. Deloitte’s Pip Dexter says: “It’s interesting that some people do MBAs when they’ve just finished their undergraduate degree.