Heidrick & Struggles: The New Transformational Leader

Like every preceding industrial revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has caused massive growing pains for businesses as they have moved through the initial shocks of disruption to a more recent, if uneasy, understanding that constant acceleration is now, in fact, “normal.” Ready or not, leaders must grapple with the subsequent challenges: the impact of technology and the digital world, new and unprecedented socioeconomic implications, and significant geopolitical upheavals. All of this forces companies and their leaders to reexamine the whys and hows of their businesses — and to do so at a much faster pace than ever before. It also forces leaders to reexamine themselves.

How today’s leaders navigate and lead in such a fastchanging environment is a dominant theme of The CEO Report, the product of a research partnership between Heidrick & Struggles and the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Heidrick & Struggles research finds that the complexity of the new dynamics requires a changing approach to leadership. The days of leaders having complete command over their organizations are gone.

Today’s leaders must be inspirational yet calming, visionary yet down-to-earth, “right” and yet not afraid to “not know.” They must be monarchs but also very human and able to navigate their organizations through multiple, often paradoxical demands emanating from an increasing — and increasingly active — array of stakeholders. The key is moving from a single-minded “command and control” mentality to a more agile form of leadership that balances command with purpose, nimbleness, adaptability, and collaboration — all features of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

However, further reflection suggests that CEOs often struggle to find the right balance between collaboration and singular leadership. One Fortune 500 CEO described the task as similar to balancing on two parallel tramlines, where it is easier to bounce from one to the other and hardest to stay on both. Certainly this CEO concludes that collaboration is vital, yet it paradoxically threatens to weaken his leadership when tough decisions are required. Since unilateral decision making often leaves organizations and stakeholders cold, CEOs need to develop a toolkit of significantly more nimble and multidimensional leadership capabilities and a self-awareness of when, and how, to use them.

The overwhelming majority of CEOs confess that they have doubts. That’s one of the striking findings of The CEO Report of more than 150 CEOs who sat down with us for confidential, in-depth interviews, 71% not only admit to doubt but also embrace it as a basis for better decisions. Doubt is a challenge of both knowledge and emotion. Knowledge can fall anywhere on a continuum from full not knowing to full knowledge. Feelings of doubt can fall anywhere between anxiety and fearlessness. How much knowledge do you have when you face a difficult decision? How anxious do you feel? How might you use your uncertainty as a tool?

To read the full report, click here.


Thought leadership category