With disruptive forces on the horizon: Are your leaders ready?

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To thrive amidst competition requires a shift in how we lead our organisations and develop leaders. 

Maria, a general manager at a global pharmaceutical firm, came home after an intense day at work. She must have responded to more than 200 emails, in addition to managing internal discussions about the new business strategy and how employee engagement scores were improving. And yet, the CFO said her business unit was still not meeting its targets.

In Maria’s recent performance conversation, she realised the job of a leader is just getting more difficult. She is now expected to radically innovate with zero budget, continuously optimise operations, and develop her people for the future while doing more with less – among other conflicting demands. 

This conveyor belt of disruptive forces has changed the nature and volume of expectations on leaders. The democratisation of the marketplace has brought a proliferation of new entrants and competitors that are faster, better and cheaper.

To compound the situation, executives have concerns about talent migration as well as growing corporate responsibility to address societal issues. Add in cyber security and changing business regulations, and clearly companies are facing pressure on multiple fronts – indeed, 73% of C-suite executives say they expect significant industry disruption in the next three years, up from 26% in 2018, according to Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Study.


While most principles of good leadership continue to apply, it is important to examine how the context has changed in order to appreciate the different expectations that we put on leaders. So how will leaders keep up, let alone thrive, with such fierce competition and emerging socioeconomic forces? 

  1. Aligning work to the future value of the business
  2. Leaders will need to manage the challenge of running today’s business model while simultaneously reimagining how work gets done by leveraging the best set of global resources and machines to assemble a competitive organisation. And with more than 70% of companies intending to increase automation this year, much of the emphasis will be on the evolution of skills within a person’s role. Previously, people could rely on their secondary and tertiary education for much of their career; now, reskilling and upskilling will become the norm. For example, employees at telecommunications company AT&T are required to do at least five hours of online learning per week and the company has committed $1bn to reskilling.

  3. Building brand resonance to attract the best global talent
  4. New levels of transparency fuelled by social media provide employees with an abundance of information about how companies conduct their business. Ethics violations are still taking place, from fraud to workplace bullying. But the power has shifted: a single customer or employee can hold a company or CEO accountable on social platforms. Employees now expect an adult-to-adult relationship with their employer – by providing this, leaders will attract and continually attract the best talent. Looking globally, we see 38% of executives are taking on more responsibility for societal issues. New companies are painting a brighter ethical future. For example, Harry’s Razors is challenging companies like Gillette by priding themselves on committing 1% of sales to organisations redefining masculinity for the better.

  5. Curating the work experience for employees
  6. Employees are desperately asking for a workplace that is more relevant and personalised. With the current level of information overload impacting all levels of the organisation, companies are being forced to streamline, curate, and stop irrelevant communication activities. 

With the faster evolution of processes, activities, and skills, companies will need to redefine and redeploy talent at a pace never seen before. This requires firms to pioneer dynamic career management to get the best talent out of their people and keep up with the demands of the market. 

What Are the New Rules for Leadership Development?

The field of leadership development is an area plagued by tradition and status quo. Practices such as annual leadership training programmes are often criticised for their lack of impact or relevance to today’s climate. The rapidly evolving world of work requires organisations to reinvigorate how they develop the next generation of leaders:

  • Does your organisation have a strong leadership identity?
  • Do your leaders have a learner mindset?
  • Is leadership effectiveness grounded in the organisation’s daily context?
  • Does your organisation use long-term deliberate practice to change behaviour?

Many leaders are struggling in the current environment, with burn-out and under-performance as real threats. It is time to evolve our approach to leadership, in line with a company’s strategy, and to use longer term leadership development journey approaches to reflect the changing context of business. There are ever more disruptive forces on the horizon. Are your leaders ready? 

Natalie Jacquemin
by Natalie Jacquemin

Partner, Head of Talent Practice Europe & UK

Sara Nilsson DeHanas
by Sara Nilsson DeHanas

Principal, Leadership & Workforce Transformation Practice Leader

Lisa Lyons
by Lisa Lyons

Principal, Leadership & Assessment Market Lead

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