PwC - the 'Big4' advisory firm - has recently published a research about leadership, more specifically about the chronic shortage of 'strategist leadership' talent readily available to organisations.
Less than 10% of leaders today have the right skills to lead successful transformational change, according to the report. And this is because ‘the attributes required to manage a transformation change are not the same competencies as those exhibited by leaders who cope well with day-to-day issues, or even by those who excel in a crisis.’ he report goes on to define a 'strategist leader' as someone who is likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure, which engenders humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work.
6000 European professionals were surveyed for this research and the largest proportions of strategist leaders were found to be female and over the age of 55, an area of talent often “overlooked,” according to the firm (more like ‘ignored’, if you ask me). The research proves that these females are more likely to be able to see situations from multiple perspectives, use a positive language and exercise power in a courageous yet authentic way.
I think it is great that PwC has researched this area and come up with some really valuable findings, but surprised I am not.
Let’s think about this. Professional women over 55 are likely to have worked for at least 20-30 years, give or take a couple of years.
They will have in those decades built on whatever skills they started their professional life with, honed in on some and developed others. Their expertise will have grown. Most importantly, their self-confidence, assertiveness and ability to navigate the corridors of powers will have been nurtured considerably. This is because by 55 of so, most women will have come to accept themselves for who they really are – no compromise. They will have done away with their ego – too much real-life experience for that! And they will have learnt to play to their strengths and value some of those inherently feminine qualities: nourishing relationships; collaborate with and include others; see things from a variety of perspectives (professional woman but also home-maker, mother, carer of older parents, friend, peer, to mention but a few).
This is not due to some extraordinary power, but the simple realities of everyday life!
Scenario 1: she is a woman in her 30’s and she is at work. The phone rings and is her child’s school saying the toddler is sick and can she please pick him up. Except, she is in a meeting at a client’s office, couple of hours away from the nursery. What is she going to do but call upon friends and other mums? And will she not return the favour when the opportunity comes?
Scenario 2: by now the same woman has teens. She is dealing with puberty and hormonal changes; she is the taxi –driver, chef to an ever hungry mob (not just her teens but the whole gang of friends), the cool or un-cool mum (cool when it comes to taxi-driving and purse-opening, un-cool the rest of the time) negotiating bed times and parties, GSCE’s and holidays, mobile phones’ bills and x-box rules. And as any good negotiator knows, be prepared for plenty of compromise and some failure!
I won’t bore you with scenarios 3 and 4 and 5, but they may include elderly parents care, perhaps some charity work, I am sure you get the picture, however simplified. These circumstances will increase her need for a supportive network, people she can trust, delegate to and even empower to free herself for other tasks or priorities.
As a result of all women in and around 50 have experienced in- but possibly even more so outside the workplace, they are likely to easily empathise; support colleagues through a mentoring and coaching approach; surround themselves with a community of diverse and all-enriching people and be totally comfortable with it. They are likely to bring all of these experience and all of themselves in the workplace because they understand that many colleagues, women and men, are probably going through similar circumstances, similar patterns.
Now - guess what? – the attributes/competences highlighted above are very similar to the ones the report suggests will be required to create transformational, strategist leaders!
So in summary, I am really not surprised that 50+ women provide a source of greatly untapped talent. The variety of roles they take on board throughout their life – personally as much or more than professionally – means that by then, most of what business life throws at them will have to some extent been experienced and tackled before…. And that can only spell trust and resilience for organisational leadership.