Last month, Accenture published an interesting report, carrying the title “Striking Balance with Whole-Brain Leadership.” The gist of that report: leaders need to dramatically increase the use of the right part of their brain—the part allowing us to be creative, empathetic, self-aware and use our intuition and holistic thinking. Why? First, because today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world requires these right-brain skills. And second, because their most important customers and employees demand them to use these skills.
So far and for decades, leadership and strategy have been dominated by left-brain thinking. Our MBA programs, textbooks, recruitment and promotion procedures all emphasize the kind of analytical, fact-based, quantitative and linear types of thinking that are associated with the left side of our brain. As a result, we have selected and developed leaders that excel in left-brain thinking. And as an important side-effect, this means we have also selected and developed leaders that are not so well-equipped and experienced in using the right-side of their brain. Not surprisingly, Accenture’s report shows that 89% of current C-suite leaders have received a left-brain dominated formal training—science, data, engineering, and so on.
The call for whole-brain leadership is not new. Many scholars and authors have argued before that right-brain skills are extremely important and underemphasized in today’s (Western) society. What is interesting though is where the call for right-brain leadership comes from this time: a consulting company such as Accenture, C-suite leaders themselves, and their customers and employees. So, rather than coming from the usual outside, the call for whole-brain leadership this time comes from inside—from the core of the corporate world itself.
Which is why the report is so interesting and important. Consulting firms like Accenture (but also McKinsey & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bain & Company and basically all large consulting firms) are known for their systematic, analytical and fact-based, and thus left-brain approaches. Both the fact that Accenture has conducted this study and the outcomes of the study suggest that that might be changing.
The report is based on a study amongst over 200 C-suite executives and over 11,000 employees and customers. When zooming in on its contents, it contains some remarkable findings about how leaders, employees and customers think about whole-brain leadership:
- 65% of C-suite leaders admits that their right-brain skills are weakest.
- Only 8% of C-suite leaders uses a whole-brain approach today, whereas a stunning 82% plans to use it in the coming three years.
- On a 7-point scale, the companies’ most important groups of customers and employees (called “pathfinders” in the report) find right-brain leadership skills on average two points more important than leaders already find them.
- This group, consisting of the one-third of employees and customers that intend and feel empowered to make a difference to society, is five times more likely to take action. This means they cannot be ignored.
- 9 in 10 companies are taking steps to address the right-brain skills gap that is present.
And it doesn’t stop there. It is not just the opinions of leaders, employees and customers that plea for more whole-brain leadership. As Accenture’s research shows, the 8% of leaders that apply a whole-brain approach already show a 22% stronger three-year revenue growth and a 34% stronger growth in profit (EBITDA). So, having leaders that use their whole brain rather than just the left side leads to better performance.
So, the evidence is clear: we need more right-brain skills applied in strategy and leadership. There is still a long way to go, but Accenture’s report makes me optimistic that we will be getting there.
This post was published earlier here on my forbes.com page.
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