Exponential leaps forward in consumer expectations and innovation are
forcing massive changes at a lightning fast pace across industries
everywhere. The combinatorial impact of these disruptive forces — along
with the exploding demand for machine learning-powered analytics
and the plummeting cost of data on one side, and the need for
human-centered approaches to tap into the full potential of customers
and employees on the other — is fueling this unstoppable wave of
Our new global research homed in on the ways in which C-suite leaders
need to respond. At stake for these leaders: retaining relevance and
credibility as individual leaders and as a leadership team.
Business leaders are under pressure now more than ever, especially
leaders at the top. For their organizations to not only succeed — but to
truly thrive — in this ever-complex age of disruption, C-suite
executives must put forth a bold, new and different response.
Accenture's video shares why
C-Suite leaders must adopt a Whole-Brain Leadership approach to succeed
and win in the future. See more.
Pressures are compounding and converging on the C-suite like never before.
of C-suite executives report that the
disruptive impact of new technologies is increasing in intensity.
of C-suite executives report that the
disruptive impact of shifting customer demands has increased in the
past three years.
report that the disruptive impact of new
market entrants has increased.
report investors are among their most
report that employees are among their most
Embracing the Positive Agents of Change
Our research shows there are three groups of employees and customers that
company leaders are accustomed to adeptly managing — we've labeled them the
“Agitators,” the “Disenfranchised” and the “Indifferent.” Then we have the
“Pathfinders,” a new group we identified that is remarkable for both their
characteristics and influence.
“Pathfinders” are of particular relevance. This group is framed by
self-perceived empowerment and motivations, and by their belief that they
can effect change within companies they work for and buy from. Instead of
being viewed only as an additional destabilizing force, this “supergroup” of
employees and customers can be positive agents of change to be embraced.
They comprise a third of the 11,000+ employees and customers we surveyed
And yet, they are a considerably varied group exhibiting a wide array of
notable characteristics. Neither entirely Millennials nor Gen Zs,
Pathfinders defy categorization by conventional demographic means. Rather,
this group is defined more by a unique mindset than simple demographics.
If C-suite executives engage Pathfinders, they will find that this unique
group of allies has the power to accelerate and guide the type of change
leaders must make to continue to remain competitive.
The C-suite is not oblivious to the power and potential of Pathfinders.
Nearly three-quarters of this "supergroup" believe they have the potential
to destroy business value if their expectations are ignored. That’s the bad
news. The good news: Pathfinders possess significant influence. As
employees, they are twice as likely to be on the fast track to leadership
and have critical skills. They are also 67% more likely to buy from
companies who contribute to society. By taking the lead from the
Pathfinders, the C-suite can make important new allies and provide the
on-ramp to the change they need to position themselves and their companies
Expectations for the C-suite: Whole-Brain Leadership
Our research indicates that Pathfinders are pushing the C-suite to find new
ways to lead, grow and sustain their organizations — demanding a new type of
leader to engage their passion, principles and capabilities. Their
expectation? Leaders who have a strong balance across analytics-led and
This approach blends what's traditionally been considered "left-brain"
(scientific) skills that draw on data analysis and critical reasoning with
"right-brain" (creative) skills that draw on areas like intuition and
empathy. Bringing the two together intentionally to drive deeper levels of
problem solving and value creation is critical.
C-suite teams that proactively
embrace and promote whole-brain approaches in their companies yield
better financial outcomes than those that don’t.
But the majority (89%) of today’s C-suite leaders hold business school,
science, or technology degrees and have honed “left brain” skills—like
critical reasoning, decision-making and results-orientation. Numbers. Data.
Stats. The science of management, rooted in reasoning and proof points. This
has served them well, and these capabilities will always be vital. But they
are no longer sufficient.
The C-suite values a whole-brain skillset, but less than Pathfinders do. This
is where the C-suite can close the gap in what's expected of them (see the
gap illustrated below for the different countries in our research).
In fact C-suite leaders themselves (65%) say their “right-brain” skills are
weakest and recognize the need to strengthen their right-brain skills —
including empathy and intuition — for a well-rounded whole-brain approach.
Click a flag to view the C-suite skills valued by
Pathfinders compared to C-suite leaders by country:
Select a country from the drop down to view the
C-suite skills valued by Pathfinders compared to C-suite leaders:
Skills Pathfinders say
are important for C-suite leaders
Skills C-suite say are
important for C-suite leaders
The beginning of a shift is underway. While only 8% of C-suite leaders report
using a whole-brain approach today in their companies, 82% say they plan to
leverage a whole-brain approach in the future.
use a whole-brain approach today
intend to use a whole-brain approach in the
next 3 years
Not only is adopting a progressive whole-brain leadership approach good for
building diversified thinking and decisions, it’s also good for the bottom
Case in point: Accenture Strategy’s research showed a correlation with
stronger financials on average over a 3-year period for those companies
using a whole-brain approach today. That’s 22% higher revenue growth and 34%
higher profitability (EBITDA) growth.
higher revenue growth
higher profitability (EBITDA) growth
Building tomorrow’s whole-brain
Effective leadership requires mastering and blending
both left- and right-brain thinking. Northwestern
University’s McCormick School of Engineering
embraces this imperative to do more than educate
great engineers – they are building tomorrow’s
whole-brain leaders who will help take the world in
a whole new direction. They empower their students
to become whole-brain engineers by
integrating elements of left-brain
thinking—analysis, logic, synthesis, and math—with
the kind of high-level right-brain thinking that
fosters intuition, metaphorical thought, and
creative problem solving.
1. Address the skills gap: Nine in 10 C-suite executives are
beginning to take action by using organic and inorganic ways to tackle the
skill gap in their midst. Over half of the executives surveyed report active
reskilling efforts aimed specifically at the C-suite and 46% are bringing in
new talent from outside their organization.
2. Redefine traditional leadership: Harnessing the power of
the Pathfinder group is essential. By embracing them, granting their voices
access to traditional “leadership only” channels and acting on their
insights, the C-suite will gain allies and re-credentialize their
leadership. And because Pathfinders are two times more likely to be
motivated to give their best to their employer, and twice as likely to
choose a more expensive brand because they prefer what it stands for, the
entire company will benefit from leveraging these natural agents of change.
3. Drive change deep and wide: Getting this right is a
balancing act. The C-suite must build these balanced skills and use them at
both the organizational and individual level. This will enable them to
leverage a whole-brain approach to solve the higher value problems that
today’s combinatorial effect of disruption presents. And by leading from the
front, they will ingrain data-led and human-centered skills into the
organization as the new norm, paying dividends short and long term and
About the Research
The Whole-Brain Leadership: The New Rules of Engagement for the C-suite
report from Accenture
based on insights from research including interviews with 200 C-suite
executives from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the
United States; survey responses from more than 11,000 employees and
consumers in China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US; and
in-person focus groups in Spain, the UK and US. The study found that
leadership teams that actively acquire, deploy, demonstrate and embed
diversified whole-brain thinking across the organization fare better
financially than those that don't.
Global Sustainability Services Lead & Chief
Peter advises leaders of Fortune 500
companies on strategies related to growth, technology, innovation and
Managing Director—Accenture Strategy, Talent &
Organization, North America
Katherine works with clients to plan,
develop and transform future workforces to improve performance and
deliver bottom-line results.
Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Spain,
Portugal and Israel
Alberto advises clients on the development
and implementation of new business strategies and operating models.