How to be a reviver rather than a survivor with leadership

The determining factor of an organisation’s success in response to each and every disruptive opportunity is leadership – whether that be recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the threat of recession, sustainability demands or the great resignation.

As our new research shows, the scale and speed of change means that leaders must change too.

Exploring what leadership looks like across 300 organisations in a variety of sectors, we found a near 50-50 split between leaders who identify as revivers – leaders focused on continued acceleration, transformation, and investment in growth and innovation – and those who identify merely as survivors – those focused on cost reduction and sustaining pace of change.

Post-pandemic leadership:

Covid-19 has caused a shift in leadership skills

The leadership we need for the age of disruption

What makes the perfect leader?

It’s the 56% identifying as revivers who see the present moment as the opportunity to work in new ways. They are more focused on leaving a positive legacy, more willing to change their leadership style for the greater good and will act with more urgency.

Being a revival style leader isn’t as simple as just choosing to be one, it’s founded in the attitudes, behaviours and choices made each day. From our research, and based on our experience advising on leadership issues for global clients, we’ve identified some powerful ways for leaders to become revivers and lead with ingenuity.


Cultivate kindness to encourage risks

Kindness may sound nice to have, but the benefits are concrete and indisputable. It makes staff happier and forges a greater sense of belonging, results in better quality work, and encourages people to take risks. Without the safety net of kindness, no one will walk the innovation tightrope. 

Start by thinking about how individuals and their teams can co-create their goals. Consider how they can be trusted to work on terms, and in ways, that work for them. Then think about how your systems and processes encourage and reward kindness. Crucially, leaders can set the stage for kindness by demonstrating their own vulnerability, admitting mistakes and sharing failures.

One key outcome to strive for – and ideally measure – is how psychologically safe people feel.


Work in the growth zone

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. So, leaders need to steer themselves, and their teams, away from the comfort zone to the growth zone. 

That means being open to new answers and new inputs. Start conversations with what if?, not if only. Set grand ambitions that impel different teams to collaborate. And think about constrictions that create opportunities. For instance, one reliable way of driving ingenious innovation can be to not fund it.


Grow with purpose by leading with authenticity

Purpose is a word that has become ubiquitous, over-used and, at times, almost meaningless, often used as a crutch by leaders who espouse it, but fail to genuinely live it. And yet when applied authentically, it unlocks better leadership and drives growth.

Take, for instance, our work with Swedish start-up PulPac. Having already helped commercialise and scale a fibre-based packaging alternative to plastic, we’re now helping develop a disposable, compostable lateral flow test used for communicable diseases – with a current focus in sub-Saharan Africa. Purpose-driven work that is saving lives – and the planet which flows top to bottom through the purpose and leadership style of Pulpac.   

The skills and experiences you may have relied upon as a leader to drive growth may not be enough. To be a leader who truly embraces ingenuity and disruption as sources of opportunity will need to focus on growth and innovation like never before.

Innovation is not solely the preserve of those who focus on new product design or marketing, for example, but should be threaded through all elements of the organisation. The role of the reviver leader will be to unlock that innovation by creating a psychologically safe space for everyone, enabling them to work in the growth zone and lead themselves and their teams with purpose and authenticity.


Rachael Brassey is global lead for people and change at PA Consulting