Develop strategic thinking and keep an eye on the future, says Paula Higgleton of Deloitte

21/02/2017 Tristan Blythe, Group Editor

A good leader should always be considering and trying to predict changes that will affect their firm, their profession and the wider world, according to Paula Higgleton, a private client partner at Deloitte.

Speaking at the fourth eprivateclient Leadership Seminar, sponsored by Ruffer LLP and held at the London offices of Deloitte, Ms Higgleton said 20 years ago the focus had been on how emerging computer and mobile phone technology would impact the sector.

She cited The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy, which was published at the time when there was no internet, computerisation of the office was in its early stages, and mobile phones were rare and only able to make calls.

Yet the book, which Ms Higgleton was given by a partner to help develop her leadership skills, made predictions as to how these emerging technologies would alter the way that people worked. Much of what it predicted, and the general themes that it foresaw, have come to pass.

However, whilst at the time the rate of change may have felt fast then, it is nothing compared the current day and the developments that are occurring, Ms Higgleton said.

In the outside world, leaders should be thinking now about what impact Brexit and President Trump will have on their business.

The future of technology in the sector is another factor. What impact will artificial intelligence have? How can private client professionals respond to the threat of cyber security?

In terms of those working in the sector, Ms Higgleton said it is predicted that by 2020 flexible working will be the norm. Therefore firms need to consider how they will accommodate working from home and ensure they have the right technology in place.

These are all issues that leaders and the next generation of leaders need to be considering. They also need to keep one eye open to the future and consider what could be the next development.

“To become a good leader you need to be able to develop strategic thinking,” she said. “You need to have the ability to reassess the business in reaction to the team is thinking, what clients are thinking, what industry trends are emerging, what competitors are doing and what is happening in the outside world that will have an impact.”

There are plenty of examples across different sectors of firms that have failed because they did not react to changing circumstances and technology, she added. In the world of entertainment there is video rental firm Blockbusters, which did not evolve to enter the age of video streaming. Another example was Kodak which did not react to the rise of digital photography.

“The buying habits of their clients changed,” Ms Higgleton said of the reason behind these firms’ failure. “The same is happening in private client. We have a more informed client base that can use the internet to find the answers to basic tax and legal questions. This informed client base is driving fees down. If we in the sector fail to think ahead then some firms will be left behind.”

She added that a mentor and sponsor of directors and partners in the firm, she realised that this forward thinking can be one of the more difficult leadership skills to develop.

“Open your mind to change and how the world will change,” she urged. “It is never too early to start developing strategic vision and thinking.”

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