French role models in a time of radical change
French role models in a time of radical change

TRADITIONALLY, ‘LEADERSHIP’ has implied a position of power and a hierarchical divide, with leaders designated executive functions and subordinates delegated tasks. Currently, leaders emphasise risk-adverse decision-making and the efficient management of resources. This results in incremental changes instead of radical innovation.1

The COVID crisis has accelerated volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, also known as VUCA2, on an unprecedented scale. As such, new models of leadership are coming forward, embracing Design Thinking to remodel organisational hierarchies and innovate together.

In recent times, we have witnessed a ‘step change’ among a certain number of French leaders towards a distributed model of leadership that enables their organisation or community to innovate in entirely new ways.

French role models in a time of radical change
French role models in a time of radical change

Sparking radical organisation transformation through Design Thinking

Organisations of the next generation build ecosystems driven by impactful projects that deliver value, with and for people. Design Thinking culture represents a powerful catalyst for reinventing organisations, serving as a key factor of success in turbulent times. As well as generating more value for businesses, Design Thinking is an amazing opportunity to make a better impact, not only for people, but also for the planet.

We’ve observed a trend in recent interviews of a dozen French leaders from a large range of sectors, from industrial giants to retailers (including Saint Gobain, FM Global, Sodexo, Vyv, Kiloutou, Franprix, GSE, STMicroelectronics or Suez).

There are three key skills to thrive as resilient leaders in radical change:

Think boldly

The bold thinking of these French leaders in the midst of lockdown has created a change in mindset and still brings forward an impetus to act. Their daring thinking — and requests from their executive teams — of what should happen after the lockdown to avoid being trapped in a reactive mode due to a deluge of short term problems shows that bold, creative and adaptive thinking amongst leadership is key to visualizing a new future for these organisations.

Empathy is key

Empathy is not only key to communicating in a human and authentic way, but also to deciphering new needs and trends and quickly putting forward new business offers.

Amplify innovation

The ability, through empowerment, to amplify the system’s innovation capacity meets challenges bound to scaled transformations. This highest level of innovation leadership is required to tackle the complex challenges we face and to bring forth the most powerful impacts.

1 Banerjee et al. (2016), ‘Innovation Leadership: A New Kind of Leadership’, <doi.org>

2 Used first in the Cold War, a VUCA environment in a business context refers to not using on a single dogma or paradigm to lead business strategy or actions.</doi.org>

Published 01 May 2021

About the author

Veronique Hillen's profile

Veronique Hillen

Partner, Data Strategy & experience Design

With more than 20 years of experience in growth strategy through innovation and design, Veronique supports companies in mature markets in their strategic renewal. A graduate of ESCP Europe, Centrale Paris and TU Eindhoven (doctorate in design), she began her career as CEO of Euroconsult. In collaboration with Stanford, she created and directed the d.school paris.

Follow Veronique Hillen on LinkedIn

To find out more, please leave your details below.