- IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership - Talent Management

Great expectations

Doctor-turned-management consultant Jonathan Scott (MBA 2007) believes in upholding timeless principles of effective leadership while adapting to the shifting needs of a younger workforce.
June 2023

Jonathan Scott is a diagnostician in the truest sense. As a seasoned management consultant, he spends most of his time diagnosing and solving problems for business organizations.  “A lot of the work that I’m doing right now is helping my clients to be more agile and adjust to external shocks in terms of supply chain crises and inflationary pressures on various cost items on their profit-and-loss statements,” he shared.

Yet not so long ago, Scott specialized in a different kind of diagnostic work – medical diagnosis. The former doctor sees parallels between the medical profession and management consulting. “It’s a very similar diagnostic and treatment process,” he said. “Essentially, you’re trying to solve problems. Patients describe their symptoms to you, and you do the relevant tests and try to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. The same is true in management consulting. Clients say, “We’ve got this problem,” and our job as management consultants is to figure out what’s wrong with the business and come up with solutions to fix it.

The Scot, who graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Aberdeen, recalled his first overnight shift as a National Health Service (NHS) junior doctor where he was responsible for 100 patients in the oncology and hematology wards.

“Essentially, you’re trying to solve problems. Patients describe their symptoms to you, and you do the relevant tests and try to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. The same is true in management consulting.”

“It was both incredibly exhilarating and exciting,” he said. “I’d been training for so long to get there so it was thrilling to be out in the hospital delivering patient care,” he said. “At the same time, because I was so young, it was also quite stressful.”

While Scott stayed on as a resident physician in the NHS for a couple more years, he found it hard to shake off the growing ennui.

“I remembered at one point just feeling frustrated at the inefficiency of the system I was working in. I felt powerless to change it,” he said. “One day, I realized that I couldn’t spend the rest of my professional career in that kind of situation. Something had to change.”

it was at this point that he had a chance encounter with an acquaintance who was taking an MBA program to facilitate a mid-career change at London Business School. It sparked a Eureka moment. “I thought I could do that and always come back to medicine if it didn’t work out,” he said.

The art of introspection

Scott eventually signed up for an MBA program at IMD, which appealed to him largely for its class profile and flagship leadership program. In the early months, as he got used to working in workshops and group settings, he found himself thrust into unfamiliar terrain.

“It was an eye-opener to be with people who had very different life experiences and who had come from very different cultures,” he said. “I’d been in the medical world since I was 18. I’d worked with medical students, doctors, nurses, and healthcare people who all spoke a certain language, thought a certain way, solved problems a certain way, and dealt with people in a certain way. I suddenly found myself in this environment, with people from all over the world, from all different careers and walks of life.”

The program also proved to be a catalyst that developed and improved his self-awareness. “Being a physician, I had spent all my career up until that point analyzing other people and trying to diagnose what’s wrong with them. I felt the time had come for me to turn the mirror on myself to understand what motivates me and understand the type of a leader I am and could be,” he said. “Becoming more aware of what’s going on in my mind and managing my emotions under different situations meant I could lead myself before thinking about leading others. That was critical in achieving a deeper understanding of self.”

 - IMD Business School
Jonathan Scott MBA 2007

At the same time, a major part of Scott’s journey of self-discovery on the MBA program involved unlearning old patterns and mindsets. “I had to unlearn a lot of what I had learned in medicine in terms of how to do things, which was helpful from a leadership standpoint,” he said. “It forced me to adopt a far more flexible approach and a more open mindset to considering other points of view and ways of doing things. It was humbling for me to realize that there’s more than one way of doing something. There are lots of ways, and it’s not that one is right or better than another.”

Scott recalled the words of Professor Jack Wood, then professor of leadership, who highlighted the power of introspection. “He pushed us to understand ourselves better and he even had a mantra: ‘If you don’t understand yourself, you can’t lead yourself or expect yourself to lead others.’”

Adaptive leadership

Indeed, the self-reflective approach stood him in good stead as he navigated the corporate landscape over the next decade or so. After obtaining his MBA, Scott joined McKinsey as associate principal. Here, he led the clinical operations service line, which focused on transforming the operational performance of hospitals and health systems. In 2015, he left McKinsey to join a Goldman-backed radiology company as a general manager with P&L responsibility.

“I had always wanted to run a business, and this seemed like a good opportunity to leverage my medical and business experience,” he recalled. “I learned a lot in that role, but I quickly realized that I missed client service and the variety and intellectual challenge of consulting, which is why I moved back into that field.”

In 2017, he briefly headed the US management consultancy Navigant before he joined global consulting giant Boston Consulting Group as managing director and partner.

“Moving into consulting felt like a natural transition from medicine and also helped me maintain that element of intellectual curiosity,” he said. “The work is project-based, which provided constant variety and addressed the elements of frustration and boredom I had felt in clinical practice.”

“So, the expectation of the workforce today requires from me, and other leaders, a much greater willingness to expose my weaknesses and to be vulnerable.”

As a seasoned executive who has assumed various leadership roles over the years, he is cognizant of the key leadership competencies needed for workplace success. “There are fundamentals of leadership that endure through time. I’m thinking about the concepts of leading by example, setting the tone, acting with integrity, and treating individuals with respect. These are fundamentals of leadership that remain constant over time,” he explained.

But, he added, rapidly evolving employee expectations are now shaking up the idea of what makes good corporate leadership. “There has definitely been a shift in terms of the expectations of the workforce over the last four to five years,” he said. “The workforce expects a level of individual respect and to be treated in a certain way. This requires leaders to be more sensitive and attuned to the emotional temperature of the workforce. Not just the workforce writ large, but for individuals within the workforce, especially those who report directly to you.”

In Scott’s opinion, as cultural forces shape the future of work, it is imperative for business leaders to adapt their leadership styles. “I find that my associates and the clubs that I work with want to understand what motivates me. What am I passionate about and why, what drives me, what are my motivations, and what are my values?” he said. “They also want to see how that manifests in the way I work and lead them.”

“So, the expectation of the workforce today requires from me, and other leaders, a much greater willingness to expose my weaknesses and to be vulnerable.”