“Leading in the Open Economy: disrupting, connecting, tribalizing and engaging”


Didier Marlier

March 14, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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After seeing how the new “Open Economy” will impact the way we strategize (from guessing the future to preparing for it) and organize (from centralized, hierarchical and pyramidal organizations towards more organic, decentralized and “intelligent organizations”, defined by a shared and engaging Purpose, a permanent, purpose-related feedback and a fertile ground of relationships), let us now explore how it shopuld affect the way we lead.

The values emerging from the Open Economy[1] (elegantly summarized by Michael Newman, one of our partners, under the acronym of G.R.A.V.I.T.A.S.) will no doubt impact the way we lead our people (G/Generosity, R/Responsibility & self discipline, A/principle of Abundance, V/authentic Value, I/Interdependence, T/Trust, A/Authenticity, S/Sharing attitude).

Disruption leaders: Gerd Leonhard talks about “Game Changers[2]” when he weighs the impact of Open Economy on our businesses. Nick van Heck likes to provoke by saying that “Disruption is what happens to the ill-prepared”. Last week, I was discussing with a bright young entrepreneur in a solid family business. He and the C.E.O. have the strong intuition that something will sooner rather than later strongly destabilize their business model (as Andy Grove wrote: “Only the paranoid survive!”). On the one hand, as wise leaders, they do not wish to disturb the operational excellence of the existing company and on the other, they want to be the ones disrupting the industry instead of being victims of circumstances. And they are right! Google or Apple constantly “disrupt” the markets (preferably those which are not their cash cows), keeping competitors reactive and following their lead rather than driving the markets themselves. Becoming “Disruption leaders” will change the way we lead in our firms. The opportunities and ideas will not come just from us anymore. Our capacity to listen, encourage (and toelrate/learn from mistakes “fail fast”) and engage our people will be fundamental. Disruptions leaders encourage their people to think and behave as market drivers not market driven…

Connecting leaders: Philippe Bobin[3] sees future leaders to have enhanced “Connection skills”. The “buttons simulation” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Dwp6WshM8o) proves him right. Leaders will need to evolve from “Directors to Connectors”. Their role will also consist of connecting the apparently unrelated dots on the strategic map[4] and scrutinize constantly the world around them as well as remain permanently “switched on” with the various levels in their firm (and not just their faithful and loyal “close guard”). The most spectacular change I ever saw taking place was years ago in a Spanish bank when, in order to make sure that the strategic change they had communicated to the top 500 leaders would be lived and meaningful at the lower echelons, the Board members made it a point during whatever visit they would pay to any branch, to hold informal and purposeful dialogues with employees at all levels.

Tribal leaders: Seth Godin is one of the fashionable marketing gurus of this time. Not having heard about him will make you look pathetic during your next cocktail, so here is a short clip taken during a TED event in February 2009. Seth is exposing his original concept of “tribal leader”. (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html) and I find it very inspiring. Seth asks us  three questions:

–          Who are you upsetting? For him “Tribal Leaders” are “heretics” who challenge the status quo. So if you are not upsetting anyone in the market, you are probably waiting for being disrupted…

–          Who are you connecting? Tribal Leaders understand what “resonates” in people. “The Beatles didn’t invent teenagers, they decided to lead them, Bob Marley did not create the Rastafaris, he chose to inspire them”… Tribal Leaders understand what moves and resonates with people and excel at creating communities around that purpose

–          Who are you leading: Tribal Leaders don’t please everybody. They manage to change clients into aficionados, customers into fans and transform obedient and bored employees into passionate defenders of a cause. The old push model becomes an inspire and engage one

Engaging leaders: This takes us to the book my partners and I recently published[5]. For us, Engaging Leaders work on three agendas:

–          They co-create, with their people, clarity, meaning and ownership around the strategic or intellectual agenda (Logos)

–          They behave, visibly and spectacularly in ways which directly support and connect with the organization’s Purpose (Ethos). They practice actively Value Building Behaviours (active listening, asking open questions, summarizing, supporting, challenging, clarifying, seeking time-out and asking/giving feedback)

–          They create “emotional markers”, through powerful metaphors, stories and symbols, which enable people to engage emotionally into the organization’s purpose (Pathos)

On my way to Paris, have a great week all!


[1] See our post “Don’t’ call this Economy 2.0!”  http://blog.enablersnetwork.com/2010/01/30/dont-call-this-economy-2-0/

[2] I will elaborate on these in next week-end’s post always on Open Economy

[3] After a successful career in sports (1976 Montreal Olympics with the French Decathlon team), Philippe Bobin runs leadership Development for the specialty chemicals group Rhodia

[4] For an interesting view on the topic, read ”Scanning the Periphery” from G. Day & P. Schoemaker HBR November 2005

[5] D. Marlier, C. Parker & M.T.I. ”Engaging Leadership: three agendas for sustaining achievement” (April 2009) Palgrave/MacMillan

1 Comment

  1. Michael

    It’s good to see another military principle, disruption, applicable to the business environment. A basic tenet of manoeuvre warfare is to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle; making them always reactive to your moves. You do this by being prepared for the change, confusion, chaos and pressure that characterises the high intensity battlefield (future readiness). Preparation involves creating the conditions, though training, experimentation and review where your troops act instinctively in a decentralised, organic and intelligent way. This purposeful and focussed behaviour of the troops creates space and time for your leaders to make a skilful appreciation of the rapidly evolving situation and initiate the next phase of the operation. If your enemy’s commanders are constantly tied up trying to direct a response to your actions, they cannot take the initiative; they are disrupted, reactive and vulnerable. In your business, how much of your leaders’ energy is spent reacting to new ‘threats’, when it may better be devoted to creating the conditions where your competitors are the ones being disrupted?


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