10 Game Changers for Disruptive Leaders


Didier Marlier

February 03, 2023

From Disruption to Engagement

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When the Covid wave hit the planet, it rapidly became obvious that, on top of being a lethal health crisis which would kill millions of us (I lost my mentor and Godfather to it as well as a friend in Brazil), it would also have a disastrous impact on Economy and… it did.

Early in the game, many of us called for Governments’ huge “Covid Marshal Plans” not to rebuild with their eyes fixed on the rear mirror but rather to seize this opportunity to redesign a fairer and sustainable global economy.

And… the more we observe, the more we see that Covid might also have a very profound impact of societal culture and values. Oh, don’t worry, just like May 1968 did not change France in June 1968, this tidal wave is moving slowly but surely. And I find interesting, as always, the perspective of Business Futurist, Gerd Leonhard, on the topic:



Our article aims at describing the “ten game changers” that this profound economical, strategic and societal change, called “Disruption Economy” will imply for us, Business Leaders:

  • From “Content Leadership” (I lead because I am the most knowledgeable person or “Leading when I know”) to “Context Leadership” (leading even when I don’t know): soon our legitimacy to lead and direct will depend far less from our technical, personal edge and far more from our capacity to connect other people’s intelligence together. We are entering the era when the individual, egocentric leader in the spotlight will progressively disappear at the benefit of collective, or organisational intelligence. Goodbye, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg… Welcome Yvon Chouinard!
  • From Polarisation to Cognitive Diversity: diversity is, indeed, pretty much a fashionable word nowadays but the lethal mistake committed by its proponents is to focus on the easy quick fixes instead of working hard on the real transformational effort that true Inclusion demands. Cognitive Diversity, from all sorts of Diversities, is the one with closest linked to Performance, but it requires willingness and a particular set of behaviours (called Value Building Behaviours by IMD Professor Chris Parker, see my latest article for details on those).
  • From Compelling to Engaging : one compels through intellect and rationale rigour (Logos), one reinforces their position through their exemplarity and behaviours (Ethos) and engages through emotions, passion, feelings and values (Pathos). In a World where young professionals are unimpressed by marching orders from people, often less knowledgeable than themselves, conviction seems to be on its way out, while engagement is a clear winner.
  • From Leading my Team to Engaging a Community : a team has a designated leader, clear objectives, roles, processes, rules and procedures. A team’s organisation often is pyramidal, hierarchical and the subordinates’ objectives concur to executing their leader’s overarching targets. Although the members of a Community are not a part of your team, you will need their knowledge, experience and engagement to succeed in your project. They have no hierarchical dependence with you but… you need them. They are free to choose to engage passionately in your project and give it all their full “discretionary effort” or choose to leave (if they can) or, worse, just play the “presenteism” game. Knowing how to shape and engage a Community, without any hierarchical power on its constituents, has become a new must in Leadership.
  • From EBITDA to Social Impact : Brazil is just going through a national financial scandal (having an impact even in the USA) with the bankruptcy of one of its biggest supermarket chains, Lojas Americanas. The scandal is about potential insider information and conflict of interest but the reflection, that begins to emerge is about the state of mind and values that have encouraged or tolerated such behaviours (see article in Portuguese). I doubt such a nationwide questioning would have happened before Covid. A few days ago, KPMG published a study, following which, a third of the GenZ people interviewed, declares to have refused a job on ESG ground, because the ethics of the organisation did not live-up to theirs.  EBITDA and Wall Street are less and less sexy and even the untouchable sacred cow of consulting, McKinsey (how many of us have heard the traditional “Hum, sorry but I hope you understand, nobody’s ever been sacked for choosing McKinsey, as I still did a few months ago) has just been shot down in flames on a January 24th Bloomberg’s article for its lack of ethics. EBITDA is no longer the sole reference, Social Impact is gaining ground.
  • From “Trust has to be earned” to Unconditional Collaboration : the debate on the “sex of the angels” (Should Trust be earned or given?) is over in the Disruption Economy. Of course, both arguments have their valid points but when considering the speed at which things go nowadays, there isn’t any time left for the rounds of observation and “prove me your worth trusting” that “Trust is earned” implies. The Disruption Economy clearly favours “Trust is given”. Only a culture of Unconditional Collaboration will permit matrix organisations to function, or will enable success under complex (I did not say complicated) or chaotic situations. And, of course when betting on Unconditional Collaboration, one can not be naïve: Unconditional Collaboration needs strong Values and clear consequences in case of breach of the ethical code.
  • From “Business as usual” to Challenging Orthodoxies : In business, an orthodoxy is a way of doing things here, a belief, a decision, taken unconsciously and in an implicit manner which makes them very difficult to identify, leave aside to challenge. Strategy guru, Gary Hamel, wrote, already in1996: “The first (step towards becoming truly disruptive) is to systematically deconstruct the orthodoxies and dogmas that rule a business. When people sit down and think about strategy, too often they take 90 or 95 percent of industry orthodoxies as a given and as a constraint. Instead, they must stare down their orthodoxies and determine that they are not going to be bound by them anymore. In effect, in looking for new directions, they are simply not going to start with the same old starting point.”
  • From Critical Thinking to Self-Critical Thinking : disruptive leaders no longer waste time and energy in endless and useless debate, trying to be proven right at all cost. They are acutely aware of their own biases, shortcomings and capable to double process, during a tense debate : They will be present to it while observing the way they think, act and react, in order to keep it a constructive debate. As the old educational movie (“From No to Yes”) explains, they will a) remove and park their own conviction first and focus their attention on understanding why their contradictor says/thinks what they say/think b) they will then respectfully expose where they come from, without attempting to convince and c) co-create a solution from everybody’s needs.
  • From Transactional to Relational : a transactional culture goes straight to the point, is efficient, respectful from each other’s time and suggests a certain level of authenticity: “Hi, I am calling you about xyz. Would you be in a position to help?” But this very direct way of connecting may have you miss a goldmine of precious information, that would only surface in an explorational, authentically curious and interested in the other person connection, since “I don’t necessarily know what you know which you ignore that I might need to know…” Only a Relational culture enables such connections to take place.
  • From Directors to Educators: If there is one thing that the Covid crisis and confinement showed, it is how thin the China wall is between home and work-life. For Peter Drucker, one of the most important Business thinker in History, it is the duty of business to educate people so that they, in turn provide the right example to their children. A Brazilian bank had decided to cut their loan to logging firms which were not respecting sustainability principles, a good decision at first sight. But, when the CEO understood the complaints of local remote communities, terrified to have lost the companies that were funding their schools, dispensaries and were providing jobs, he chose to educate instead of punish. He offered to restore the loans at the condition that those illegal loggers accepted to go for the sustainability certification.

As we all know by now, those two studies (Hay in the 90’s and Gallup in 2018) showed that Leaders Behaviours accounted for 70% in the culture of their organisation. What signals do Elon Musk’s behaviours send to the World compared to those of Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia)?

Please don’t ask me to mention a leader who would have yet integrated those 10 Game Changers. S/he does not (yet) exist, is our belief, but when we observe the leaders of sustainably disruptive organisations, we start to see these emerge. And, when considering the increasing number of organisations talking to us about these, we believe things might truly change. Enjoy your Leadership Journey!

1 Comment

  1. Franck Balançon

    Thanks so much Didier for this incredible and so inspiring article!
    It sums up and underlines so many things, some of them we can feel, but that are so difficult to express.
    You show us that the road is long, but the more we can improve on each one of this point, the better leaders we will be, and more important, the better persons we will be.


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