Strong Content Leaders get compliance, not commitment!


Didier Marlier

December 16, 2016

From Disruption to Engagement

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I know I have shown Leonhard Bernstein’s clip twice before on this blog but I would like you to put yourself at the place of a highly gifted and professional musician in an Opera or even better a symphonic orchestra led by him or Ricardo Muti, another glorious and highly competent conductor. Then, make the parallel for work. What if these were business leaders, what fundamentally different impact would they produce on their organization, in the “Disruption Economy”!

What would be the impact on your creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and feeling of “Psychological Safety” with Ricardo Muti? What would he inspire to you? Just one or two minutes watching provide a sufficient impact…

Now please watch Leonhard Bernstein and ask yourself, “If he were my boss, what would I feel in terms of Psychological Safety, what impact would his style have on my empowerment, innovation capacity, risk taking and entrepreneurship abilities?”

When asking the same questions during seminar or development events, I frequently hear that Muti passes on an impression of passion, competence and authority. I then hear that, nevertheless, having Bernstein as a leader would be far more pleasant for his encouragement, playfulness, creativity and capacity to lead from the back and let others shine.

That is exactly why, in business, content leaders impose compliance and context leaders inspire commitment.

Content leaders (Muti style) follow an implicit belief that they owe it to those who elected them to be visibly and firmly installed into the driver’s seat. They believe that they should know better than the others. Their “license to operate” is their knowledge, their experience and their decisiveness. They are courageous and determined.

That style has a lot for itself: Decisions are made, objectives and vision are clearly stated. The leadership is visible: leading from the front! The downside, as per probably illustrated for you by the Muti metaphore is that this style (on the clip) disables people, creates a strong obedience, distance and dependency from the leader. Such a dominant leader will not enable creativity and innovation but rather involuntarily get compliance and low risk behaviours. He will not receive the commitment he wants but rather a minimalist obedience

Contexts leaders (Bernstein on the clip) are a different breed and far more adapted to the upcoming “Disruption Economy”. For them leading is not best done from a front position, dragging their team behind them. They lead from the back, seeing who is aligned or not, who is fit or suffering. They do not believe that they will lose the respect or credibility of their team if somebody else knows better than them. They are strong believers that, should the process of the discussion be well run, a far better and engaging solution will emerge from the collective decision. And they consider it their responsibility to watch the quality of the process as much as of the end decision.

I have seen very courageous leaders this year of 2016 who did choose to put themselves in danger and grow from Content Leaders to Context ones. Each time, their teams or communities acknowledged their courage and responded well to it.

I look forward to seeing in 2017, more “leaders creating other leaders” which could be the definition of a context leader. Have a good New-Year’s Break


  1. Olga

    I love this clear visibility you may express!
    Last year on physical meeting my eyes just opened after your speech and today I reminded to me it. Thank you, Didier! A happier 2017 for you too.
    That’s terribly pity that now the chance to enjoy your trainings is null…

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you dear Olga, for this moving feedback. I do hope that we will have the chance to work together again… Happy 2017 to you!!! Take care


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