The biggest disruption in history


Chris Parker

October 04, 2009

From Disruption to Engagement

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The matrix in the power point below shows the evolution of leadership through recent time:

Historical perspective 03.10.09

It shows how, changes in the socio-historico-economic environment, as well as in the tools we use to deal with that environment, have shaped leadership assumptions. These went from paternalistic to “Open Source”. Despite of years passing, we can still spot organizations which continue to run under the beliefs held under the paternalistic or content leadership from the past.

For us, the most impactful disruption is taking place in this new millennium through a revolutionary and still misunderstood paradigm shift: Information scarcity and its corollary, “Guessing the future” have been replaced almost overnight by today’s “connected world”, where information is at our fingertips making “Getting permanently ready” the name of the game. Visionary, Alvin Toffler used to claim: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.

What does this mean for leadership? Nothing less than a profound change of beliefs.

  • Leaders must have the capacity to engage the intelligence, curiosity and passion of their whole organization, instead of demanding obedience and perfect execution
  • Leaders must co-create clarity, ownership and meaning around the strategic intent rather than “powerpoint” their audiences to death, going for one way delivery
  • Leaders must adopt an “organic” style (as opposed to the old “organizational” one): Shared sense of Purpose, freely flowing information and Relationship (as advocated by M. Wheatley).
  • Leaders must be prepared to challenge their old strategic model (I own the content, this is my IP, I control its distribution) and understand how the “Open Source/Content for Free tsunami” will impact it. Values in society change at fast pace from “Egosystem to Ecosystem” as Gerd Leonhard claims
  • Leaders must be able to create a wide and permanent engagement process in order to allow their large organizations to react faster to the many changes in the new “maze environment”

The Fundação Dom Cabral (Brazil’s and one of the world’s leading “Do Tank” has just invited fifteen of the country most famous and respected CEO’s to reflect on the future of leadership and these are the challenges they came up with, which we will gladly deepen in our next posts.

If you have any advice, reference, suggestions or speakers whom you believe could help our “Collective Learning Process”, we gratefully accept them. Have a good week all! On to Torino for a week of hard work…



    Politically incorrect, I would argue that still many leaders act without realizing this major change and the recent crisis just highlighted it to the full.
    But I guess they (we?) will soon embrace it or disappear.

    Eric Noyrez, President

  2. Marvin

    The challenge for many leaders, I believe, is the HOW? There are not too many role models to learn from, and most leaders got where there are today by displaying red-blooded “Alpha male” type behaviours. While they may accept the intellectual case, in practice they are usually surrounded by other A types and under pressure for quick, decisive action. This makes experimenting with uncomfortable new behaviours hard at best: much easier to continue being directive.
    One of the best documented examples I know of someone who really did achieve organisational transformation through engagement is Tex Gunning at Unilever, recounted by Philip Mirvis in “To the desert and back”. Great book, very inspirational.

  3. didier

    Thank you Eric,
    Yes, this is a major “paradigm shift”, as the drawing suggests and somewhat counterintuitive. Gerd Leonhard, the famous “Media Futurist” says that the competitive landscape will be: “Open, Mobile, Connected, Colaborative and Interdependent”… Quite a major change from yesterday’s assumptions… Thank you for your comment, much appreciated!!! Didier
    Thank you Marvin,
    “We are more likely to ACT our way into a new way of thinking than THINK our way onto a new way of acting” used to say Richard Pascale in his “Leading on the edge of chaos”… From our experience, real changes do come from the significant leaders to publicly display visible behavioural changes in order to “prove” that they are dead serious about their new strategic intent.
    Thank you for the hint on Mirvis book. Didier

  4. Ivo Knottnerus

    I fully agree with your writing Didier, the question only is… when will this happen? In my experience, most companies in the old economy are ran by number crunchers, Excel PhD’s and PowerPoint Kings, and they cannot even deliver a good presentation on top of it! People are still too much looking for security and are afraid to let go… or trust, or be more creative. This is something they have read about somewhere, but will or cannot practice. Perhaps too afraid, what their colleague managers will say? Or they are feeling such a fear when they are not in control, that they can simply not handle such situations, they go crazy 🙂 Because of this we see so little innovation these days… people have no clue how to innovate. I am curious how it will develop, I don’t see it changing very quickly… although we have seen many examples, especially in the FS industry, that we were climbing the wrong side of the mountain. And why do I feel they haven’t learned?

    Have a good week in Turino,


  5. didier

    Well, as I am sure you are aware, Ivo, even business schools are totally behind on this. I was watching today Harvard Business School adds for new faculty and they are still with the old paradigm: PhD (anyone who can show me a research demonstrating the correlation between capacity to develop leaders and holding a PhD is welcome!) and case study method…
    Liberating leadership doesnt seem to be part of that thinking. But I do see reasons to hope in the many new leaders I have the chance to work with who have a High Challenge/High Support attitude and lead solidly on the three agendas… Thanks for your comment, Didier

  6. Niall McDonagh

    Great post, Dids! And I think you are doing an fantastic job with the blog – congratulations on keeping it fresh and updated!!!
    I recently read a McKinsey article that you may find interesting and complementary (“Leadership Lessons for Hard Times”). It is based on interviews a few months ago with 14 CEOs. It is inevitably more focused on the intellectual agenda (as always with McKinsey!), but a couple resonate:
    – Build & Protect the Culture (“The only way to address uncertainty is to communicate and communicate. And when you think you’ve just about got to everybody, then communicate some more”—Terry Lundgren, chairman, president, and CEO of Macy’s
    – Be Transparent with Employees (“Stay focused on culture, people, and values: it’s the area most likely to get compromised in this environment”—Eric Foss, chairman and CEO of Pepsi Bottling Group
    If nothing else, it’s another perspective on what some CEO’s are currently focusing on..
    Hope you enjoyed the pasta and pizza!


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