The Future of Leadership: Disruption Dismantles the Oz Model of Leadership

Disruption is fundamentally changing what defines a great leader in today’s world. Dorothy, we are not in Kansas any more! In this disruptive world, the heroic, all- knowing leader is a relic of the past. Today’s leaders are responsible for re-inventing their business with a sense of purpose and the ability to create meaning for employees. These leaders have to have the agility, authenticity, and sense of self to do this knowing that control is a mirage.

If disruption weren’t enough, the very base upon which leadership is built—trust and authority—are being revolutionized in this VUCA world. Change, ambiguity, and uncertainty require stronger and stronger emotional bonds between leaders and employees than ever before, especially when leaders have to lead at scale and out of sight. It asks for leaders who are congruent in message and behavior; leaders who are role models of strength and humility.

Today’s strong leaders are described as collaborative, inclusive, engaging, and inspiring. Work groups are required to be team focused, democratic, matrixed, and participative. Everyone expects to have a voice.

Until now, the hard, cold masculine emphasis on logic, numbers strategy, and finance was pitted against the soft, intimate, feminine qualities of relationships and behavior. In today’s highly disruptive, competitive environments, decisions about the business are inseparable from concerns about how the culture, behaviors of leaders, and quality of the dialogue they create can enable the strategy given the context of their challenges.

Leadership used to be about maintaining order and replicating processes. Leadership of today is about navigating ambiguity. Leaders of today need to be catalysts and empowering and inspiring authentic storytellers of purpose and direction. No longer can leaders expect employees to perform solely in exchange for financial and job security. In today’s volatile economy, leaders are expected to provide individualized development and, most importantly, meaning for their direct reports in exchange for job performance. In order to do this, they need to have discovered their own sense of meaning and purpose.

By purpose, I mean the strongly felt sense of responsibility that a leader has for taking action even in the face of risk, conflict, and uncertainty. Purpose is the grounding that enables leaders to be agile amidst disruption, to earn the trust of others, and to lead without ascribed power and authority. It goes beyond talent, skills, or even knowledge. Unlike personality or behavioral approaches to leadership, purpose defies quantification, categorization, or assessment. Purpose can’t be taught, but it can be discovered.

When disruption hits an organization, the last place most companies think to look is at their purpose. Most try to come up with a new strategy to win, using their old Oz-style of leadership, in a game where they have already lost. If you look at the companies that have performed over time and outperformed all others, you’ll see a common thread around their purpose. Member of Axialent’s Advisory Board Raj Sisodia in his book Firms of Endearment articulates it best when he says “Providing shareholders a good return on their investment remains an important objective, but the idea is spreading that investment returns can be greater when wealth creation for shareholders is not the sole or even main purpose for which a company exists.” And indeed, the companies he researched — the Firms of Endearment — are characterized by leaders who pursue a purpose beyond returns and have proven to outperform the S&P 500 by significant margins, returning 1,026 percent for investors over the ten years ending in June 2006 compared to the 122 percent for the S&P 500.

The Oz model of leadership has been dismantled by disruption and we have entered an era of purpose-driven leaders at their best in the face of ambiguity.

Here are some ideas on how to start a conversation in your organization:

 Where are we fully aligned with our values; where are we not?
 What part of our rhythm of business challenges our most aspirational of values?
 Where in our system are we missing the opportunity to reward feminine leadership, regardless of gender?
 Where are we at risk of rewarding/celebrating only masculine traits? What is the cost?
What is the purpose of our business outside of financial performance?



We live in a world of savvy, digitally native creators where little happens, even if you are an individual contributor, without the interdependency of others and the influence of outside data. Cognitive knowledge is one Bing, Google, MOOC or TedTalk away.

Gone are the days of simply rolling out “training.” We are in a world of constant change, and digital disruption is now both a tool and a distraction.

Learning and development professionals have to navigate these new realities in order to create opportunities like flipped classrooms, virtual conferences, leverage what we know about neuroscience and the power of social learning. This navigation is often further complicated by corporate restructuring that leaves us focused on helping “survivors” be our outstanding talent of the future in an environment of uncertainty and change.

We are doubling down on doing more with less in a climate where leaders who demonstrate CURIOSITY, CREATIVITY, AGILITY, and AUTHENTIC COLLABORATION hallmark true sustainable success.

The Sharing Economy is a disruption and an opportunity. With mutual need, trust, and collaboration at its heart, the sharing economy is here to stay and changing the way we do business and see the world.

The mindset of “sharing,” value-creation, opt-in, open-source, and easy access are growing expectations of our employees and customers alike. This means that we as L&D professionals need to create and curate programs that are relevant, valuable, easy to use, accessible, and very focused on leveraging the knowledge that already lives in the system. Our focus is quickly shifting to being curators and enablers of learning in action and through collaboration. This has major implications on what programs we sponsor and how we sponsor them. Gone are the days of the sage on the stage; we are now guides on the side, connecting our employees to learn from one another and leveraging the Internet umbrella of knowledge available just a few clicks away. Building technical expertise will still be important, but what will be critical is building stellar learners and sharers within our organizations. Most of the work done in today’s corporate environment requires collaboration in and across high-performance and, better yet, purpose-driven teams.

The challenge is that these teams are not only global, but that they operate virtually in a complex matrix where it is necessary for them to source their measures of success intrinsically rather than from the certainty of executing on their task as these tasks can get reprioritized in a single email exchange.

Leaders and team members alike need to possess strong interpersonal skills that translate in a virtual environment. These skills are needed to create an inclusive environment with the understanding that cultural differences matter and mutual value creation is what drives healthy interdependence.

One of the most difficult tasks for leaders of global teams in this new world is to have the humility to recognize that their styles of decision making may be deeply rooted in old ways of working before the rise of mutuality and sharing. Research shows that, in a geographically distributed team, trust is measured almost exclusively in terms of reliability so leaders of virtual teams need to concentrate on creating clear expectations for all members of the team while checking in mutual value creation within and across to other teams.

The implications for learning mean that the human elements of building trust through impeccable coordination, humility, and reliability require very different skills and mindsets for leaders. We are charged with growing leaders who have human-centered mindsets and skill sets that enable learning in action, sharing of ideas, and the agility to pivot in the moment while maintaining strong and often virtual relationships.

We are charged with tapping into the knowledge within and outside our systems. We need to curate experiences that grow adaptive systems thinking, polarity management, design-thinking, and the inclusive leadership needed to drive innovation (creativity), as well as the ability to leverage diversity, build partnerships, foster a learning attitude, and inspire vision. Devices will never replace or even compete with the learning benefits of human interaction. However, the Internet is an organizer, amplifier, and information accelerant that feeds our desire to learn with powerful tools that allow us to create our own paths of inquiry and share what we learn. Search is magic and that information has never been more engaging, accessible, and customizable. But “learning” and “development” are two different things. Current curriculum, even when delivered with the tools and media of the information age, do not fully engage leaders nor prepare them with the skills they need to prosper in the 21st century.

Global Learning and Development is no longer about rolling out training. It is about transforming the mindsets of leaders, including how they define their individual identity, and shifting success from knowing to success from learning and sharing.

We need to be thought leaders in developing expert disrupters and creating transformative environments where learning and development are as easy, seamless, respectful, and collaborative as Uber is to transportation and Airbnb is to hospitality. Virtual classrooms will only work with a strong focus on human connection and opportunities for learning in collaborative action where we are leaning on our peers and making learning and development a sign of success rather than an opportunity to prove what we know.

Search for the pain points in your organization, identify allies within the system to influence learning solutions, and make it real, relevant, valuable, and collaborative with a strong focus on humanness while leveraging the knowledge that exists within the system. As leaders who walk their talk, we need to go about this in a way that demonstrates the very mindsets and skills that we are aspiring to grow within our systems.

Make 2016 the year your customers and employees fall back in love with you

At a recent Conscious Capitalism event, Corey Blake presented a workshop on vulnerability534244_80426672 and he used a great metaphor to open the session. He asked the participants to list all of the qualities they desired in a life partner. With very little prodding, the flip chart filled with words like:  integrity, transparency, trust, authenticity, assuming positive intent, time/attention, passion, intimacy and care.  Then there was a bit of a twist. Corey asked, “Aren’t these also the qualities that we expect from the brands we love and the organizations we spend significant parts of our lives in?” It definitely makes you think about the emotional bond that is the glue to the loyalty and commitment to the brands you love and the organizations we donate significant parts of our lives to. Conscious organizations make it easy for customers and employees to love them and are crystal clear about what would threaten this love.

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Inclusive Leadership Drives Agile & Innovative Culture

iStock_000009274651SmallWith the exponential rate of change in the world, talent wars, a competitive focus on penetrating new and emerging markets faster and more effectively, merger and acquisition growth strategies and the cultural complexities that arise accordingly, organizations are requiring a very different set of leadership competencies.

While logic, mechanical thinking and technological advances drove the past economic eras, we have now transitioned into a new economic and social era driven by more human dimensions as the world becomes more flat and our workforces much more global and diverse.  The business case for diversity is well established; however the art of the inclusive leadership necessary to leverage this diversity is still emerging.

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What a Culture Consultant Really Does…

Case 10

“…if we expended all our energies solely on taking care of our own needs we would stop growing. In that respect what we call “soul” can be viewed as the surplus energy that can be invested into change and transformation. As such, it is the cutting edge of evolution.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business.

I will share a secret with you, at  the beginning of my executive coaching and culture consulting career, I was  pretty sure I was not cut out for my work. Don’t get me wrong, once actually doing the work, I thrived and felt humbled and grateful to be working with such large and influential organizations and the amazing people within them. The reward of people connecting themselves to their values in service of the business strategy is a magical process to witness.

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A Call for the Return of the Intuitive Mind

leftrightbrain2.jpgA topic we frequently focus on at Axialent is the balance of soft and hard skills, the dance between business strategy and people strategy and meeting leaders who have a left brain focus with a very right brain approach to transformational programs. The nomenclature of people being “left brain” or “right brain” first came to be in the 1960′s when severe epilepsy was treated by surgically separating left and right brains. For the first time, neuro-scientists were able to study separated brains where the left and right sides worked without communicating with each other. They discovered the left brain largely controlled analytical functions like reason and language, while more abstract and broad thinking occurred mostly in the right brain.

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Bring Your Full Self to Work

Woman with Arms in the AirMuch of the work we do at Axialent is organizational culture change. It is complex work to align the people strategy to the business strategy. An equally important aspiration for us is having people express their true selves at work. I often say to a room full of leaders as we start a program “Your life clock does not go on pause when you go to work”. I say this because I believe that there is no distinction between life and work, your work days are clearly days of your precious life. A part of expressing oneself includes fun and creativity. You might remember that back when you were a child, there were games that you loved to play. Perhaps time passed easily and you were focused and committed to simply playing. I would say in those moments: You were having FUN! Often something happens when we become adults. For some reason, we stop playing and we assume games are for kids and work is a very serious business, pun intended. We also get messages that direct us to “be a certain way” and gradually start bringing less and less of ourselves fully to our work. I have often seen leaders who are humorous, warm and compelling ON BREAKS and quite dry and serious during the program or when they are presenting in front of the group. Now, don’t think I’m saying that we should eat candy all day and be silly or hyper at the office, but we can attain a certain lightness of spirit that comes when you decide to have a mindset of make things fun and commit to being fully yourself ON and OFF stage. Another thing that comes much easier to us as children is being creative. Stepping outside of comfort zones and trying something new just comes naturally to children. When we get older, we become more set in our ways and habitual. Really reflecting on how you are doing what you are doing takes intention and practice. This awareness gives you an opportunity to be more creative in your approach. Imagine what would be possible for you if you were to develop a mindset that gives you openness to taking risks and a talent for creativity simply by being more fully yourself?

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Conscious Business in Action – Impeccable Escalation: How to Incentivize Collaboration

CollaborationCollaboration is not only a good idea for organizations but often a necessary component for transformational change and high performing teams. The idea of collaborating sounds good but in the rhythm of the business, strict deadlines, different and sometimes competing agendas, reduced headcount and the directive of doing more with less, collaboration is not always an easy thing to create.

Collaboration on Three Levels for Sustainable Performance

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Helen Keller

When we work with organizations some of the critical components of a working agreement are often missing and a great area of opportunity to strengthen a team. It makes sense that an organization’s focus is on what we call the “It” dimension, the business success, bottom-line growth and profitability. What is sometimes missing is the strategy around the “I”, what is important to me as a leader and the “We” dimension which is all about mutual trust, respect and solidarity.

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Inclusive Leadership: A Modern Competitive Advantage

Inclusive Leadership

As we continue to adapt to challenging and uncertain economic times and look toward the future of how we can sustainably compete in an ever-changing marketplace, we often focus on business strategy, lean reduction, systems, processes and key differentiating factors which define our competitive edge. All relevant and powerful places to look. However, when it comes to attracting and retaining your best talent, harvesting the innovative ideas that live and breathe inside your organizations corridors and eliciting true commitment from employees, inclusive leadership skills are required.

We often see Diversity and Inclusion in the same area so let’s be clear that our stand is that we are ALL diverse. Diversity is about the differences and similarities of everyone – it is NOT limited to a specific group of people. We all have inherent diversity; factors with us from birth that shape how we see the world and how we are seen, like race, gender, ethnicity, etc. Their influence can impact our behaviors, expectations and mindsets. And acquired diversity, aspects of us and our identity that are shaped by elements that change over the course of our lives: where we live and experiences we have. These are less visible but still important in forming how we view the world.

Inclusive leadership is the ability to effectively leverage diversity and most importantly the diversity of thought that comes with it.

Inclusion has become an integral part of the survival conversation, begging the question “How can we enable employees to maximize their creativity to drive organizational innovation and long-term success?” Inclusive leadership creates the environment that does just that. A leader who leverages diversity of thinking can be the disruptive force that breaks-through common limiting factors in even the strongest of organizations. These limitations are often driven by culture, the behaviors, systems and symbols that point to “the way we do things around here”. It is our strong need to belong that has shaped us to quickly and often unconsciously assess what it takes to “be one of us” and what it would take to be “rejected”.

Our goal, and often that of the organization is for someone to assimilate quickly and “get with the program”. This is in direct conflict with efforts an organization might initiate to diversify talent, ideas and ways of viewing things in service of creativity and innovation. If an organization is truly committed to effectively competing in today’s ever-changing marketplace with increasingly global and virtual work teams, it needs to foster a culture that values the unique experiences and perspectives of each individual and fully engages everyone in the drive to success. Inclusion means that employees experience a sense of belonging.

Inclusive leaders strive to create an environment where employees feel they are part of one organization, across the globe. They value every individual’s contributions, no matter their title, in order to better adapt to new competitive opportunities and challenges. Building a culture that thrives on inclusive leadership starts with building the self-awareness of the leaders. Developing their ability to be introspective, being honest and aware of their own blind spots and deepening their ability and commitment to be authentically curious, listen and learn from their employees.

Gone are the days of the lone leader with all of the answers. Today’s leaders are leading with questions, changing the conversation, inviting challenge and demonstrating the powerful humility and self-awareness required to truly be inclusive. This in turns creates a culture where we interact with one another human to human, rather than title to title and invite everyone to be a part of the success of the organization rather than just “doing what they are told.” Command and control will stifle the creativity and commitment of even the most dedicated among us. Today’s modern competitive advantage is inclusive leadership. Bill Gates recently said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”


About the author

Pamela is Axialent’s North America Managing Partner. With more than 15 years of experience in international relationship management, consulting and entrepreneurship, she is a leadership consultant and coach, course designer, and conference speaker. Read more>



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