Not enough good leaders – How to develop them? by Dr. Annika Steiber

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Raymond Hofmann Management & Organisation Designer

Santiago Iniguez, President IE University
Julia Middleton, Founder & Innovation Officer, Common Purpose
Vikram Mansharamani, Lecturer, Harvard University
Maelle Gavet, Tech executive, Author
Claudia Crummenerl, Managing Director, Capgemini Invent

We are in a Paradigm shift: From a stereotyped Leadership designed by white men, to skillful Coaching of diverse high performing teams

The quality of leadership is important for a well-working society. Still, good leaders seem to be rare according to Raymond Hofmann. A poll of the participants seemed to bear out his assumption, as 93% voted that there is a leadership problem in the world.

Problems of leadership

This was underlined by both Julia Middleton and by Santiago Iniguez. The problems, according to Julia, is that leaders are not punished for lying so people learn to become like them, producing institutionalized bad leadership. Further, the language about leadership was written by men, and therefore many women either don’t think they are leaders, or it takes them a long time to try to adapt to this male form of leadership. This means inefficiency, or even waste in the society

Drucker Forum 2020

For Santiago the problem is in the concept of leadership itself. Leadership has been attributed to characteristics such as aggressiveness, arrogance, and a lack of respect for common rules. To emphasize this, he referred to Greek philosophers and Fredrich Nietzsche and his concept of ‘uber mensch’, that is supreme achievement, being a goal that humanity should set for itself. Instead, the definition of leadership needs to be updated and include bolt ons such as, diversity.

Vikram Mansharamani agreed with this quite dark picture of the current definition of leadership, but also added that from his more systemic perspective, the problem was also that leaders are educated in silos and are also fostered to work in them. He illustrated this by describing a typical executive board, in which all highly competent leaders turn to the CIO when an issue of IT investments came up. Instead, leaders should be educated in integrative thinking when problem solving. The aim is to extract value from one another, without giving up autonomy. Reflecting back on my own research on innovative companies’ leadership, this executive integrative thinking makes sense and was applied in the different companies by focusing on the market and user’s needs, rather than focusing on internal matters.

More positive leadership shifts

Maelle Gavet didn’t agree with the negative picture of today’s leaders. According to her research, leaders are pushed towards, or even pushing the ideas of authentic leadership and open communication. A new poll among participants indicated that both parties were right.

Therefore, there might co-exist at least two different concepts of leadership, one where leaders should be aggressive and authoritarian, and one in which leaders are great coaches, authentic and transparent. Maelle suggested that it could be a generation or industry factor behind this conflict. My own research on Silicon Valley tech firms, as well as on Haier in China support Maelle’s findings, and this is why I believe that we need to accept the fact that there is a new leadership model that co-exists in parallel with the ‘old’ stereotyped leadership model, and that this new leadership model is currently disseminating fast around the world for the simple reason that our new reality requires a new leadership model, which unleash talents and entrepreneurship within organizations. With data indicating that less than 30% of employees are engaged at work and that job satisfaction is steadily declining, a ‘new’ leadership model might be of huge interest to many corporate leaders, as well as for policy makers. So, if we play with the thought that there is a ‘new’ leadership model in the world, how would this ‘new’, hopefully better leadership be characterized?

What are the characteristics of good leadership?

Jeffrey Pfeffer stated in 1977 that one of the problems with leadership is the ambiguity of its definition. With this in mind the panelists tried to answer this complex question.

Claudia Crummenerl suggested that good leaders connect the best people. This fits well with my own studies of Google, where leaders are evaluated on how well they find and connect great people and then on how well they coach this team to become  high performing. Further, in the case of Haier, everyone is viewed as a potential new leader, which is why they allow anyone with a good idea that has a minimum of three followers to start a micro enterprise to fulfil their vision.

Claudia also emphasized the importance of leaders being agile and adaptable. This again, was underlined by my studies of Silicon Valley companies and Haier where adaptability of not only leaders, but of the structure and even business model was viewed as key for survival in 21st century.

Maelle agreed, but also emphasized the importance of empathy, something that she found in her own study. Santiago agreed, and thought that on way of showing care about others was through greater diversity among leaders. Another is to train leaders in empathy, which all panelists agreed was very hard. Maelle, however, thought that data supporting a correlation between empathic leadership and team performance, together with storytelling could affect the organization’s culture and thereby foster a new behavior among leaders. This is possible and one example is how Google decided to start an annual management award in order to make ‘management’ more interesting for experts (that didn’t want to become managers), and to create storytelling around successful leaders with certain key characteristics and in this way create a culture on how leadership at Google should be. To enable leaders to become specifically more empathic, Claudia had an interesting thought that, as technology will be able to handle more and more managerial tasks, this could free up managers’ time so they could spend more of their time on the ‘people dimension’ of their job.

To wrap up this discussion, the panelists thought that the concept of leadership needs to change and that this change of leadership has to start as early as in elementary school. Students that shout loudest should not be rewarded, and instead teachers should reward more up to date styles of leadership and engagement. Teachers should therefore be an interesting target group for education and training in this ‘new’ leadership.


There is a division in views in regard to a 21st century leadership, which requires further research and focus on next year’s Drucker Global Forum. Leadership traits such as creator of high performing teams, adaptability, as well as a higher empathy seem to be needed in the future. This fits very well with my own research findings based on data from Silicon Valley tech companies as well as from Haier in China. Finally, if we want a change in leadership, it has to start by being part of our educational system.

About the Author:
Dr. Annika Steiber runs the Rendanheyi Silicon Valley Center at Menlo College, California

This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to the fully digital 12th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “Leadership Everywhere” on October 28, 29 & 30, 2020.

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