What Matters More Today than Yesterday in Leadership: A call for egoless leaders
LeadershipCulture RiskBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman ResourcesExecutive Search
Article Icon Report
Alain Ishak
February 12, 2019
3 min read
LeadershipCulture RiskBoard and CEO AdvisoryHuman ResourcesExecutive Search


Leadership styles matter

A major North American transportation company is losing market share as overall industry revenues rise. The autocratic personality and top-down, hands-on leadership style of its CEO is one of the problems, compounded by those on the management team, who don’t engage the workforce. Management is slow to implement recommendations from the field that could streamline and optimize operations, which creates frustration amongst employees.

In East Asia, a telecommunications company is concerned that it is losing its competitive edge. Its business model has been disrupted by the impact of new technologies and other innovations. The CEO has typically employed a unidimensional leadership style, focussing on some key strengths that have worked for her in the past. However, the shifting interests and relationship-oriented values of its younger workforce has put pressure on management to evolve. The board questions whether she has the flexibility to do so.

These two examples – of autocratic and situational leadership – are indicative of why organizations are rethinking what makes a leader successful. Boards are concerned that top executives lack the mix of qualities needed to inspire an organization with a clear vision for the future, spearhead day-to-day operations, implement organizational change, and motivate a workforce to transition to the new digital economy.

From this introspection, a different management style is emerging and being adopted by successful organizations. We call it egoless leadership. It is based on broad concepts of confidence, trust, and engagement. Its focus is on future capabilities, where management potential, not achievement, is the new performance metric.

In the egoless leadership model, leaders and their personality characteristics are major drivers of organizational culture. A leader’s personality has a direct impact not only on his/her own performance, but also broader engagement and team performance. Egoless leaders put the needs of the organization ahead of their own, and act in a way that will serve the business first and foremost rather than themselves.

This model also recognizes that successful leaders often exhibit contradictory traits. The paradoxical combination of these traits is not an obstacle to success per se, but leaders must learn to manage them – to find a balance between the innate tensions that inevitably arise between them.

Russell Reynolds Associates’ Leadership Span model addresses this specific challenge, as it highlights four major dualities that characterize a successful transition into senior leadership roles. Research indicates that successful leaders are able to “span” or demonstrate these contradictory traits in different situations over time. The range of traits captured in the Leadership Span model is the new measure for assessing leadership potential and predicting leadership effectiveness. Potential is a matter of degree, and balance is key.