Globalisation, climate change, demographic change, digitisation, and individualisation are changing the world of work worldwide.

When one of us first joined the work force in the UK – just over two decades ago – my manager was a ‘fist banging’ boss. You know the type: a strong alpha male who thought that his job was to dominate the pack with his coercive, tough minded and egocentric personality. We called him ‘Boss Man’ which he seemed to quite like. I distinctly remember the day that ‘Big Boss Man’ (Boss man’s boss!) came to visit from the States. ‘Big Boss Man’ made no attempt to adjust his rather loud and brash style to suit the somewhat subdued, polite English culture of the workplace he was visiting. That was then and not that long ago, but how times have changed.

So what has changed?

  • Globalisation has expanded the world of work. The West went East seeking labour cost advantages but now China has become the new superpower. Suddenly managers who once only spoke English, now have to operate internationally and have had to develop some intercultural competence. I still wonder how ‘Big Boss Man’ would have survived had he ever had to do business with China.
  • The global middle class is growing rapidly especially in Asia and with growing prosperity comes more diverse lifestyles. We are seeing today a generation of young professionals demanding employers to change, wanting to see meaning in their work, and demanding that their employers respect their need to focus on their family and their leisure time. Sabbaticals and part-time work are more in demand and it is becoming the norm to make at least one major job change throughout one’s career.
  • Digitisation means that a virtual, mobile, and networked workforce is becoming the norm. The boundaries between private life and professional life are increasingly blurring.
  • In addition, there are the demographic shifts: employees are older and scarcer; migration intensifies, the requirements of work are changing – and the competition for the best talent will take place on an international scale.

Leaders need to rethink the future.

All of these mega trends1 confront global managers with new challenges and demand of them new skills and new ways of working.

The egocentric  leadership of the ‘Boss Man’ types will become more and more irrelevant in an era marked by growing individualism and a power shift away from leaders to employees. Leaders now have less control – the number of stakeholders a leader must consider with every decision they make has increased dramatically. If people have the power they are less inclined to tolerate coercive leaders and alpha male leadership that doesn’t fit with the new working practices. How do you command and control highly mobile teams that work remotely and operate virtually?

And the mega trends will create a landscape that is too complex, ambiguous and changeable for one ‘super hero’ to deal with.

So life transformed by these mega trends demands a different type of leader. Let’s be clear though: we are not saying that future leaders need to be shrinking violets, who avoid risk and confrontation, nor that they need to be ego less.

What we are saying is that leadership in the world transformed by mega trends will call for individuals who choose NOT to see themselves as heroes and who DO NOT put their egos first. It calls for leaders whose primary focus is a concern for others rather than themselves – we call them altrocentric leaders – (altro meaning ‘others’ in Latin).

Altrocentric leaders know that they themselves are strong only if they make others strong. It is these leaders that will build strong teams at the top who together can solve the complex issues facing their business. It is these leaders that will enable their employees to link individual backgrounds and lifestyles with corporate interests and thereby inspire them to do their best. A feat that ‘Big Boss Man’ type leaders will no longer be able to accomplish.

“life transformed by these mega trends demands a different type of leader”

Moving from egocentric leadership to altrocentric leadership

So what can you do to become an altrocentric leader?:

  1. Ask some of the people you work closely with one simple question: ‘What’s the one thing you would like me to do differently?
  2. Leave people feeling stronger and more capable as a result of every interaction they have with you.
  3. Let capability development be the yardstick by which you measure your own performance as a leader and that of other leaders in your organisation.
  4. Challenge what you value and how you see yourself – your self image. Start to see yourself as ‘someone who brings out the best in others’ rather than the expert, the high achiever, the doer or the fixer.
  5. Ask more questions rather than simply providing the answers, to allow others the space to think and solve issues for themselves.
  6. Create more meaning for people by helping them to link what they do every day to a higher purpose.

1Featured in the book “Leadership 2030: The six megatrends you need to understand to lead your company into the future” by Georg Vielmetter and Yvonne Sell.

Leadership 2030 book excerpt


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About Contributor

Wendy is a Director at Korn Ferry Hay Group. She focuses on Executive Team Development, Leadership Development, Diversity and Emotional Intelligence. Wendy is passionate about helping senior executives become more effective leaders. She understands the impact great leadership has on people performance, and has extensive experience in aligning people and organisational design with business strategies.

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