According to an extensive new Korn Ferry analysis of 150,000 profiles of leaders and managers worldwide, most leaders today can’t harness the collective energy and knowledge required to lead the organization of the future.

Perhaps the most sought after skill in business today is the ability to see the future. With the business world continuing to change at eye-watering speed, it’s the leaders who can see what’s coming next who create the most value.

Of course, crystal balls don’t actually exist, but a new Korn Ferry study shows that the best leaders have a strong portfolio of future-oriented and change-ready skills that enable them to keep responding to fluctuating market demands with dynamism and insight. They can’t actually see the future, but their ability to create and act on opportunities makes it seem as though they can.

We call this new breed of leaders, self-disruptive leaders. Only 15% of leaders fit the profile and the market wants more. Click To Tweet

Our study looked not only at what makes a self-disruptive leader, but also how many leaders are currently working at this level. Our analysis of 150,000 leadership profiles from the Korn Ferry proprietary database revealed there’s a lot of work to be done - only 15% of business leaders globally have achieved the status of self-disruptive leader and are equipped to steer tomorrow’s companies.

There’s good and bad news in this analysis. The good news is, while the figure may be low, there are already leaders out there who are future-fit, providing the blueprint for other leaders to follow. The bad news? We know the talent crunch is coming very soon with skilled labour shortages potentially reaching 85.2 million workers by 2030. As the effects of the crunch start coming as early as 2020, organisations urgently need to begin cultivating the right leadership pipeline within because the external labour market battle will be fierce.

Investors too see the intense need for future-ready leaders. The study queried 795 investors with two-thirds (66 percent) saying they value future vision and orientation over past performance. Sixty-nine percent say the need for transformation is going to make leadership more important to company performance within the next three years. Companies with leaders who aren’t future-ready therefore face a double bind: not only are they less able to adapt to the changing business environment, they may face a penalty from those who evaluate their businesses.

What makes a self-disruptive leader? The capacity to ADAPT

Our research has built a new model of leadership, identifying five dimensions that high-performing self-disruptive leaders have in common. This model of high-performing leader incorporates and builds on existing concepts of agile, digital, and inclusive leadership. Self-disruptive leaders are distinguished by their capacity to deploy their leadership skills to create opportunities and capitalise on the flow of knowledge.

They capture competitive advantage through connecting resources and people adeptly to build an innovation ecosystem. This enables them to bring robust ideas to market quickly and, crucially, to adapt to change by disrupting themselves again and again.

This strong portfolio of future-oriented skills is captured in the Korn Ferry ADAPT model, encompassing the abilities to anticipate, drive, accelerate, partner and trust.


  • Anticipate: Demonstrate contextual intelligence to make quick judgments and create opportunities; focus on the societal needs that the organisation wants to serve; provide a direction to unify collective efforts even among disoriented environments.
  • Drive: Energise people by fostering a sense of purpose; manage the mental and physical energy of themselves and others; nurture a positive environment to keep people hopeful, optimistic, and intrinsically motivated.
  • Accelerate: Manage the flow of knowledge to produce constant innovation and desired business outcomes; use agile processes, quick prototyping and iterative approaches to rapidly implement and commercialise ideas.
  • Partner: Connect and form partnerships across increasingly permeable functional and organisational boundaries; enable the exchange of ideas; combine complementary capabilities to enable high performance.
  • Trust: Form a new relationship between the organisation and the individual that centres on mutual growth; integrate diverse perspectives and values; help individuals to uncover their sense of purpose and facilitate them in providing their maximum contribution.

What makes self-disruptive leaders different?

There are many leadership studies hoping to unlock the secrets of what constitutes effective leadership. But the self-disruptive leader model is different. It’s not only linked directly to individual and company performance, it’s also future-focused in a way many leadership models aren’t.

What’s more, it’s not about replicating the characteristics and capabilities that have succeeded in the past. Instead, ADAPT is rooted in the new disruptive landscape and has been stress-tested by the market. The feedback from the study is resounding: the market wants future vision, past performance is old news.

To learn more about the self-disruptive leader and the implications for your organisation, read our new report, The Self-Disruptive Leader.

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About the contributor

Michael Distefano, based in Shanghai, is Korn Ferry's President, Asia Pacific and also a member of Korn Ferry’s Global Operating Committee. He is passionate about the importance of people in boosting organisational performance and is the driving force behind many of the firm's research projects.

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