Tomorrow's Leaders Will Be Flexible, Selfless, And Ready To Collaborate

Those are the findings of an exhaustive study that asked 64,000 people in 13 countries to identify qualities they want in those at the top. Here, one of the report's co-authors examines what that means for the future of leadership.

Conventional wisdom holds that winning, whether in business or life, is a zero-sum game: One wins and the other loses. Yet when surveyed about the ideal modern leader, 64,000 people in 13 countries—from China to Canada—wished their leaders were slightly less polarizing and more collaborative.

In dividing our sample, my co-author and I asked citizens to identify 125 different human traits as either "masculine," "feminine," or neither. The other half was asked to define which traits were most important to leadership and success today. By modeling the data, characteristics like "resilience" and "decisiveness" were seen as more male-skewing and essential to leading. But even more correlated to the ideal modern leader were the skills of "collaboration," "flexibility," "sharing credit," and "selflessness," which were viewed as more feminine. Interestingly, the male attributes of "ego" and "pride" where the least correlated to leadership.

This desire for a more inclusive and flexible leader is a reflection of an increasingly social and transparent economy. When asked of today's challenges, 70% of people feel the world is becoming less fair, while 85% feel there is too much power in institutions. On a personal level, people feel greater skills in engaging others are necessary for career management. 84% say that "today a successful career requires greater collaboration and sharing credit with others." And 77% believe "it’s more important to be practical than stick to one’s ideologies."

But business isn’t kindergarten, as any CEO knows. This is why a new breed of innovative leader is profiting by envisioning business models with "multiple positive outcomes" for as many players as possible.

In the U.K., Social Finance taps private wealth to address societal issues. Over tea, Emily Bolton described for us how social impact bonds were issued to lower the rate of re-offending prisoners by 7.5% in order for investors to profit. Bondholders responded as "activists" with enlightened self-interest and offered job training and counseling that helped inmates reintegrate into society, which also lowered future government costs.

In Berlin, startup founder Tim Kunde emphasizes relationships, social virtue, and accountability to build a profitable insurance company called Friendsurance, which is based on buyers' groups that use friendship and peer pressure to reduce fraud. The product of a classical business school education, Kunde’s breakthrough idea involved harnessing the power of friendship to save people money and make their lives less susceptible to losses. "People pay the same insurance premiums at the start of the year and then we give them a payback at the end of the year," he explained. The refunds, which can total as much as 50%, are based on the number of claims against the insurance made by your network of friends.

And this is where capitalism and community intersect. We asked people around the world: "Would you rather have 100 new friends in your social network, or $100?" Despite bleak economic conditions in many of the countries we polled, the majority of people—54%—chose friendship. Intuitively leaders understand a zeitgeist is changing in the rules of business. 81% of people in our surveys said that "power today is about influence rather than control." In the sharing economy, the chances of winning are increased if you help others along the way.

John Gerzema is the best-selling co-author of the New York Times bestseller, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule The Future (Jossey-Bass, April 2013) Find him on Twitter at @johngerzema.

[Image: Flickr user Phil Richards]

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  • Jose

    Awesome insights .. but unfortunately, we see individuals who are highly insecure, biased and focused on building their individual kingdom, get into leadership positions across global organizations. These individual get into these positions for just couple of years, put some fast runs on the board, earn quick dollars for themselves and press the exit button. When they leave is when people discover the damage done was fast & deep and would eventually require far more incremental time, effort and investment to bring the organization back to a sustainable track.

  • Jaro Berce

    “81% of people in our surveys said that: power today is about influence rather
    than control” – the world is changing. The management and leadership are to
    change accordingly! But the million dollar question is whether we are able to
    change with same mentality, tools etc. with which we produced the situation we
    are currently in? I doubt!


    are in need to have a global and system perspective
    in the ever growing multicultural
    global environment that should be based on the human behavior that surpasses
    the “cultural background noise” – the “noise” we hear throughout our life and
    which normally influences our values, ethics and morals, mentally and

    Jaro Berce author of “Leadership by Virtue”

  • Markiesha Patrice

    Great article John! The definition of leader is changing and must change in order for our world to continue to positivly change and evolve. I think it is interesting, but not surprising that most people believe that feminine characteristics are most desirable in leaders. I am excited to be a member of a team of great business leaders!

  • Lisa

    The heading is refreshing but I confess my scoop on the beginning of it is that it's far too complicated and over analysed.  We appear to have lost our instinct which is madness!  We must trust our instinct on all avenues whether personal or business.  If I have a client that comes to me on a personal level and I think they are strange I do a 360 degree turn and look at myself - I was too familiar and need to adapt and tone down and I do I re-think.  If it's business I need to let people know I am trustworthy and show it  but don't mess me about.  I believe it's very simple and very uncomplicated...  Surely it's just common sense!

    Lisa @ Hop Inn (UK)

  • Brett W. Gould

    AMEN!!!  Love every ounce of this! Thanks for sharing this John!

    All The Best,