A New Breed of Future-Ready Leaders

With uncommon qualities and characteristics, future-ready leaders will drive organizations to adapt, collaborate and excel in disruptive times. A newly released report by Korn Ferry takes a look at what makes a self-disruptive leader.

March 25, 2019 – The best leaders have a strong portfolio of future-oriented and change-ready skills that enable them to keep responding to fluctuating market demands, according to a new Korn Ferry study. The search firm’s new analysis of 15,000 profiles of leaders and managers from around the world found that most leaders today are unable to harness the collective energy and knowledge required to lead the organization of the future.

“With the economy evolving at an unprecedented rate, business leaders face greater levels of disruption than ever before,” said Jean-Marc Laouchez, president of the Korn Ferry Institute. “To rise to this challenge and allow themselves to focus their energy on the all-important strategic vision of their company, leaders must learn to let go of control in other areas. Letting go of control does not mean being absent. It means actively engaging and enabling others so that they can perform.”

“This shift in leadership styles from pace-setting and sometimes coercive leadership requires a degree of trust — both in others and their ability to contribute without being micromanaged, and in one’s own ability to deal with unexpected outcomes,” he said. “Such confidence is innate in some leaders, and it has to be developed in many others.”

Seeing Into the Future

Perhaps the most sought-after skill in business today is the ability to see the future. The Korn Ferry report said that with the business world continuing to change at high speeds, it is the leaders who can envision what is coming next who create the most value. The study said 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, Korn Ferry said, but their ability to create and act on opportunities makes it seem as though they can.

The Korn Ferry study looked not only at what makes a self-disruptive leader, but also how many leaders are currently working at this level. Its analysis of 150,000 leadership profiles from the Korn Ferry proprietary database revealed that much work remains to be done, with only 15 percent of business leaders globally having achieved the status of self-disruptive leader and who are equipped to steer tomorrow’s companies.


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The analysis offered good and bad news. On the positive side, there are already leaders who are future-fit, providing the blueprint for other leaders to follow. The negative side is that the global shortage of talent is likely to worsen in the years ahead, with skilled labor shortages potentially reaching 85.2 million workers by 2030. As the effects of the talent crunch start coming as early as 2020, “organizations urgently need to begin cultivating the right leadership pipeline within because the external labor market battle will be fierce,” Korn Ferry said.

Related: Talent Shortage or Just Short-Sighted Recruiting?

Investors also see the intense need for future-ready leaders. The study queried 795 investors, two-thirds (66 percent) of whom said they value future vision and orientation over past performance. Sixty-nine percent said 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,” said Korn Ferry. “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 High Performing Leader?

This new model of high-performing leader incorporates and builds on existing concepts of agile, digital and inclusive leadership. It also highlights the importance of leaders who are experts in the creation of opportunity and the capitalization of the flow of knowledge. “In this model, the new source of competitive advantage is a leader who can connect resources and people adeptly to build an innovation ecosystem,” said Michael Distefano, Korn Ferry’s president, Asia Pacific, and also a member of the firm’s global operating committee. “This enables them to bring robust ideas to market at a rapid pace and, crucially, to adapt quickly to change by disrupting themselves again and again.”

Korn Ferry’s 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, the firm said. Self-disruptive leaders are distinguished by their capacity to deploy their leadership skills to create opportunities and capitalize on the flow of knowledge.

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


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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 organization wants to serve; provide a direction to unify collective efforts even among disoriented environments.
  • Drive: Energize 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 commercialize ideas. 

Related: 10 Traits of Transformational CEOs

  • Partner: Connect and form partnerships across increasingly permeable functional and organizational boundaries; enable the exchange of ideas; combine complementary capabilities to enable high performance. 
  • Trust: Form a new relationship between the organization and the individual that centers 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,” said Mr. Distefano. “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.”

To create opportunities in an ever-fluctuating world, organizations need self-disruptive leaders, people who are engines of change and generate change from within, at the pace of their business, said Korn Ferry. “Traditional training routes aren’t equipped to solve the leadership crisis, often producing outmoded mindsets that can’t keep up with the rate of change,” the report said. “Instead, a revolution in how companies develop leaders is vital for closing the leadership gap. To capitalize on an increasingly disruptive world, companies must accelerate their identification, recruitment, retention, development and promotion of leaders with self-disruptive potential at all levels of the business.”

Organizations must develop a culture that empowers everyone within them to challenge their own thinking and disrupt themselves, said Mr. Distefano. “This final point underpins the solution to the leadership crisis,” he said. “Leadership can no longer be isolated and inscrutable; by cascading ADAPT qualities throughout the organization, companies will develop a self-perpetuating ecosystem of leaders, ready for whatever the future of work brings.”

Related: Five Ways to Identify Transformational Talent

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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