Follow The Leader: The Creative Guide

The inaugural OEB MidSummit conference in Iceland this June presents a new opportunity to stimulate ideas, creativity and learning. Bert De Coutere from the Centre for Creative Leadership will talk about how the role of leaders and the development of leadership is changing in a volatile world, now – a process that will continue into the future.


By Jason Kenny,


Author and consultant Bert De Coutere has been a regular at the OEB conferences, presenting and chairing discussions in recent years. At the OEB MidSummit, he’ll be presenting Leadership For All – bringing the discussion of creative leadership and the process of leadership development to the Icelandic summit.


In recent years, De Coutere explains leadership development has become elitist and has relied on money and position to benefit from training. This trend is changing. Hierarchy and management position are no longer linked to leadership. Developing skills is not a sure-fire way to success. So what makes a leader in 2017? How are those skills developed? De Coutere’s session will frame that challenge and lead the way through mini-innovation processes.


What does leadership mean in 2017? How has it changed in recent years?


At its core, leadership has not changed. There have been fashions over years, and early on it was about an individual and dissecting the person to find out what makes a good leader – Churchill, Mother Teresa, whoever. We have all these theories and books written on leadership. At its core, leadership is something we need to get things done together. We look at leadership as a social process between people to get shared understanding of where are we going, the mission and direction. The whole coordination challenge is to work together towards that shared direction, as well as stimulating and maintaining commitment to the group’s success of the group. This has remained the constant.


Over the years, how we fill it in has changed. A few years ago, the idea of leadership was very hierarchical. Leadership was tied to a managerial position. That has shifted to a more network approach to leadership. There are even companies like Apple and others who have redefined what an organisation looks like. They still need leadership; they still require the process of getting things done together, but whether they have a manager or not depends on the context.


Over the years, what we have also seen is that that leadership has to address a variety of challenges. If we go back forty years, the big challenge was – in a very stable environment – to grow and perhaps go international. Right now, you have to lead in what we call “times of turbulence”, very unpredictable times. You may not find yourself in the same industry next year as you are right now. That may require a whole different set of skills from you as a leader. For example, you need much more inner resiliency. You need to adapt constantly.


Since the context and climate have changed, why and how is the approach to leadership training changing?


Because the context has changed, and the types of challenges you have to face has changed and keep changing, we’ve noticed that focusing on competency and skills and behaviours is not enough. We used to focus on the skill set, toolset and mindsets of leaders. Now we see that leaders also incorporate what we call the “whole leadership”. We know from research that sleep, the things you eat and drink, for some people practicing mindfulness – other people hate it with a vengeance – those kinds of things help people to perform better as leaders.


Another interesting thing is what we call vertical development. It’s about a “cup”. Typically what we do with competencies and leadership programmes is we fill your cup with skills and competencies and behaviours – but that’s your cup, that’s you. Vertical development is about obtaining the next stage in development. As a child there are various stages of development. They continue as adults. Everybody goes through the stages as a child, but as an adult, not everybody does. It’s about making the cup bigger, being able to deal with higher level of complexities as a person. While that’s not easy to do, and we’re still figuring out how to do that, that’s a really promising piece.


To paraphrase one point of the research agenda listed on the CCL site: What are new ways to understand, define, and measure leadership effectiveness in 2017?


We badly need to look at the measurement of leadership as a collective, not as an individual. We often look at it on an individual basis and get these hero cultures. It is hard to measure. We have opinion-based data: We can ask your boss and ask the people around you about your leadership, and that gives data. Our world is full of sensors today, and we get into an age of people analytics and measurements around workforce management. Maybe that data can be part of a dataset of how we measure leadership. We have to look at it on the level of collective data and then see how the individual contributes to that.


Google did some data mining about what makes a good manager, and they found some approaches there. They’ve done some interesting research into teams and what makes a team work at its best. They found that psychological safety, feeling safe, was the first part. I don’t know of any other company that has done as much research as they have.


What are you looking forward to at the inaugural OEB MidSummit conference?


The OEB conference in December is two days; it’s very short. You go into seventeen sessions to get a little bit of everything. At the MidSummit, I would like to focus on a few things and get some deeper talks. My hope is to get more into Artificial Intelligence. AI is developing very rapidly now, and the full effects will take years. However, the immediate effects are already there, and I find how that applies to learning fascinating.


Hear more from Bert De Coutere at the OEB MidSummit, June 8 – 9 in Reykajvik. More information here.

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