The concept of “wild” has always been near and dear to my heart. It suggests free, unleashed, and adventurous. It is the opposite of tame and domesticated. It is not about undisciplined, mind you. Watch wild animals that thrive in the jungle and you will see discipline squared. But, turn your “wild” or “not wild” lens on your employees. Would they see themselves as free or domesticated? Are they more like bureaucrats or entrepreneurs? As a leader would you prefer controlled mediocracy or chaotic excellence?

The classic tenets of what it means to be a leader were fashioned in an era of “caged” employees. Employees punched in, went to their work stations, did their tasks all day, and punched out. New employees hoped to avoid getting a “bad” boss. They stayed worried about raises and reviews. They kept their heads down, mouths closed, and just got the job done. Obedience was treasured; disruption was not.

Leaders were instructed to be like military generals–tough but fair. Even the language of business was littered with combative idioms like “cutthroat,” “hands tied,” “take the bull by the horns,” “get a foot in the door,” and “twist an arm.” Recruiters were headhunters; organizational charts were chains of command. Leaders avoided getting in “hot water” or “burning bridges” and tried to stay “ahead of the pack.” Some led with directives via email or endless meetings; some walked the floor as “snoopervisors” with an ever-present eye for error.

Welcome to the wild!

Today’s employees work virtually, remotely, or on a shift different than their bosses. They are more interested in the camaraderie of collaborative work than in the aloneness of solo tasks. They are propelled more by the intrinsic worth of doing a good job than by simply completing their assigned work or pleasing a boss. They are more likely to leave because of a poor relationship with their immediate supervisor. While the great majority of leaders today believe employees exit for more money, research shows only 12% leave for compensation concerns.

Today’s wild world is a brain-based economy (not a brawn-based one). In such a world, employees thrive with more autonomy, more affirmation, and a sense of ownership in the goals of the unit. They want professional growth, not necessarily upward mobility. While they constantly court burnout from an unrelenting work pace, they are more apt to blame global competition than the quirkiness of their leader. All these pressures have changed the requirements for great leadership. So, what are the features of a leader in the wild?

Leaders in the Wild Pursue Purpose

Today’s workers value a cause, not just a course. They want to make a real difference, not just make a living. They learn the capacity to make wise decisions when propelled by a noble mission. They value contributions that elevate, inspire and serve. They require a sense of the “why,” not just the “what” or “how.”

Leaders in the Wild Lead with Stories

Stories are more than just campfire yarns. They include discussions of the enterprise in the future tense. They are visions of what can be, not just what is. They are dreams, not just plans. In a complex, competitive work world, stories can instill conviction and bolster confidence.

Leaders in the Wild Champion Diversity

Wise leaders know that success in the future will not come from incremental improvement but rather through disruptive innovation. Diversity is more than “does and bucks;” it is an attitude of continual learning and passionate curiosity–the engines of breakthroughs.

Leadership in the wild is an adaptable and helpful force, not a role

Since it is shared power, it is trusted power. It nurtures rather than controls; mentors instead of commands. A wise coach once said, “My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey not the one on the back.” Leadership today is about achieving an honorable collective purpose while building a better society.


Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books. He helped design the FPG Service Unleashed training program. He can be reached at chipbell.com.

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