ATD Blog

“Unboss” to Create Collaborative Global Leadership

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Younger generations in the workforce want a different leadership style. They don’t like bosses, managers, supervisors, or hierarchies. Instead, they prefer leadership with a purpose.  

Today we see more and more young companies without bosses or traditional leaders. I call them “unbossed” companies; they focus on collaborative leadership and developing talent through a mutual learning process. To them, a strong corporate identity is key: What is your story? How does your story help your community? 

Collaborative leadership helps support a company’s story. It brings people together so they can develop a strategy and vision that will achieve the company’s goals. This form of leadership involves employees at all levels of the company: frontline, management, and senior leadership. 

According to professor and unboss advocate Lars Kolind, “The unboss organization involves everybody instead of the few; it functions through mechanisms instead of structures, and it builds on purpose instead of profit.” By unbossing the whole organization, all concerned stakeholders become more motivated, satisfied, and most important, engaged. It results in a more successful and profitable company composed of very happy people working toward the same goal.  


The principles of the unbossed organization are: 

  • Focus on purpose rather than profit. 
  • Dissolve the old hierarchy and encourage teamwork with smart objectives. 
  • Promote unlimited social networking. 
  • Become a great place to work and attract positive people. 
  • Step aside and let your co-workers take the lead. 
  • Turn customers and suppliers into partners. 
  • Get rid of rigid pay scales, bonuses, and selfish employees. 
  • Involve people from outside your company. 
  • Tolerate mistakes and talk openly about them. 
  • Strengthen dialogue with everybody throughout the organization. 
  • Stop control; start autocontrol. 

Remember as well that collaborative leadership requires humbleness, integrity, and trust. Without these three fundamental values, no company can survive. 
The unboss philosophy was first integrated in the Belgian Ministry of Social Affairs. It took five years to implement what they called their “Copernican Revolution,” but the results are an example for public and private organizations. 

Additionally, I helped implement this philosophy in a gastronomic organization: GUSTU restaurant, which opened in 2012 in La Paz, Bolivia. At the same time, the restaurant started its first culinary school for approximately 50 local schoolchildren in the poor mountain region of La Paz, called El Alto. There are now 12 schools with 3,000 students supported by the Danish Government, Bolivian Ministry of Education, and Universidad Catholica of La Paz. We’ve helped students create a good life through cooking and collaborative leadership! 

Interested in learning more? We will explain this new leadership vision in our keynote in October at the ATD 2016 Mexico Summit.

About the Author

Bruno Rouffaer is a labor sociologist, worldwide leadership consultant, coach, professor at CENTRUM Business school from La Catholica in Lima, and speaker with more than 35 years of experience. He wrote an international leadership book, No Way: The Big Boss Era Is Over, that was selected as one of the top five management books in the Netherlands in 2014. He works around the world, but lives in Lima, Peru.

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