Leading In A Disruptive World: Key Takeaways from the Global Leadership Summit 2023 (Part 2)

Dec 12, 2023 10 Min Read
Shawn Callahan at Global Leadership Summit 2023

Shawn Callahan sharing his insights on Storytelling

Leadership Evolution: Insights from GLS 2023 on Innovation, Culture, and Communication


The Global Leadership Summit 2023 ("Summit"), a collaborative effort between GLS Business and Leaderonomics, with Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad as the strategic partner, stood as a pivotal event in the landscape of leadership advancement. As we continue our exploration in this second part of our series, we delve further into the enthralling highlights and profound insights that emerged from this remarkable Summit.

Read this first: 

Leading In A Disruptive World: Key Takeaways from The Global Leadership Summit 2023 (Part 1)

Leading High-Perfomance Teams

Anita Elberse, an expert in entertainment, media, and sports, presented a recent case study on Formula One and its impressive figure, Toto Wolff. Wolff, the leader of Mercedes, stands out for his extraordinary achievements, winning eight out of the last ten championships and maintaining a winning percentage of about 70%. Based on Anita Elberse's talk about Toto Wolff's leadership in Formula One, she shared six key lessons:

Setting high standards

Anita Elberse elaborated on Toto Wolff's attention to detail by highlighting specific instances where he addressed the finer aspects within the team. For instance, she discussed how Wolff noticed a crumpled newspaper and discarded coffee cups in the reception area during a visit to the factory. He used this observation to illustrate his vision for change, emphasising that such details didn't align with the essence of Formula One. Moreover, Elberse shared an anecdote about Wolff's immediate focus on the cleanliness of the bathrooms in the team's hospitality area during his initial days as team principal. She described how he personally engaged with a hygiene manager, meticulously explaining cleaning procedures, showcasing his commitment to maintaining high standards in every corner of the team's environment. These examples underscored Wolff's belief that attention to every detail, no matter how small, was pivotal in crafting a culture of excellence within the organisation.

People at the centre

Anita Elberse highlighted instances from Toto Wolff's leadership that showcased his commitment to placing people at the core of the team's dynamics. She recounted how Wolff, despite his leadership role, forged genuine connections with the team members, particularly the engineers. Elberse illustrated how Wolff's interest extended beyond surface-level engagement, delving into the lives of his team members, understanding their motivations, concerns, and struggles (including personal struggles such as their mortgages or children). She emphasised Wolff's unique position as a leader who, despite not having a technical background like many team principals, built strong relationships with the engineers, preventing any sense of them holding leadership hostage based on their technical expertise.

Analysing mistakes

Elberse also discussed Wolff's emphasis on cultivating a culture that welcomed mistake analysis, open communication without assigning blame, and a relentless drive to combat complacency. Wolff's open communication was not just about discussing the losing races but also discussing the winning races as he saw these as opportunities that could be replicated. These examples underscored Wolff's approach, placing immense value on nurturing relationships, encouraging transparency, and fostering a collective mentality focused on continual improvement rather than resting on past achievements.

No blame culture

Anita Elberse recounted a crucial incident during a pit stop in the 2021 season at Monaco where a tire became stuck and couldn't be removed. This unexpected challenge led to a pivotal moment, highlighting the team's response in a high-pressure situation. Despite the mishap, Toto Wolff backed the mechanic who was working the wheelgun, calling him “one of the best” in the team. He said, “Things always come together, it’s never someone’s fault. It’s always multifaceted,”. Toto also said, Only if you create a safe environment, where people can speak up and you are really able to analyse the shortcomings and the gaps you will create solutions that will help you avoid doing the same mistakes in the future. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that you go through."

Managing superstars

Wolff's management of superstar drivers, such as Lewis Hamilton, involved trust and a unique level of authority. Anita Elberse narrated a vivid account of a significant incident involving the drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. She detailed a specific race in 2016 held in Barcelona where both drivers, starting at the top positions, had the best car by far. However, on the first lap, their competitive rivalry led to a collision that took each other out of the race entirely. Elberse explained how this incident severely compromised the team's chances of winning that particular race and potentially impacted their standing in the team championship.

In the aftermath of this incident, Toto Wolff gathered the drivers along with the engineers for a pivotal meeting. During this session, he compelled the drivers to reflect on the implications of their actions, urging them to consider the efforts of the team, the collective work of the engineers, and the impact on everyone involved (including their families). Wolff confronted the drivers, expressing disappointment and emphasised how their selfish and opportunistic behaviour had let down the team and its supporters.

Relentless Battle Against Complacency

Anita Elberse highlighted Toto Wolff's strategy to sustain the "hunter mentality" within the team, even amid consistent victories. She elaborated on Wolff's unique approach of encouraging each team member to envision their counterparts in rival teams, particularly Red Bull, urging them to perform better than their counterparts in every aspect. This fostered a competitive spirit within the team, ensuring they remained vigilant and driven to excel, irrespective of their prior successes, thus avoiding complacency and nurturing a culture that perpetually strives for success.

In summary, Elberse emphasised how effective leadership can profoundly influence and shape an organisation's culture.

Fostering A Culture of Reinvention

Erin Meyer's talk at the leadership summit delved into creating an organisational culture that fosters innovation and flexibility, using Netflix's culture as a guiding example. She emphasised the shift needed from an industrial-era mindset focused on error elimination to today's need for innovation and agility. 

Meyer showed us a new way to understand how companies work together. Instead of just saying nice words, she said we should talk about real problems. This helps avoid mistakes like what happened at Enron (whose leaders went to jail). They had fancy words everywhere but still did bad things. It's a warning to not just say good stuff without actually doing it in the company. 

She engaged the audience with dilemmas like sharing potential changes with a team or supporting an employee's project idea despite doubts. These dilemmas highlighted tensions between cultures of transparency and stability, or innovation and error prevention.

Drawing from Reed Hastings' experience, Meyer explored how Netflix embraced employee freedom to encourage innovation while maintaining accountability. The "Netflix experiment" aimed to attract top talent by offering higher pay and greater responsibility, fostering a culture of open feedback and accountability among employees.

Meyer highlighted Netflix's unique approach, contrasting traditional control mechanisms prevalent in organisations with Netflix's freedom-oriented policies.  For instance at Netflix, the travel policy and expense policy are simply -  spend money in the company's best interest. 

Netflix is able to have this freedom as they have the right people with the right skills, right attitude and right collaboration.

Meyer also pointed out something super important about how people perform in a team. She said that sometimes the person doing the worst in a team can influence the whole team more than the best person. She also shared Netflix’s approach of evaluating employees using the “keeper test,” assessing whether managers would fight to retain employees leaving the team.

At Netflix, decision-making power isn't centralised at the top but given to employees. The company advocates leading with context, not control, and prioritises what's best for the company over pleasing the boss. Instead of the traditional decision-making pyramid, where important choices filter up, they employ a decision-making tree. The chairman (at the root of the tree) sets the context, guiding principles, and overarching goals, while executives and managers make decisions aligned with this context. This approach empowers employees to make significant decisions without constantly seeking approval, fostering a culture of responsibility and innovation. This model attracts top talent, adapts quickly to changes, and allows for faster growth, contrasting with the slower and more rigid pyramid structure. Ultimately, this philosophy demonstrates that giving employees freedom leads to greater accountability and responsibility. As Reed aptly stated, treating employees like adults fosters a culture of maturity and conscientiousness, where freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.

Mastering the Art of Storytelling in the Workplace

Shawn Callahan spoke on the significance of storytelling as a powerful communication tool. 

Reflecting on his time at IBM, Shawn shared a telling experience: a presentation packed with bullet points failed to captivate the audience, yet a narrative about a privacy breach at Hewlett Packard grabbed attention, revealing the enduring impact of stories compared to plain facts. 

Drawing from Malcolm Gladwell's successful presentations, Shawn stressed the necessity of linking stories to crucial business concepts to convey profound messages effectively.

He unveiled a paradox: while casual storytelling thrives outside formal office spaces (ie when we are out with friends or colleagues), it often fades within the workspace or boardrooms. Despite this, Shawn advocated for weaving storytelling into professional communication naturally.

To empower leaders to adopt storytelling, Shawn provided practical strategies:

Spotting Stories: Encouraging individuals to identify stories through time markers (when the story or event took place), events, and human elements, emphasising the need for unpredictability (what unexpected event happened)  to create engaging narratives.

Remembering Stories: Exploring methods to retain stories by understanding their core messages and reinforcing them through repetition and discussion.

Initiating Storytelling: Recommending a gradual approach by starting with small anecdotes, avoiding explicit use of the word "story," and seeking feedback from colleagues for improvement.

Shawn concluded by urging professionals to embrace storytelling, illustrating its potential to create meaningful connections and enhance communication within organisations.

Navigating Leadership Challenges: The G.R.I.T. Framework Unveiled

Leadership is often compared to an exhilarating roller coaster ride, complete with highs and lows. Mr. Jonathan Low drew parallels between this dynamic journey and the unpredictable nature of work. Delving into the theme of disruption in the era of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), he introduced a comprehensive framework known as G.R.I.T., which stands for Growth Mindset (G), Resilience (R), Influence (I), and Truth (T). The practical G.R.I.T. framework serves as a guiding compass, urging leaders to foster a growth mindset, embrace resilience, practice influential communication, and build trust in order to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of leadership.

Growth Mindset: Embracing Challenges and Continuous Development

Mr. Low emphasised the importance of cultivating a growth mindset as a leader. Drawing inspiration from the popularised concept by a Stanford University professor, he highlighted attributes such as embracing challenges, persisting despite obstacles, viewing effort as a path to mastery, learning from feedback, and finding inspiration in others' success. He urged leaders to consider the essential skills for the future, as identified by the World Economic Forum, emphasising the role of emotional intelligence (EQ) in managing oneself and interactions with others.

Recognising patterns in one's behaviour is crucial for effective leadership. Leaders were challenged to evaluate their emotional responses in various situations, emphasising the need to navigate emotions consciously. Mr. Low encouraged self-awareness, asking leaders to recognise their own patterns as a first step towards meaningful change.


Drawing from the example of basketball player Stephen Curry, Mr. Low underscored the importance of resilience. He introduced the equation E + R = O (Event + Response = Outcome), prompting leaders to reconsider their responses to events to achieve desired outcomes. Resilience, he argued, lies in focusing on what one has and building on those strengths.


As a communicator, clarity is paramount. Mr. Low highlighted the significance of authenticity, empathy, and adaptability in effective communication. According to Gartner reports, these traits are sought after by teams in today's dynamic work environment. Leaders were encouraged to influence their teams by practicing authenticity, empathy, and adaptability, with three (3) powerful coaching questions provided for effective communication and team engagement.

  1. What should I start to do or do more of?
  2. What should I stop doing or do less of?
  3. What should I continue doing (that is working well)?

Trust: The 4Cs of Trust

Introducing the concept of trust, Mr. Low discussed the 4Cs: 

  • Competence, 
  • Commitment, 
  • Consistency, and 
  • Care. 

Leaders were challenged to build trust by showcasing competence in their roles, demonstrating commitment, maintaining consistency, and expressing genuine care for their teams. The goal, he emphasised, is to shift from the traditional and ambiguous VUCA to a more promising and certain VUCA: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.

Other key takeaways from the Summit

Embarking on a journey of Business Model Transformation demands navigating through pivotal inquiries that redefine success. Encik Hazmi Yusof shared some questions that can serve as a guide:-

  • How does having improved speed and agility impact your business?
  • Who is your competitor today and in the future ? Where is your potential new markets?
  • How do you pivot yourself to be at the front of the curve? Or should you?
  • How do you re-orient your team’s skills to fit the ever-evolving ‘new’ mold?
  • How do you ensure that your value proposition resonates with this evolving offering?

The goal isn’t to find the immediate answers but start to ask the right questions- Hazmi Yusof

In conclusion, the summit echoed a resounding call for innovative leadership, emphasising that success in the contemporary business landscape hinges upon fostering a culture of reinvention, embracing a paradigm shift, and mastering effective communication. As leaders embark on the transformative voyage, it's not just about finding answers—it's about cultivating the curiosity to pose the right questions that steer businesses towards a future fortified with innovation, agility, and enduring success.

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Edited by: Meow Ee Chew

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Lead Editor leaderonomics.com

Kiran Tuljaram, the Lead Editor at Leaderonomics, brings a wealth of experience to her role. With a background as a trained lawyer, she dedicated nearly a decade to the banking industry before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey. Following her tenure as a Legal Manager at a bank, Kiran founded and successfully ran multiple businesses, including the establishment of her own fashion accessories label. Balancing her entrepreneurial endeavours, Kiran is also a devoted mother to three girls. Her varied background in banking, motherhood, employment, occasional social work, and managing director in her business has provided her with invaluable insights and a unique perspective on the critical importance of leadership within organisations.


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