In France, a remarkable man has just died. His name was Bernard Tapie. For decades, he marked the collective imagination of the French; loved or hated, he embodied for many of them the symbol of the ‘self-made man‘, the living example of the businessman who fights, who has the rage to win, and who succeeds in some very nice moves.

Bernard Tapie is a bit like our local Steve Jobs or Elon Musk: a ‘boss’ who is held up as an example, the one through whom success comes. He is the embodiment of “where there is a will, there is a way“, the example cited in leadership training courses because, according to fashionable theories, he has all the assets of a leader: charisma, determination, lack of scruples when it comes to making important decisions, etc.


Let’s leave the man aside and look at what this image of Bernard Tapie – like that of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk – reveals about our collective imagination:


  1. That the archetype of the leader remains, above all, male. When we accompany our clients, or when we train the leaders of tomorrow at ESSEC Business School, we often introduce the following question at the beginning of the workshop: who are the 3 people who most embody what leadership means to you? More than 90% of the answers, given by women as well as men, are men’s names…
  2. That this leader is alone. Alone against all, against all odds, overcoming adversity by himself. Alone in driving what will ultimately make the difference (an idea for new markets, new products, new conquests…). In our collective imagination, Tapie, like Jobs and Musk, have no team, no partner
  3. That to lead means to conquer
  4. And that it is this leader, a man, alone and conquering, who will shape our destiny – for good or bad


There are many ways of deconstructing all these fantasies about what a leader is, but precisely because they are fantasies, and therefore deeply rooted in an emotional, even visceral part of ourselves, it is not by reasoning that we will succeed.


Allow me therefore to propose another approach, better adapted to the times ahead. An approach based on an intuition, on a ‘leap of faith’ of sorts: if we want to avoid that a biospheric (i.e. climate AND biodiversity) change comes and puts an end to the viability of the human species on this planet, we will have to learn to function like Nature, and not against Nature.


And how does Nature work, in terms of leadership? Well, imagine yourself in a 100-year-old forest: there are trees, bushes, plants; a stream that feeds not only all these plants, but also the animals and insects that have come to live there. Each element has not just one, but several functions that are beneficial to the whole ecosystem: the tree captures CO2, regulates the temperature, structures the soil and retains water in it, nourishes the soil when it sheds leaves or branches or when it dies…


Where is the leader in the forest? There is none.


In the forest, one is never alone. You don’t conquer anything, except perhaps the space in which you can flourish. We exist because of others, who themselves exist because of us, entangled as we are in a complex web that weaves our common destiny.


If there is any leadership in the forest, it is that of initiating my contribution to the ecosystem, the one that will allow others to do the same, and thus launch a series of virtuous circles that, as Janine Benyus so aptly puts it, will allow life to create the conditions for more life.


If we want to transform our impact on this earth, if we want to move from a predatory, extractive economy to a regenerative one, then the first step will be to regenerate our own mental models about the kind of leadership we need to get us there.