The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work

Leader On Demand

Allowing leaders to organically emerge

Exchanging the old boss for a new boss is not situational leadership. True situational leadership—flexible, effective, evolutionary—can only arise from self-management. And that means that situational leadership doesn’t change fundamentally with circumstances. It is always about giving up control– Ricardo Semler

In a Nutshell

Imagine a team meeting where a manager is discussing a set of problems with the teammates. Typically, the manager brings up the problem, the team members closest to it share a few details, offer updates and raise any concerns. Then, the attention reverts to the manager: He/She not only decides how the problem should be tackled, but also assigns who should do what. Such conventional management might offer the reliability that companies require, but they eclipse the need for adaptability and innovation.

Now, imagine the same meeting with just one fundamental variation: The manager willingly steps off their pedestal and allows the discussion to naturally identify the person(s) most keen on solving the problem(s). In essence, the manager and his teammates understand that it’s a level playing field and that the person leading the team efforts should be someone who’s mastered a relevant process, equipment or faced a similar challenge in the past.

Such a system helps people, irrespective of their job title, to exhibit leadership and shine individually. It makes for speedy resolution of issues when team resources are lead by someone who knows the most about the issue, instead of someone who has the bigger title or more days in the company. In other words, anyone from an intern to a senior level employee can assume the lead on any issue they feel passionate about resolving.


Let team members take the lead on projects they’re most passionate about.


When companies encourage situational leadership, they create the space for new leaders to organically emerge. Teams perform with greater agility and there’s an all-round increase in employee engagement and motivation. It’s also a great way for managers to ease themselves into a mentoring/ facilitating role, where they offer support from the sidelines. It helps employees gain confidence in their own ability to lead team efforts and it also allows specialists the chance to take the lead and help teams solve problems in their niche. It creates a lot of empathy among managers and team members because they now understand the specific challenges of either roles. Finally, it creates a wave of new managers and leaders who, in the future, know how to identify and nurture leadership within their teams.



Remove processes that hinder spontaneous leadership: Take a look at your processes and workflows and remove any unnecessary procedures that prevent people from taking up the lead. People are more likely to step into leadership roles if they know there aren’t too many hoops to jump through. It makes it easier for people with the relevant knowledge to be autonomous and take responsibility over issues when necessary. So, instead of a top-down delegation of work, it should be employees choosing problems that they’re confident of resolving.

Use every opportunity to identify leaders: During any kind of meeting, formal or informal, managers should note which employee displays real interest in which project/problem. People who’re capable of taking the lead are generally the ones who show knowledge and proactivity towards solving a specific problem. Managers should invite people who bring a lot of relevant ideas and solutions to the table, to lead the whole team. The manager must also be confident that the person is capable, has the energy and the confidence to lead in that situation.

Share the opportunity to lead: If two or more people are equally qualified to take the lead role in a project, they should talk between themselves and decide how they’re going to jointly lead the rest of the team. Other ways to share the lead role include taking turns at leading related projects or assuming leadership for a specific period of time after which the next person takes over. There are no black and white rules but everything needs to be openly communicated and aligned in order to avoid any gaps.

Managers need to achieve a fine balance: Although it might seem like it’s not a big deal, it’s quite difficult for many managers to restrain themselves from using their power to influence the new leader. Managers need to respect their decisions instead of steering new leaders towards actions that they themselves would have taken. It’s a very sensitive situation and it’s a challenge to let go of the implicit power offered by their managerial title. However, for a leader on demand to do their best, the manager needs to create a safe space by respecting their leadership.

Reverse-mentoring roles for managers: Although the new leader has the necessary knowledge to lead the team in a specific project, they can’t match the manager’s experience when it comes to leading people. Mistakes are an integral part of the process and it’s the only way people can develop themselves into future leaders. Managers, who must act like team members when there’s someone else taking the lead, must also play a reverse-mentoring role to help minimize the number of mistakes – especially the ones that can have a big impact on the business. However, they cannot pinpoint every single issue and its consequences either. Doing so will only create a crippled leader who’s using the manager’s guidance as a crutch. The new leader needs to make mistakes and learn from them. But, if the manager keeps protecting them by creating the perfect context and environment for the new leader to work from, then he/she will be compromising their development and confidence levels.    

The new leader should seek help, if needed: The new leader must make the best use of the opportunity by seeking further knowledge and guidance, should they need it. He/she should feel comfortable enough to go up to their manager and ask for help. They shouldn’t feel like they should do everything by themselves; or, wrongly assume that the company expects them to singlehandedly solve the problem. And it’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure the new leader trusts them enough to approach them for advice. Otherwise, it can be a very risky situation with damaging consequences.

A cyclic process fuelled by empathy: When one manager creates the opportunity for someone in their team to become a leader on demand, they’re creating a future manager who understands what it is to be a new leader. It requires a lot of empathy, care and generosity to create safety and offer a balanced amount of support that allows new leaders to grow and confidently make their own decisions and learn from them.

Level to implement



Encourage employees to lead projects and solve problems according to their strengths

Offer support and guidance from the sidelines

Make it safe for new leaders to approach manager for guidance

Respect the new leader’s decisions and step in only to avoid mistakes with big impact

Be humble and aim to empower team members.


Spoonfeed the new leader and cripple their natural leadership

Create the perfect context for new leaders and limit their chance of learning from mistakes

Have too many procedures that make it tedious for people to assume leadership

Make it seem like new leaders are expected to do everything by themselves


Empowers employees at all levels

Creates real leaders instead of soldiers or executors

Creates space for everyone to organically develop into leaders

Minimizes the risk of concentrating power in the hands of a few

Increases autonomy, responsibility and ownership

Offers specialists a chance to lead a team

Recognizes the strengths of people and offers a platform to showcase them


Traditional managers might find it difficult to let go of control and decision-making power

New leaders may bite more than they can chew and commit costly mistakes

There may be a learning curve and things might move slower than expected


At one point, Guilherme Gusson, a Semco manager, needed some time off from work. Luis Fernando Moreira, who is now part of the Procurement department, was at that time a part of Guilherme’s team. Recalling how the team rallied together and defined how they’d function in the absence of their manager, Moreira says they knew Guilherme’s absence would usher in a whole new situation. “We started to ask ourselves how we were going to meet the demands that will likely come up,” he says.

The discussion started before Guilherme went away on leave and explored how the team would be structuring things; the new hires they’d be making; who’d be training them and so on. So, for instance, someone who had the confidence and the relevant experience to train new recruits, assumed the lead on developing the training program.

In the end, different members of the team had assumed the lead on different things and their new responsibilities had naturally emerged. “Nobody came up to the team and assigned one person as the supervisor or the other as the coordinator. There was no need for that,” says Moreira. Instead, the new situation, and the challenges it embodied, organically defined processes and the people who took responsibility for them. Over time, these newfound responsibilities often increased in value and sometimes became a permanent part of someone’s job. In such cases, they were officially included within the definition of the role.


Expert avatar

Borges, Ian

Co-founder at LeadWise | Partner at Semco Style Institute | Entrepreneur | Lifestyle Strategist | Digital Nomad

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Portuguese, English, French, Spanish

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