Keynote: The Wingmate Effect—Collective Leadership in Turbulent Times

Keynote: The Wingman Effect
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: December 11, 2023

This year, I had the chance to craft a new keynote which I titled “The Wingmate Effect—Collective Leadership in Turbulent Times.” Here’s the gist of it:

Leading change—together

Change—like turbulence—can strike without warning. Markets shift, technologies evolve, crises emerge. Many companies today are in the midst of a perfect storm—battling inflation, digital upheaval, supply chain breakdowns, the rise of Artificial Intelligence, you name it. Every leader I met recently was at the helm of some kind of “accelerated transformation.”

Interestingly, their approaches diverge. Some leaders embrace the role of a lone disruptor, charging ahead with their vision, sometimes in isolation from their teams. Too often, this solo flight leads to a crash landing.

There’s a more successful archetype: leaders who rally their teams, know when to push and when to support, drawing from the collective strength of their crew. I’ve come to call them Wingmates. A CEO friend of mine once told me: “I may be the boss, but I don’t call the shots, I lead the team that does.” He’s right.

Just look around: Microsoft, once struggling to find its footing in the rapidly evolving tech landscape, has successfully pivoted to a future of mobile and cloud. Ford, facing near collapse, has pulled itself back from the edge through a massive turnaround effort. Similarly, The Hershey Company is witnessing growth once again, following years of stagnation. But were these remarkable transformations solely the handiwork of their CEOs—Satya Nadella, Alan Mulally, and Michele Buck? Each of these leaders would say “no,” and defer to their teams, emphasizing the power of collective effort. This underscores a universal business truth: the ‘Wingmate Effect’ is real and effective.

Here’s the big idea

In these turbulent times, leading for success isn’t a solo flight. It’s about generating the ‘Wingmate Effect’—the power of leading as a team. For the wingmate, trust is the co-pilot, collaboration is the guide, and resilience is the common port of call. Creating the Wingmate effect isn’t a one-off gig. We’ll talk about how to:

  • Hit the head and the heart—create a unifying vision
  • Focus on our unique strengths—explore the power of distributed decision-making
  • Let the tech play—leverage technology faster and across the organization
  • Start the dance—but don’t try to control every move
  • Lead from behind—empower others to take the lead
  • Have a good fight—employ facts to resolve issues and emotions to strengthen bonds

I’ve witnessed the Wingmate Effect firsthand while leading global teams, and in the boardrooms of multinational corporations during my work across 50 countries. Let’s celebrate these tales of triumph—and teach more leaders how to become real Wingmates.

About Thomas Barta

Thomas Barta is a world-leading expert on customer leadership and change. He was a Partner and the Global Director of Client Services at McKinsey. His research includes the world’s largest study – with over 68,000 assessments – on what makes a customer leader successful.

Thomas has consulted and marketed for over 25 years, in 14 industries, in 45 countries. He advises many of the world’s most prominent companies, including over two dozen from the Fortune 500. As the dean of McKinsey’s premier internal program, he has trained over one thousand leaders in building trusted relationships.

Thomas authored “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader” (with Patrick Barwise, McGraw-Hill) and founded The Marketing Leadership Masterclass. He writes for Forbes, Nikkei and Marketing Week. Thomas holds an MBA from London Business School and a Master’s in Clinical Organizational Psychology from INSEAD. He serves as the Global CMO Fellowship Dean for the Marketing Academy and is an Honorary Fellow of The Marketing Society.

Keynote audiences

  • Organizations involved in business transformations, digital transformations, culture transformations.
  • The C-suite, top teams, change leaders, project leaders
  • Individuals at all levels where collaborative change leadership is pivotal for success.

Keynote formats

18-45 minutes


This keynote is particularly powerful at the beginning of a day. Through a mix of facts, stories, and examples, it sets the tone for collective leadership.