21st century leadership: the case for being more of yourself

A post by Christopher Baan.

We live in a time of exponential and disruptive change, significant risks and uncertainty on

Our sense of purpose and meaning, our values and worldviews, our source of inspiration and action – determines the quality of our leadership... (Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deutero/)

the horizon, and daunting challenges connecting energy, environment, our economy and our society. Clearly, our world and our organisations are becoming more and more complex and interconnected, and so do the challenges we face.   Former Czech president and playwright, late Václav Havel, summarised a defining sentiment of our era in the following terms:

“I think there are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended. Today, many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself – while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble.”

What is it that’s painfully trying to be born? What is the emerging new paradigm, the new story we live by and the story we continually create? What types of leadership are needed to steer our way out of today’s challenges and to co-create a prosperous and regenerative future, where we live on our world’s interest rather than its capital?

Research over the last years has increasingly shown the evidence and value of what we could call a ‘new leadership paradigm’, a view of leadership that argues that the most important role of a leader is to create and empower more leaders, to facilitate co-creation and collaboration among stakeholders, and to bring out people’s highest potential in themselves and others.

Part of this ‘new paradigm’ is the conviction that the inner place from which we operate – our sense of purpose and meaning, our values and worldviews, our source of inspiration and action – determines the quality of our leadership [1]. This change of perspective on leadership is an inward shift, from what used to be a sole focus on skills and competencies (‘exterior qualities’) towards a more holistic view that includes people’s interior qualities, their fundamental ‘ways of being’ from which they perceive and engage with the world around them.

One more thing. Since pre-historic times, in situations of danger, challenge, or uncertainty, humans tended to look outwards (to others, to the ‘leader’ of our tribe, our church, our nation, our company) or upwards (to God, Allah, Buddha, etc) for advice and ‘solutions’. This has worked well in a relatively simple world with relatively simple challenges. However, in today’s complex and challenging environment, with a deeply interconnected and globalised economy, society and culture, with an interconnected financial and economic crisis, environmental and climate crisis, institutional and cultural crisis, it’s obsolete to search for leaders outside of ourselves. Leadership is no longer something for the lucky few, it’s a bare necessity, a personal calling for every one of us, if we want to sustain our quality of life and create a regenerative society. Instead of looking outwards and upwards, we need to start looking inwards at the vast sea of potential and humanity that each of us has.

In order to tackle some of today’s toughest challenges, navigate complexity and uncertainty, we need to become more of ourselves. Do we have the courage to show up as our full selves at work, to live by our deepest values, to listen to each other, to be curious and to have a sense of wonder about the vast world that’s surrounding us? Do we have the courage to cultivate this type of leadership in our organisations, in our personal lives?

Christopher Baan is co-founder of ‘The Lotus, Authentic Leadership for Just, Resilient and Thriving World’. He will be co-hosting an upcoming webinar series: ‘Facilitating Transformational Change toward Sustainability’ (Part I of II). This is an on-line program, commencing Feb. 16th and concluding March 15th.

Photo credit: The view from Uran, flickr.com by thebetaphase.com / Kumar Jhuremalani


[1] See for example O. Scharmer (2009): Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges, and P.  Senge et al. (2004): Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of ther Future.

Join the Sustainability Movement - Donate to the Sustainability Learning Centre's Student Scholarship Program

About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
This entry was posted in Sustainability Leadership, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>