A new leadership renaissance?

2014

Mankind is between stories. Through the centuries we have evolved from hunter-gatherers to the agricultural age of settlement and stability, to the industrial age and the age of information and technology, to what we may now call the ‘biological age’.

A biological and living systems perspective involves a shift of mind from preserving what we have left to generating new life out of the seeds and soil available to us. It calls on leaders to move from an industrial model that is reductionist and narrowly disciplined to an ecological model in which leaders learn to think like artists and craftspeople who are comfortable with uncertainty, surprise and constant change.

This represents a movement towards seeing our environment as a garden - a dynamic and living ecosystem - in which learning and adaptation are natural aspects of our on-going evolution.

This shift of mind represents a second leadership renaissance. It is an age of aliveness and promise - a time of discovering a new harmony within ourselves and with life. As this leadership renaissance unfolds we may see the following patterns emerge;

Thinking Ahead in Decades

Leaders will think not in quarters or even years, but in decades. What will sustain them is having their actions rooted in some compelling and overarching aspiration - something they feel uniquely called to do that cannot be finished within their own lifetime but will be a legacy for others to complete. They will transform their unique gifts and dreams into services, processes and products crafted in micro or personal factories creating local and global ecologies of innovation.

Leaders as Mythic Thinkers

Leaders will be mythic thinkers and legacy builders who, like symphony conductors, recognize leadership as a mysterious art in which they are ‘shaping the invisible’ in order to manifest new possibilities. Creating something out of nothing will be a new metaphor for leadership as they weave together insights from the arts, sciences and humanities across traditional boundaries and between different sectors and disciplines to evoke a spirit of inter-dependence in which together they will create what they could not have envisioned or achieved on their own.

Becoming the New Artisans

Leaders will be our new artisans who define art to include any action that is dedicated to bringing something of unique value into whatever they do. They will be like their medieval predecessors who often developed their craft outside the castle or the constraining walls of institutional life. In these older forms of craft there was often a heartfelt connection between the maker and the product as they strived for each piece to fit perfectly with the other.

In this we see a renewal of the ancient commitment to creating whole cloth out of the organic interdependence of the parts. This attitude is very different from the planned and often rigidly systematic and universal repetitive production of the parts that replaced the holistic work of craft in the industrial age.

Building Futures through Collaboration

These leaders will guide a new renaissance through enterprises that are more ecological, more local and more holistic and global in their thinking. They recognize long-term success is not only in the branches or the trunk of the tree in terms of its financial wealth or strategy but also in the connectivity of the root structures where they can engage in conversations around complex questions of meaning, beauty and purpose with a greater end- state in mind.

This new ground of engagement will offer new and unexpected insights for adapting quickly to new situations. They will also serve as enablers who can connect islands of opportunity with others and bring people in from their primary sphere of engagement to interact with other disciplines.

Creating Radical Change through Beauty

In the spirit of this second renaissance, leaders will not always act incrementally. Instead they will radically change the whole form they are working on. And what leads to this transformation is beauty. If there is to be a soul of the new economy, it will be based not only on power and influence, but on beauty.

While power may inspire the mind of a leader, it is beauty that inspires their soul. Power helps get things done, but it is beauty that grips the imagination and inspires what needs to get done. Power may define what we think we need, but it is beauty that inspires and helps us find promise in an uncertain world.

In the quest for beauty, the leader’s primary focus will not be on metrics, compensation or information but on filling space in a beautiful way through a focus on design, touch and feel.

Being Committed to a Purpose and Vocation

Leaders will be rooted to what they are most committed to or called to do. They will see what they do more as a vocation than as work - a call to service in the fulfillment of an end larger than themselves. Salaries, benefits and other forms of compensation are therefore weak substitutes for being true to one’s own spirit and at home in whatever it is they do.

So leaders will recognize a new currency of legacy, values, culture, history and destiny and how these help define the larger story to which they want to belong. They will lead a surge toward the up-swelling of movements and social action that furthers the well-being of public places and the quality of the common good. In so doing, they will create ‘eco - platforms’ that have room for generating many seeds of ideas along with fertile soil for these seeds to take root and grow.

Engaging Productive Ambiguity

Leaders will be masters of big-picture thinking and productive ambiguity. They appreciate that we often strive to make things explicit even though forcing things to become explicit changes their nature; it tends to make them mechanical and lifeless because we are trying to recreate what we already know. With productive ambiguity we find strength in our vulnerability and not knowing. This willingness to be vulnerable helps us move beyond the security of what is already known to what is not yet known.

Valuing Leadership from the Inside Out

Most importantly, leaders need to be leaders to themselves first. It is only then that people will follow them. They will recognize that the most important question is not how you lead, but the inner place where you lead from. This is the next frontier in leadership practice: leaders willing to be reflective and open minded in ways that awaken them to the thread of their own aliveness, and how by following this thread they may also create places where other’s aspirations and dreams can also thrive.

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About The Author

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, author and Juno-nominated pianist/composer. His most recent book, The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community, is the third in a series asking how leaders can re- imagine places as living systems inspired by nature, art, community and our deepening humanity.