“Leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
James Buchanan (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868), was the 15th President of the United States.
Our world is rapidly changing. Globalization, technology, population growth, and consumer-driven economies are impacting every part of our world – from the individual to the organization. Demand for resources of all kinds outstrips supply. It is increasingly difficult to meet the needs of everything, from basic human necessities to the most sophisticated requirements of commerce. Just look at the statistics:
The threats to our economic, social, and environmental well-being require us to rethink how we lead our businesses, governments, and communities. While the risks are many, so are the opportunities. Institutions and individuals must develop and leverage their collective know-how, talents, and capabilities to create a more sustainable future.
Today’s leadership models are out of sync with the demands of the 21st century. “We face fundamental challenges for which hierarchical leadership is inadequate,” according to Peter Senge (author of the book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization). The traditional top-down, leadership-by-a-select-few approach does not foster the trust levels, collaborative problem-solving, or shared responsibility needed for the road ahead.
Our leadership paradigm needs to evolve into a shared leadership approach that taps into the human potential, intellectual diversity, and shared purpose that inspires hope, engagement, and trust in each other and our institutions and communities.
Thought leaders in business, government, and academia are advocating the concept of leadership at all levels. Individuals throughout an organization – rather than only those at the “top” – contribute to leading. Individuals bring together ideas and resources, inspire and build coalitions, collaborate, and problem-solve as unified teams.
Many individuals – regardless of role, gender, ethnicity, or current influence, etc. – possess leadership potential. We must identify those people and invest in developing their competencies, as some companies already are doing. At Google, emergent leadership skills are top hiring criteria. Unilever is committed to developing leadership at every level of management. As the 15th U.S. President, James Buchanan once said, “Leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
Leadership development is not a one-time activity tied to a formal education, specific to a role or event. It is an ongoing, long-view discipline that advances as the world changes to ensure new discoveries, understanding, capability building, and innovation.
Investment in global leadership development has increased in recent years, but too many organizations still fall short and continue to only support top-down leadership development. Talent pressures and predicted shortages caused by changing workforce demographics and skill gaps make it essential to teach leadership skills to all of today’s employees.
Leadership skills in every demographic are critical, especially in Millennials. They are projected to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Yet – according to Deloitte University Press – 66% of global companies believe they are weak in their ability to develop Millennial leaders. Doing so could go a long way in courting this generation, increasing engagement, reducing turnover, and building the leadership pipeline and workforce necessary for a sustainable 21st century.
While there is no magic bullet for addressing our world’s challenges, working together with a shared purpose and vision is vital.
The leadership journey begins with us. As the saying goes, “We can’t see clearly what is in other people if we can’t see what’s within ourselves.” Many believe today’s challenges are too great, or we are too inconsequential to solve world problems. However, we all have a responsibility to inspire and enable a leadership spirit and behavior in others.
Our world, our organizations, and our communities depend on it.