As Our World Changes, So Must Our View of Leadership

“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.

View Of Leadership 2014-12-02

Source: © 2014 Responsible Leader Group, LLC


New World of Challenges

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:

  • Today’s income inequality is so great, Oxfam says that “the richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.” This is our second greatest threat impacting the stability and inclusiveness of our economic, political, and social systems, according to the World Economic Forum’s “Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014.”
  • The U.N. warns that by 2030 “nearly half of the world’s population could face a water scarcity, outstripping supply by 40%.” This would affect everything from safe drinking water and water for business and agriculture, to sanitation systems.
  • By 2050, the earth’s population is projected to be about 9 billion, agricultural output will need to increase by 70%, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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.


Complex Challenges Require New Perspectives

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.


Leadership Imperative Shared and Sustainable

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.


Investing for Our Future

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.


Let’s Start the Journey Now

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.

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Andrea Spudich
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1 Comment

  1. Ms. Spudich’s post is both timely and well spoken. We are in desperate need of a different model of leadership–one that embodies environmental responsibility as well as intunement to self and others. Ms. Spudich has her eye on the horizon, and we would be well served to heed her words.

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