A special event in San Francisco brought together consultants and entrepreneurs from three continents during the international Wisdom 2.0 Summit in February. The dialogue was about “Wise Leadership in the 21st Century and the contribution of women and men in an era shifting towards the feminine.” Thirty five leaders attended the event which was hosted by a delegation of four women from Europe, all founding members from ‘The Network for Transformational Leaders’. Their work connects them with leaders around the globe and each had come from countries where their Prime Ministers are women: Iceland, Germany and the UK. That link led to the enquiry on how leadership styles might be shifting in a changing world.
Round table discussions were set up over dinner with one question about leadership on each table. There was an animated dialogue throughout the evening culminating in each table sharing insights gleaned. The questions provoked discussion on what made leaders wise, how values are shifting in leadership and the kind of leadership that will be required to lead humanity into the future and navigate the massive waves of change that are affecting every aspect of society over the next decade.
When the group looked at what kind of future we wanted and what the world needs as it transitions over the next decade, the discussion pulled together a list of characteristics and qualities which were mostly deemed to represent the feminine aspect of human nature. Even if women are not the leaders, these qualities are what men and women will need to exhibit.
- The ability to be open, receptive and listen, particularly paying attention to all voices so that everyone feels heard was high on all lists.
- The need to show genuine fairness and bring people together, being adept at growing relationships and building community.
- There is a sense that the future holds even greater complexity so a shared and diverse approach to problem solving will be our only chance of finding our way into potential solutions.
- That complexity is going to require an ability to think holistically and to really create an integrated approach so that we avoid many of the unintended consequences we see happening today as a bi-product of the advances made in technology.
- Emotional intelligence will be what sustains successful leaders and will therefore have a much higher priority than the task achievements accumulated on a cv. Character over curriculum.
- Gone will be the action hero archetype to be replaced by an individual whose strength is measured by their ability to be vulnerable, admit their mistakes and be open to learning new approaches.
- Ability to slow down: Being able to adjust speeds and valuing the need for pacing and slowing down. Fast-pacing is a highly prized modality but it not only risks mistakes, it can lead to burn-out. Being more measured and understanding the power of pausing will be the sign of a sustainable leader.
- Keeping back the ego .. the new mantra is less about “me” and more about “we”.
- More heart-centred: Learning to think and operate from the heart as well as the head.
During the discussion somebody quipped that it was going to be difficult to find individuals who have all of these qualities and who would be prepared to take on leadership in critical times. Co-host Gina Lazenby responded “The idea that people are waiting for rare and capable individuals to step into high-ranking positions is in itself an old paradigm idea.
Yes we will always need great leaders who lead teams, groups and movements but the nature of leadership itself is changing. What is emerging now is the need for everyone to step into their own leadership capacities and find these qualities within so they can bring them to the fore. More and more of us will have our leadership moment.”
Runa Magnus, the co-host from Iceland said that “The cross cultural discussions from this evening show a universal desire for a leadership with very different values to what has been normal practice but they are still all human values. In the future will need to draw on different capacities that may have been dormant and in this respect, perhaps women will be leading the way”.
Both Runa and co-host Gina Lazenby from the UK gave insights into the leadership styles of the high profile European female leaders. Gina spoke of the challenges facing the British prime minister Theresa May who swept into the vacuum left after the Brexit vote debacle with a massive mandate for massive change. Although she had many good ideas for decreasing the inequality in the country, somewhere along the line she listened to the wrong advice and called a snap general election which unexpectedly removed her majority. Now she finds herself in the difficult position of being a negotiator and less of a visionary. It is difficult too judge how well she is doing in the job since nobody wants to take on this poisoned chalice of Brexit.
On the other hand, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a rare leader who is revered by her peers across the world and held in high esteem in her own country. She has also shown a pragmatic ability to change, setting aside her own personal beliefs, in the case of marriage equality, and allowing legislation through as she felt it served the greater good. Despite her conservative stance and approach, she has also kept the Left and Right happy. Few leaders in history manage that. Runa spoke of the newly elected Prime Minster of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, a mother of three who, even though she is a champion of left green politics managed to create a coalition with the far right party. Says Runa, “These kind of convening skills of bringing differing groups together are going to be a necessary leadership skill as we move away from either/or polarised politics of the left and right. There are more voices that need to be heard and brought together and these women leaders are showing great listening skills in finding common ground.”
There is no argument that a new type of leader is needed if humanity is to evolve, move forward and reach our true potential. Few employees would want to spend more time at work and even fewer want to work longer hours. Despite our advances in technology, medicine, education and communication; unhappiness, internal discontent and psychological exhaustion is the norm.
Our work, our research, our workshops have uncovered the need for a revolutionary kind of leadership. We welcome you to join us in an adventure of courage. A call to transform our old paradigm. Women and men have done it in the past. What can we do as “one” and “together?”