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Section 1: Objectives, Issues and Narrative

Overview – Context

The New Models of Leadership Council was established in the 2011-2012 term to respond to a series of evolving factors that are affecting the way companies and public organizations operate, as well as how leaders of those institutions are equipping themselves to respond to those changing parameters.

The scope and depth of the economic crisis that unfolded in 2008 reveals not only a temporary economic cycle, but the need for a profound structural transformation involving business, public organizations and civil society, a deep shift that places the human being and humanitarian values at the core of the new model. Hence current and future leaders would need to redefine their values and behaviours as well as the tools they have at their disposal to help them to align their vision with the organizations and people they lead so that the necessary individual, corporate and societal transformation can take place.

On the operational front, the world today is far more interconnected and dynamic, as well as increasingly complex and globalized. These changing parameters require new thinking about how leaders operate in complex and flexible ecosystems, beyond traditional models such as matrixes or hierarchical structures.

Consequently, some of the parameters that this Council set out to explore included: (1) emotional intelligence, values and behaviours; (2) organizational change; (3) people management that sparks creativity and innovation; (4) new technologies and social media; (5) inspirational models.

Council members were nominated on the basis of the above parameters, ensuring that they would represent as broad a spectrum of experts and practitioners as possible. A balanced mix of experts that would help to lay the foundations for a theoretical framework that could subsequently be put to the test and implemented by practitioners from business, NGOs and public organizations.

Over the first year of its activity, the Council’s primary goal was to build a community among its members and to set up a theoretical framework as the basis for its future activities over the next term.

 New Context for Leadership

The Council held two virtual meetings before the Global Agenda Council Summit in Abu Dhabi, on October 12, 2012. Over these two meetings, the above parameters were discussed and refined and members agreed on a series of factors that would affect the leadership context in the coming decades:

  • The demographic shift, and in particular the increasing importance of Gen Y, who seem to want a different way of being and working that is increasingly clashing with old models of hierarchy and authority. Leaders are perceived as curators of knowledge and information, projecting authority and command by virtue of their expertise and not their position. The importance of Gen Y is also placing greater important on the role of followers as opposed to leaders.
  • The capacity of social media and technology to join up the world at speed and with an extraordinary transparency of ideas and data. This has implications on traditional command-and-control leadership (as many rather than few have access to knowledge) while bringing a level of transparency that creates real opportunities for authenticity to be demonstrated and revealed. It will also shift the focus of leaders increasingly to the influencing and shaping of virtual communities and the building of alliances.
  • While the forces of globalization have created complex interdependencies and turbulence, they bring to the fore the capacity of leaders to manage diverse communities and indeed to create inner calm in times of great stress. Globalization is fostering the emergence of ecosystems where value is distributed rather than held within a single company. It is also pushing leaders into increasingly complex decision-making environments in which focus and attention as well as self-awareness and mindfulness will be key if they are to operate successfully.
  • At the same time, Big Issues are arising, such as poverty and climate change, which are seen to be global rather than political issues and which will require leaders to deeply understand multistakeholder agreement and action, and indeed have a deep sense of the challenge at hand and the necessary revolutionary transformation that is needed to succeed. Applying complex systems thinking to be able to recognize the interdependencies of our actions and relationships and to avoid producing unintended consequences will be key factors going forward.
  • In a world where resources are more scarce – and where leaders will be called upon to be aware of this and, indeed, to act upon it.

With the above as a commonly agreed set of factors redefining the new context of leadership, the Council members convened in Abu Dhabi on 11-12 October 2012. Over the two-day conversation, members agreed that these forces mean that our notions of “the leader” are in the midst of a profound review as the tensions of the traditional models are being felt. However, there was agreement that while this transition is tough, it contains within it significant opportunities for change.

  • As stakeholders become ever more complex and diverse, so the opportunities for collaboration move to the fore;
  • with an increasing sense of urgency, so traditional models of leadership come under ever more pressure to change;
  • the stream of issues that are unprecedented means that “business as usual” is no longer an option;
  • and finally, the convergence of these different forces into a turbulent environment creates enormous opportunities for innovation while putting emphasis on scale and speed.

The Council agreed that three scenarios were emerging for leadership:

  • The default scenario: to stay with the traditional “high potential” model of leadership, which is centred on problem solving, control orientated, linear and tends to attract Type A achievement- and power-orientated people with rather similar backgrounds, characteristics and aspirations.
  • The transformation scenario: or to leap into a different form of leadership – which is more about internal and external transformation – and creates greater tension with the current. This is a form of leadership that is more emergent, more about possibilities, more welcoming of diversity of backgrounds and aspirations.
  • The worst-case scenario: to move into a vacuum of leadership that is simply an abdication of responsibility.

Towards a New Model

Defining the “Frontier” Leadership Competencies

The Council decided to focus on the “frontier” leadership competencies that will help to catalyse the transformation scenario:

  • The competencies are a stretch – we want to describe competencies that most leaders would not currently feel they have and which they are intrigued by, for example, acceptance, embracing the new reality, emotional mastery; humility, listening and vulnerability.
  • They resonate with the new forces (e.g. – demography, technology, globalization, big issues, resource scarcity). This could include competencies such as complex decision-making in response to multistakeholder challenges; or transparency and authenticity and virtual empathy in response to the forces of social media; or multicultural sensitivity in response to the forces of globalization; or complex systems thinking in response to the rise of “big issues” and globalization.
  • They enable the current threats to be transformed into creative assets – for example, pattern recognition – knowing how to be still rather than react; simplification and clarity.
  • They are interdependent and reinforcing of an overall model – for example, how clarity of purpose releases energy.
  • They are controversial – they create risks. For example, the hospital director who blogs every day. Or they encourage anomalies to break with the pack (e.g. Steve Jobs).
  • They reflect long-term/mid-term thinking, rather than simply responding to the current crisis.
  • They contain the opportunity for people to be individually and authentically themselves – rather than the traditional style of management that expects everyone to be the same.

Developing these “frontier” competencies would require an inner and outer journey:

The inner journey would expose leaders to a set of competencies that can be drawn from different disciplines, like sports or the arts:

  • practice and critique
  • learning from doing
  • reflection and reinvention with high support through deep mentoring
  • role models to shine a light on the journey ahead
  • the creation of a sense of “we”

The outer journey would expand the leaders’ capabilities off and beyond the beaten track, exposing them to diversity and harshness and to a set of experiences that they would not necessarily encounter in their normal lives:

  • crucible experiences – which create high challenge in a supportive environment and through tasks and experience that push into courage
  • risk taking and testing
  • working at the “edge of the system”

As we think about how leadership practice and development can meet this challenge we are aware that it has to be achieved:

  • with Speed: how can a leadership cohort emerge at speed – “one-cycle” leaders – particularly in the emerging economies?
  • and which achieves Scale: what impact could viral and collective intelligence have – and the importance of looking in different places for leadership potential – we need critical mass built rapidly.

Section 2: Insights & Awareness raising

The main objective of the Council in its first year of activity was mainly to raise awareness among a diverse audience, including business schools, corporations, civil society and public organizations, about the emerging forces that are pushing all stakeholders to rethink the leadership models as we have known them in the past.

To that end, a series of activities were carried out.

Executive Paper

As a result of the Council’s proceedings in Abu Dhabi, a common aspiration among the members was first to lay out the foundations of the Council’s views by reflecting its thinking on an executive paper coordinated and edited by the Chair, Lynda Gratton, and made up of the written contributions of Carsten Sudhoff, Charlene Li, Daniel Goleman, Jasmine Whitbread, John Maeda, Mario Alonso, Max Levchin, Ndidi Nweli, Nick Udall, Otto Scharmer, Ralph Krueger and Yoshito Hori.

The paper, which will be published in the second half of 2012, will introduce what the members agreed on calling the New Model, outlining the main drivers that are redesigning the context of leadership; the new space in which leadership is taking place; the competencies that will be required and the journey that the leader will need to embrace to develop those competencies.

Annual Meeting in Davos 2012:

Public sessions

A series of public sessions around the various topics that the Council tackles were programmed as part of the Annual Meeting in Davos 2012, with a remarkable presence of Council members, either as speakers or as moderators. Here an entire subtheme of the official programme was devoted to the topic of leadership, reinforcing the institutional commitment and acknowledgement of leadership as a key pillar in our way forward.

  • The New Context for Leadership, moderated by Lynda Gratton and featuring Jasmine Whitbread
  • Unconventional Leadership, moderated by Nancy Koehn
  • Transformational Leadership, moderated by Lynda Gratton and featuring Daniel Goleman and Yoshito Hori
  • Leadership Legacies, moderated by Nancy Koehn
  • The Davos Debrief: Leadership and Innovation Models, featuring Yoshito Horii

Private sessions

The Council members present in Davos convened for a private meeting during which they had an opportunity to share the feedback they had received on the Council’s proceedings and the emerging new model. External participants, close to the Council’s activities, were also invited to this meeting with an aim to put the model to the test and receive external feedback.

 Lynda Gratton’s Forum’s Blog

As Chair of the Council, Lynda posted a note in the Forum’s Blog on the Future of Leadership

Press publications

Lynda Gratton’s article in Forbes

In March 2012, Lynda published an article in Forbes magazine in which she features the thinking behind the Council’s vision

Section 3: Creating Impact

Throughout the discussions that took place over the two virtual meetings that were held after Davos, Council members explored and put in the agenda a series of proposals for further development by the members:

Tapping into the Forum’s Communities

The Global Shapers

  • Create a Film Template of some exemplars with great questions – then go viral with the Global Shaper – invite them to make their own contribution and find leaders who are exemplars of the new model of leadership; then cut into 15-minute film that can be used in different ways.
  • Explore new models of leadership in connection with the community of the Global Shapers. Each hub would organize workshops and round tables in their communities – with the Council’s framework as a springboard – that would be made up of multistakeholder participants to come up with concrete proposals that could then be advocated and disseminated among and by the World Economic Forum’s network. Where possible, the proposals would be put to the test in selected business schools, human resource departments and NGOs

The Young Global Leaders

  • Connect with the YGLs in the group and find ways to interact for impact.

Tapping into the Council members’ networks

  • Through the Future of Work Consortium, led by Lynda Gratton, the new model of leadership was used at a leadership workshop in London in May 2012 with more than 60 executives from around the world. It was also used as a reflection piece for the “future of work” elective that ran in May with 90 London Business School MBA participating. Finally, it was used as a basis for a session run with the GLF group that Lynda Gratton taught in Geneva in February 2012.
  • Explore and put the model to the test in organizations such as Save the Children.
  • Explore and put the model to the test at the International Human Resources Community that will be gathering on June 26 2012 in Geneva and will be exploring and testing some of the ideas that have been discussed in the Council’s framework.

Section 4: Next Year’s Objectives

Towards Leadership Development that Matters: Education, Corporations and Other Stakeholders

It was decided by the Council’s members that next year’s efforts will be geared towards:

  • Refining and strengthening the model via consultation with the Global Shaper and other Forum communities
  • Finding concrete pathways to implement the model by influencing and acting on the following fronts:

Education: by engaging with business schools and proposing targeted changes to their curricula

Corporations, public and civil society organizations: by engaging with human resource departments and making concrete proposals in the recruitment and evaluation processes


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.