How to build a leadership program for complex times – Leadership Development Trends for the 21st Century

Our business schools are pumping out the leadership and business models from last century. I find it stunning and incomprehensible that this is so.

As Albert Einstein so famously quoted…

“The significant problems we face today cannot be solved from the same level of thinking that created them.”

Where are the schools that are training and developing leaders for the future? Where are the schools that are interested in the business models and road maps we will find essential for tomorrow? If we keep teaching our leaders the same old stuff…how will they be able to lead through the chaotic waters of our immediate tomorrow?

If we were going to create a leadership development program what would we put in it? What are the critical components? And why? What are the required attributes that speak to leadership development trends?

The following is my opening volley. I’ll start with what I consider the foundation of any leadership development program that speaks to leadership development trends that really do address future issues.

1. They would understand at an intimate level that everything effects everything else. There is no small act, no thought in isolation. How I act, what I say, what I think, what I feel, what I do, my health, all of these things are relevant.

Therefore our ideal leader would be in good physical shape, ensuring a healthy level of exercise, good diet based on fresh local vegetables and fruit, low in fat. (Body) They would be sure to get enough rest. (Body and spirit) The would have quality time with the significant people in their lives.(Relationship) They would maintain a daily practice that would include contemplation, learning, reflection.(Mind and Spirit)

These things are foundational. For years we have negotiated with them and allowed them to be of lesser importance that the business of making money. We only have to look around and see that the business of making money as the soul focus is a hollow one. Leadership development trends cannot ignore these aspects any longer.

Therefore a leadership development program would include subjects on the following.

*Physics and metaphysics- including an introduction to quantum models
*Integral Health 101
*Spiritual Practice and contemplation-exploring different options and looking at the lives of the mystics, past and present (I would include Albert Einstein and Buckminster Fuller in this category.)

2. A leadership development program would also address the foundations of our culture. Subjects would include;

*History, not for the sake of learning dates, but for understanding how we got here
*Philosophy- to explore the wisdom of the ages
*Anthropology- to understand people and culture at a deeper level. This would include developmental theory.

3. Leadership development trends would ensure a heavy emphasis on communications and relationships skills. Leaders are by their very nature, leaders of PEOPLE. They need to be advanced in their ability to communicate with others, both in the individual and group setting. Foundational to this is a deep understanding of our human operating system.

*Self awareness

*Basic and Advanced Communication skills, such as the Dare to Care program (Speak the Truth ebook), which would incorporate negotiations, sales, conflict resolution, coaching skills, message management. Distinctions between coaching, managing and leading.

4. A powerful leadership development program would of course include business basics, such as:
*Integral Accounting
*Reading complex financial data

However, all of these subjects would not be studied in isolation. They would be viewed in the most comprehensive manner possible, with diligent training in how to consider consequences generations hence forth. Studying the economics of a company or country is a limited view of the world and no longer viable unless the economics of the whole is considered. Refer back to point #1.

5. Leadership development trends must include an exploration of ethics, sustainability, integrity.  This area has been allowed to lapse for too long.

*Business ethics
*Sustainability short and long term
*Integrity-personal and corporate as well as national and global
*Responsibility and accountability-personal, corporate, global

Again these topics must be studied considering the whole and not just the parts in isolation.

6. While for many the stretch to include art, music, design may seem difficult, leadership development trends must include these aspects. Creativity, beauty, design, aesthetics are integral to a healthy happy world. Students would have the option to explore from several disciplines within this space.

*Arts, music, acting, dance, movement, cooking
*Creativity-how to nurture, develop and grow creativity

7. Of critical importance is how to incorporate into leadership development trends the ability to work within chaos and uncertainty. The world is not slowing down, and the complexity is only increasing. Leaders need to be able to be comfortable in rapid and unpredictable change. They need to have high personal resilience, experiential learning in how to think under extreme stress and with constant change.

*Change dynamics
*Systems theory and complexity
*Natural design science
*Integral theory

8. One of the great leadership development trends is the ability to work in collaboration and not isolation. Building and developing sound relationships while always exploring win/win/win solutions. These skills will be developed as all of the above are studied and experienced. In addition, learning social technologies are critical for the integral leader.

*Social technologies such as U Theory, Dare to Care and Relational Synergistic Design
*Collaboration and leverage

9. An exploration of new models for business, such as holarchy and relational synergistic design. Our business models have been with us for 400 plus years. While we do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water, it is important to explore new ways of being in business relationship, new structures and forms of business. Our technology is allowing significant change in our daily work life, yet our business models remain the same.

*New models of Business (see

All of these skills and classes would be taught in an advanced style, using traditional tools such as books and teaching, plus technology, games, real case studies, experiential learning, role play, real play, dialogue, off site adventures and learning, contemplation, dance, music, silence, physical body work, etc.

The integral leader as a student would be challenged, informed, taught to think creativity, openly, expansively, to ask great questions, to be unafraid to not know the answers, be able to stand in humility, and authority, to inspire through their own being, to dance with change, hold their nerve, have great compassion, take responsibility, acknowledge their shadow and weaknesses, speak with clarity and truth, and live a life that reflects their deepest values. They would represent the essence of a positive deviant.


Show me where this leadership development program is…I want to sign up…

Have I missed anything?



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4 Comments on “How to build a leadership program for complex times – Leadership Development Trends for the 21st Century”

  1. Above looks Good feels Good and inspires Good
    Now help me with applying it to my situation life and work here in Afghanistan

    1. HI Michael,

      wow…that’s a challenge. Afghanistan…one of the biggest challenges we have on the planet. What does your work there involve? Happy to kick ideas around, in this forum or offline as you see fit.



  2. Hi Christine!

    I am from Northern Europe, Estonia, working as a Knowledge Manager and I have studied business. I think your article is very interesting and touches really the current issues.

    These are some more keywords that your article inspired me to add to the ones you mentioned. Well, you probably have meant most of them in the text, but anyway, this is my additional list:

    * Change management
    * Corporate Social Responsibility (social, environment, community, society, sponsorship and donation, participating in education)
    * ICT
    * Languages (Eng, Mandarin, Spanish, Rus?)
    * Religions?
    * Creative writing
    * Project management
    * Process management (vs production management)
    * Integral quality systems
    * Inter cultural communication
    * Marketing should contain internal communication and PR, too, the role of social networks and Web2.0 technologies
    * Presentation skills (visual and oral)
    * Types of organisations (incl non profit, networks, distance work, organisatsional behaviour, organisational culture)
    * Emotional intelligence
    * Left-right brain balance

    Your comments are welcome 🙂

    Thanks and good luck!

    1. Hi Merit,

      great to hear from you and thanks for your thoughtful additions. I agree, some of these words/skills are implied in what I have written. However, stating them clearly is important. And I missed languages, and the intercultural piece, and IT, the role of technology in forming communities etc (as so strongly demonstarted by the Barack Obama campaign team).

      Great insights,



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