Next Generation Leadership – Guiding Hypotheses to consider in leadership programme design

Traditional leadership programmes have a strong ‘management development content’ bias in the hope that by exposing leaders to knowledge and skills, there would be a concomitant change in how these leaders behave on completion of the learning experience – that there would be an impact back at work.

The following ideas about “Next Generation Leadership” were developed in response to a growing need to challenge and redefine what it takes to lead in a globally connected, ever changing and increasingly complex social and business environment.  The genesis of these ideas were developed in conversation and collaboration with Tom Cummings[1] and Charles Handy[2] over a 3 year period back in 2005-2007) when we were designing a programme for ‘emerging leaders’, or ‘new leaders’ who were going to participate in an annual global forum which focuses on some of the big questions of our time[3].

Next Generation Leadership – The Guiding Three Hypotheses

In developing our thinking about next generation leadership practices, we have been guided by the following three hypotheses about what we believe next generation leaders need to consider in terms of their own learning and development:

HYPOTHESIS-1:  They run the risk of becoming bound to their particular ‘orthodoxy’ (or what can call their ‘success formula’) that has enabled them to achieve their current ambitionThis implies…

  • an “I have made it” , or “I know of or have a best practice” phenomenon – becoming an ‘authority’ in a way that can be self limiting
  • a potential blindness to the broader spectrum of possibility given the web within which they participate
  • an intolerance to perspectives that do not concur/reinforce their own mental models
  • a degree of co-option by the vested interest they have in their own particular framework and reference point

HYPOTHESIS-2:  They are embedded in an existing web of relationships, interests, and passions, that has sustained them thus far.  This implies…

  • a potentially limited understanding or appreciation of the extent to which they shape and are being shaped by the social networks that sustain them
  • an “I am the sum of my parts” based on seeing the world as a set of frames, each depicting/representing aspects of themselves, that results in a structuralist view on what they are doing that calls for deeper integration (“I am MORE THAN the sum of my parts), a ‘meta-frame’
  • a potential ‘drift’ from the original ‘deep intent’ that galvanised them in the early part of their journey or career
  • a degree of fatigue/unsatisfied need in terms of how to sustain their ambition and level of self defined ‘activism’

HYPOTHESIS-3:  They are struggling like all of us to reconcile ourselves with what we do not know, can never know, of being able to accept ‘un-knowing’.  This implies…

  • a tenacious hold on intellectualising and/or over rationalising the key questions of the world
  • a potentially blind adherence to the assumptions that we rely upon as the basis for our understanding of what is real, what is true
  • a reluctance to ‘test’ deep seated beliefs and values, as these are potentially divergent or contradictory (which surface during adversity)
  • a challenge in how we can assimilate our ‘fact’ with our ‘faith’; how we assimilate our knowledge, science, technology with our identity, culture, religion

What are the implications for being a Next Generation Leader?

On the basis of the above, we believe the following are implications that need to form part of any development programme for Next Generation leaders.

To state this differently (and in no particular order), we believe a Next Generation Leader

  1. Is curious about and paying attention to the leadership challenges of the coming generation, these include operating in a globally connected world where exponential (non-linear) changes (e.g. digital disruption) and large system challenges impact on local realities (e.g., impact of climate change, the narrowing supply-demand gap, global terrorism, etc)
  2. Understands the distinction between being a leader (role related) and leadership (as a social process – ‘leadership is not a stand-alone act’)
  3. Is able to re-invent him/herself in a manner that requires a less structuralist sense of themselves (i.e., being more than the sum of their different persona’s) – which implies an ability for a deep integration of their different aspects and identities
  4. Understands how embedded they are in the social networks that sustain them and the impact of vested interests on their own actions – that leading change means that they themselves need to be open to changes in themselves and in the social systems that define and sustain who they are
  5. Accepts the fallibility of their constructs of the world and is neither seduced by their particular success formula nor an over intellectualisation of the key issues that face them in their work
  6. Is multicultural, able to engage diversity beyond the self evident social, ethnic and cultural norms, to deeper underlying belief systems
  7. Is reflective of their own thinking and is able to rethink their mental models in line with more effective practice
  8. Is able to live with and engage complexity and ambiguity and can think in an interconnected way
  9. Constantly aligns their current activism expressed through their work with their deep intent/purpose
  10. Has high integrity in terms of their personal ethics and has a well developed moral sense to navigate the dilemmas that underpin the increasing number hard choices that need to be made
  11. Values a sustainable work-life balance over and above a desire for omnipotence, and is working on mastering the necessary disciplines to maintain their wellness
  12. Is adept at managing the volume of real time information flows, being choiceful and effective in monitoring/digesting data that is relevant

Sean Germond, April 2009

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This paper represents many hours of research, development, knowledge and experience.  Because of the intellectual and financial investment, please respect the copyright by not making copies or adapting any part of the content without my explicit consent.  It is both unethical and illegal to do so.  I would welcome your thoughts and response to the ideas that have been outlined in this document.  

[1] Director, Executive Learning Partnership;

[2] Author, UK

[3] Tällberg Forum – see

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