Framework for a New Leadership Culture

An emerging leadership context

The world meta-narrative is shifting. We are seeing sometimes confusing, short-term shifts (although sometimes of significant magnitude) in economic, technological, societal and environmental aspects of our universe. We are straddled between:

  • Humanity’s relatively recent narrative that contains the elements of material abundance, of rampant consumption, and production by a minority and a poor and marginalised majority; simple and linear, direct cause and effect; the religious overriding the spiritual; the scientific overriding the religious; (patriarchal) order and control; and the non-paradoxical, non-ambiguous. In this story, the independent, self-serving, divisive leader rules. 
  • And a slowly emerging new and overarching, meta-narrative that contains elements of the holistic, of mutually dependent, diverse, interconnected and continuously evolving ecosystems. Sustainable systems characterised by complexity and the ability to self-organise. Non-dualism, freedom and belonging. A story where science and spirituality no longer collide, hence, more voices are being raised to herald a ‘new consciousness.’ Relationships (not separation), hi-touch partnering hi-tech, other-serving, and sound thinking practices are slowly becoming more valued by more people.

We cannot afford to slip back, as Margaret Wheatley reluctantly reveals: “I’m sad to report that in the past few years, ever since uncertainty became our insistent 21st century companion, leadership has taken a great leap backwards to the familiar territory of command and control.”1 (Wheatley, M. 2005

Instead, in this developing new narrative, we need to hone new skills, do things differently, let go of the past and of our egotistical individualism. And heal rather than steal the future. “In nature, headlong growth and all-out competition are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation, and the cycling of resources. The next stage of human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature.2 (Eisenstein, C. 2011)

Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ 
~Bob Dylan

Our start-point may well be the French 16th century thinker Michel de Montaigne’s wonderfully humble and provocative acknowledgement: Que sais-je?  What do I know?!

The Impact on Organisations

Based on the shift in the world meta-narrative as outlined above, organisations may expect to change as follows:

Changing the meta-narrative

Clearly, such mega changes in an organisation’s operating model necessitates deep and embedded leadership throughout. A new leadership culture. A culture of leadership.

Mary Slaughter points to a shift of emphasis from leadership and change, to leadership culture, which she defines as “shared everyday habits” within the organizational system, and “shifting leadership behavior is a lever for shifting culture, the center of the nesting doll of organizational habits.”3 (Slaughter, M. 2018)

Required Leadership Development Response: Content

Throughout our lives we are shaped by influences (nature and nurture) that guide our leadership outlook, approach, values, capacities and behaviors – some of which remain unconscious.

There are optimum times or stages where positive individual development may best be introduced, taught and applied. For example, relationship attachment, values formation, ethical maturity, and so on. But a number of emerging developmental approaches allow us to address and add these developmental needs (and shifts in line with the new narrative) well after the optimum time for their introduction.

The importance of comprehensive leadership development at all levels in the organisation cannot be over-emphasised. Development that addresses the intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and their embodiment (physical). This importance is magnified given the perilous state of affairs in the World – environmentally, economically and socially – coupled with a seeming lack of moral backbone, widespread pursuance of self-interest, undisciplined capitalism, rampant bad behaviour at many levels, and a drastic and widespread decline in respect for, and trust of, leaders in general.

Influences that shape us

A special leadership development response is called for in respect of leaders at all levels in the organisation. Such an approach will foster lasting culture change.

Required Leadership Development Response: Process Factors

Ensure psychological safety is present for all learning methods – coaching, training, self-development – for individuals and groups. This is especially important for leadership learning where people need to be themselves in a trusting, supportive environment, as “a lack of team psychological safety may inhibit experimenting, admitting mistakes, or questioning current practices in teams.4, 5 (Tofte, G. 2016, citing Edmondson, A.C. 1999)

This creates a good culture-change climate (including the adoption of psychological safety principles and practices in the workplace to ensure ongoing teamwork). These measures may include a conversational process where (briefly):

  • on-line diagnostic questions trigger new thinking on a chosen topic,
  • which leads to immersion via carefully chosen exercises and reflections
  • followed by anecdote circle facilitation that promotes attentive listening and yields valuable qualitative information (feelings, beliefs and attitudes)
  • and in-depth analyses and interpretation then provides the means for participants to begin conversing, deciding, and implementing changes together.

Build wisdom by following a probing, existential questioning approach. “Wisdom is a practice that reflects the developmental process by which individuals increase self-knowledge, self-integration, nonattachment, self-transcendence, and compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of life. This practice involves better self-regulation and ethical choices, resulting in greater good for oneself and others.6 (Trowbridge, R. H and Ferrari, M. 2009).

The following framework combines the key topics of Servant Leadership, Mastery and Higher Purpose:

leader development framework 

Thus, leader development includes getting to know ‘self,’ confronting the shadow side, and facing ourselves. This is no small task but neuroscience shows that what has been hardwired can be rewired. Techniques like deeper mindfulness and meditation (to instil calm, enable clear focus, compassionate relating, wonder and creativity, and appreciation of sustainability imperatives; reflection, disclosure and feedback; priming and nudging towards transitions, uncovering and identifying unconscious biases, counter-attitudinal advocacy, story reframing; and psychosynthesis for triggering psychological and spiritual growth.7 (Ferrucci, P.  2004)

The questions on the diagram above cover both being and doing. They relate to work, home and social lives. They focus on the positive without neglecting what needs mending. They were for Tolstoy a lifelong quest:

In his turn, Tolstoy was of course aware that he was following in a long line of authors. In asking, “Who, what am I?”, he self-consciously echoed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Rousseau. But he believed that ordinary peasants asked it as well. Tolstoy particularly loved a story about his old nanny. She would lie alone listening to the clock ticking on the wall; the clock asked: “Who are you – what are you?” (Kto ty chto? Kto ty chto ty?). Tolstoy echoed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” (Paperno, I. 2014)

Utilise projects as incubators of the required leadership characteristics and culture, which may include:9, 10, 11 (Sense, A & Fernando, M 2011; Aronson, Z al 2001; Ashmos, D & Duchon, Dennis 2000)

  • Esprit de corps (a team spirit)
  • Purpose and meaning
  • (Authentic) Relationships and Results (What servant leadership is all about)
  • Freedom of action
  • Adventure, discovery
  • Trust
  • Sound, honest, deep and meaningful cultural/ social interactions and practices
  • Empowerment
  • Belonging and bonding (And having each other’s back)
  • The intrinsic satisfaction of doing and achieving something worthwhile
  • An opportunity to build self-esteem via the process of learning, growing and delivering
  • Collaboration
  • Utilising positive stress
  • Sharing of everything: shared values, responsibility, accountability, measures, decision-making, problem-solving …

And engaging with rather than managing both internal and external stakeholders. Worsley offers a useful model which covers the project continuum from stakeholder-neutral to stakeholder-led engagement.12 (Worsley, L.M. 2017)

Clearly, arriving at answers to these and other vital questions requires wisdom, which is a search built into the intent, content, and approach of a thoughtful, inclusive, leadership development approach.


Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash.


1 Wheatley, Margaret J. (2005). How Is Your Leadership Changing? Retrieved from 

2 Eisenstein, Charles (2011). Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition, Evolver Editions

3 Slaughter, Mary (2018). Why NeuroLeadership Is Moving from ‘Leadership and Change’ to ‘Culture and Leadership.‘ LinkedIn, June 14, 2018. Retrieved from 

4 Tofte, Guro (2016). Team psychological safety as a moderator in the relationship between team leadership and team learning in management teams. Master Thesis: Work and Organizational Psychology Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, 2016. (involving 135 Norwegian and 81 Danish leadership teams)

5 Edmondson, A. C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. Retrieved from 

6 Trowbridge, Richard Hawley and Ferrari Michel (2009). Research in Human Development, cited by Massimo (the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York) in Sophia vs Phronesis: two conceptions of wisdom. September 20, 2016. Retrieved from 

7 Ferrucci, Piero (2004). What We May Be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychosynthesis. Jeremy P.Tarcher/ Penguin NY

8 Paperno, Irina (2014). Who, What am I?: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self. Cornell University Press, 1st Edition

9 Aronson, Z H.; Lechler, Thomas; Reilly, Richard R.; Shenhar, Aaron J. (2001). (Stevens Institute of Technology) Project Spirit – A Strategic Concept. Published in Management of Engineering and Technology, (Publisher: IEEE)

10 Ashmos, Donde P & Duchon, Dennis (University of Texas at San Antonio) (2000). Spirituality at Work: a conceptualization and measure Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol 9 No. 2, June 2000 134-145 © Sage Publications, Inc.

11 Sense, Andrew & Fernando, Mario (2011). School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, 2522, Australia). The spiritual identity of projects International Journal of Project Management, 29 pgs. 504–513 © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. and IPMA. All rights reserved.

12 Worsley, L.M. (2017). Stakeholder-led Project Management: changing the way we manage projects. Business Expert Press NY

About the Author

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Graham Williams

Graham Williams, CMC, B.Com Hons, B.A. is a Cape Town-based certified management consultant, thought provoker, executive coach and author who has worked in over 40 countries around the World. An essential component of his ‘motivational fingerprint’ is to overcome severe organisational blockages by installing creative, healing solutions – from concept to implementation. He focuses on the use of narrative, anecdote and metaphor as critical contributors to successful business interventions and has written or co-authored a number of business books.