The future of leadership development

About ten years ago I ran a sought-after international leadership development program for multinational companies together with Bill Isaacs ( What struck me years later was the impact of the program that was thoroughly based on a dialogic approach – about half of the participants left their companies!

Although there are many factors that push people to leave their jobs, it made me think – did we wake up an old longing? Did we contribute to them asking themselves different questions that led to different actions? Did the program alienate them from the dominant culture of their company?

These unanswered questions have accompanied me since. Indeed – a high quality dialogic approach pushes people to rephrase their questions and helps them enter unknown territory within and without. It initiates a process of unfolding towards greater awareness of one’s true responsibility in the world.

So what are my conclusions for leadership programs that keep people in their companies and encourage them to change their company towards sustainable business action?


Image by Petra Kuenkel

Here are my top ten for a high quality executive leadership program

  1. It shows that the global trends are all in one way or another related to sustainability and raises the awareness that sustainability is not only a business opportunity, but the only choice.
  2. It helps leaders to step into the unknown, go beyond their comfort zone and discover sustainability areas beyond their respective business experience. Ideally such a program is already composed of people from very different walks of life. If all are from one company the program should cater for a joint task to be accomplished that pushes leaders to find solutions to a complex challenge that has nothing to do with their daily business – yet the learning can be transferred to it.
  3. It opens up minds to new questions (or surface old ones) by fostering reflection and dialogue – accessing one’s own humanity is a prerequisite for leading towards sustainability.
  4. It creates an opportunity to experience collective intelligence not as a theoretical proposition, but a practical experience – how improved quickly because the diversity of opinions was harvested and efficiently put to use.
  5. It teaches people the art of engaging as a cornerstone for successful collaboration and for enacting connectivity. It does so in a very practical way by making use of the real issues leaders are dealing with and need solutions for.
  6. It shows that complexity is the future normality and teaches leaders how to enjoy rather than fight and reduce it.
  7. It lets leaders experience that innovation is not something allocated to specific people but a competence leaders must both harvest in themselves and foster in others. It encourages inventiveness and iterative learning.
  8. It teaches essential skills for adaptability including seeing change as inevitable and finding ways to influence it with collective intelligence.
  9. It teaches practically how mutual support rather than competition helps perform better.
  10. It helps people to understand that personal mental and physical balance are part of sustainability and equips them with tools to get this regularly on their agenda.

From all walks of life, from business, civil society, governments, spiritual communities and committed individuals, comes a sincere attempt to put the future of humankind and of this planet on the agenda and to keep it there. It is time this trend gets fully taken up and mainstreamed in leadership programs.

An adjusted version of this post was also published in the guardian Sustainable Leadership Hub

Categories: Collective Leadership practice examples, Leading future possibilities, and Living the six capacities of Collective Leadership.


  1. Reblogged this on Lead Me On and commented:
    I share Petra Kuenkel’s experience that a high percentage of my trainees and coachees find better opportunities after going through a transformational process. But the ones who stay, equally brave by the way!, set to work transforming their relationship with the work they’ve chosen. That does challenge them and the culture. They were generally already somewhat alienated from it, already asking different questions, observing problems bosses didn’t want to acknowledge. But with a changed perspective, new strategies, they were able to negotiate better. Sometimes I think it’s more about consciousness and relationships than about “fit” with the culture — a company that doesn’t embrace diversity in terms of innovators and outliers and the flexible authentic leaders I call Shapeshifters is a company that loses ground in the market, gradually or suddenly. So the people who decide to stay, despite the challenges, can be really transformational for their colleagues and their chosen field.

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