By Roberta Attanasio
The world is up for re-invention—complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty call for innovative models of leadership. We’re all here to be leaders, we all need to embrace new aspects of leadership, and we all need to step into unique roles that allow our gifts and talents to shine while contributing to a life-honoring present and future. Shared leadership and purpose-driven leadership provide up-to-date paradigms aligned with current needs, which are shaped—among others—by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and civil unrest.
Shared leadership is group-based. It empowers group members by giving them leadership responsibilities—individuals within a group lead each other to achieve successful outcomes. Think in these terms: two compatible heads are better than one, three compatible heads are better than two, and so on. In the Preface of their book “Shared Leadership: Reframing the hows and whys of leadership”, authors Craig Pearce and Jay Conger state: “Leadership is therefore not determined by positions of authority but rather by an individual’s capacity to influence peers and by the needs of the team in any given moment. In addition, each member of the team brings unique perspectives, knowledge, and capabilities to the team. At different junctures in the teams’ life, there are moments when these differing backgrounds characteristics provide a platform for leadership to be distributed among the team.”
Purpose-driven leadership is a form of shared leadership based on the “why” and on the idea of shared purpose, as a contribution we want to make to our community or to the world, for example by solving a social and/or environmental issue. Here, the leaders’ driving force is the desire to solve a specific problem so to serve the greater good. Regenerative leadership is not only purpose-driven, but also focuses on solutions that aim to a future where organizations flourish, ecosystems thrive and people come alive.
In their book “Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of life-affirming 21st century organisations”, authors Giles Hutchins & Laura Storm write: “Regenerative Leadership is not yet another leadership approach that applies the very same mechanistic logic that caused our problems in the first place in seeking solutions to these problems. No, this Regenerative Leadership approach deals with today’s landscape systemically. The epic challenges we face demand a wholly new way quite different from the level of thinking traditional leadership approaches have applied.” A new leadership logic must embrace the understanding of the parts and the way they interplay—“Underpinning the ability for the leader to embrace both is the re-connection and re-integration of left and right hemisphere, inner and outer, masculine and feminine, human and nature.”
They cite Peter Drucker: “In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic”.
John Hardman, author of “Leading for regeneration: going beyond sustainability in business, education and community”, talks in terms of a regenerative leadership framework and explains the need for the development of individual and collective consciousness to transform the culture of organizations. Indeed, on the basis of research he carried out, Hardman supports a radical change in our consciousness—change that will make possible to balance the reductionist tendency of reason in search of “a holistic understanding of who we are and of our place in the grand scheme of things.”
Why is the concept of “reductionist tendency of reason” included in a discussion of what regenerative leadership is? Because, currently, we use the reductionist approach as the predominant way to make sense of the world around us. Regenerative leadership aims to combine and balance the reductionist approach with the holistic approach, therefore shifting our perception of the natural world and our place in it.
Reductionism is based on the notion that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents and the interactions of their parts. The idea of Reductionism was first introduced by Descartes in Part V of his “Discourses” of 1637, where he argued the world was like a machine, its pieces like clockwork mechanisms, and that the machine could be understood by taking its pieces apart, studying them, and then putting them back together to see the larger picture.
Under the holistic approach, complex systems are viewed as inherently irreducible, and more than the sum of their parts.
For example, a reductionistic approach to science, epitomized by molecular biology, is often contrasted with the holistic approach of systems biology. A fundamental tenet of systems biology is that cellular and organismal constituents are interconnected, so that their structure and dynamics must be examined in intact cells and organisms rather than as isolated parts.
However, molecular biology and systems biology are actually interdependent and complementary ways in which to study and make sense of complex phenomena—in other words, by “balancing” the two approaches, we can gain a better understanding of the natural world.
As Douglas Adams said, “If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat. Life is a level of complexity that almost lies outside our vision.”
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