Creating a New Generation of Change Makers in Markets & Society


All leaders use models of change that have deeply hidden flaws and they are wreaking havoc in organisations, markets and society. 

After working with thousands of senior leaders across more than 25 countries in highly complex and polarised contexts, it has gradually become very clear to me that deeply understanding models of change (at all scales) isn’t just a gap in leadership capability, it is also a profound blindspot.  Unfortunately, the consequences for markets and society are proving to be very high whilst senior leaders continue to operate with their flawed models for making change.  Why is this a problem?

Over the last 20 years we have not been preparing leaders for the shift towards a highly complex arena of deeply intertwined, ambiguous and polarised issues.  Modern research suggests that fewer than 3 percent of leaders have the abilities required to lead profound change creatively and harmoniously in highly complex and polarised contexts.  For the other 97 percent, the complexity and polarisation is overwhelming; they are in over their heads, resorting to old methods and tactics that routinely fail to generate visionary change (I will summarise the research in future blogs).

Fortunately, cutting-edge research and some very bold experiments (at a handful of companies around the world) are showing that we can catalyse big leaps in a leader’s capacity to see and embrace complexity, ambiguity and polarisation.

It has taken at least two decades to see these bold experiments play out; fail, succeed and evolve. I have lead some and observed others. Like any innovation, often it happens in spontaneous fragmented ways; a bit here, a bit there, in different corners of the globe.  We need to pull together the parts of the puzzle to form a more coherent picture of what is possible…, to make the path much clearer for organisational leaders making investment decisions in the development of their people.

Like any innovation, it also often remains in the realm of experts who are passionately obsessive about wrestling with the latest evidence, emerging insights from the most courageous outliers, the nuances, paradoxes and farthest boundaries of what we know.  What we need to do now is take the collection of these cutting-edge leadership methods from niche and into the mainstream. Rapidly.

My ambition with this series of blogs is to pull more pieces together into a coherent picture for a new future in the field of leadership development. This is important for the purpose of creating a global pool of highly effective change makers who can navigate complex, ambiguous and polarised contexts with more wisdom, harmony and creativity.

Upgrading how we do leadership development may be one the biggest opportunities we have ignored for future proofing organisations, markets and society from some of the most difficult dilemmas in front of us.

While a few experts and organisations are taking revolutionary leaps forward in leadership development, the opportunity remains as a significant blind spot for most businesses, governments and activists. 

However, if we adopt cutting-edge leadership development methods at the same pace and scale as we are adopting AI and robotics, within a decade we will be on our way to creating a formidable global network of change makers with much higher abilities for creatively and harmoniously navigating the toughest problems affecting our future.

Grounded in practice and research by developmental experts at Harvard University (Robert Kegan), Boston College (Bill Torbert), the Centre for Creative Leadership and some of my former colleagues at Unilever, this series of blogs explores exactly how we can make this remote possibility a more probable reality.

Elon Musk might solar power the world and get us closer to visiting Mars. But equally, we need the same kind of stretched vision to profoundly leap us forward in how we develop leaders as highly effective change makers who can navigate humanity through the difficult terrain ahead.  And just like Elon Musk’s solar quest, we have already invented most of the ‘breakthrough tech’ on leadership and adult development.  We just need to more early adopters to help us get it to scale.  We know it can be done.  It is also necessary for humanity.

I will explain the issues and solutions over eight stages in this blog series:

  1. The Leadership Context Has Changed – In Over Our Heads
  2. Why Leadership Methods Are Failing 97% of Leaders
  3. The Emerging Future for Leadership Development
  4. Developmental Maps for Evolving Leaders as Modern Change Makers
  5. Upgrading the ‘How’ of Leadership Development
  6. Lessons for HR
  7. The Requirement of Resilience
  8. Evolving Our Models of Change

At the end of this series I intend to continue this blog with an ongoing series of case clinics where we will practice putting it altogether – for real leaders and very tough issues affecting markets, society and the environment, all over the world. 

Michael Hann