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Letting Go of Leadership: The Urgent Case for A Global Leadership Iconoclasm

Before embarking on the journey, please read our piece about the need to connect personal and organisational transformation.

what makes a good leader? (Click on the icon)

Are you a good leader? In case you are emphatically nodding, how would you know? Regrettably, it has become increasingly difficult to discern what "good Leadership" actually means. Searching Google reveals a mind-boggling 148 million links to the term. Amazon hosts over 100,000 entries. Every day, outfits like HBR broadcast ever-varying collections of "top" Leadership traits, behaviours and activities on social media. Such is the nature of the "Leadership industry" - entry barriers are low and armies of self-declared Leadership gurus incessantly bombard us with buzzwords galore.

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Finding the source of the transformation

Learning Journey

In this final stage, we delve into the essence of business transformation and leadership, grappling with the complexity of moral development. We confront the challenges of widespread "immunity to change" and functional stupidity and explore possible interventions to cultivate an organisation's "moral climate". We investigate the nature, development pathways and transformative agency of ethical leadership, beyond conventional leadership theories. Through immersive interviews with key stakeholders of our chosen CGO, we eventually seek to uncover the distinctive qualities that have enabled them to create lasting positive change. Our aim is to identify the source and spirit of their transformation, emphasizing the indispensable role of wise leadership as a catalyst for nurturing and sustaining ethical organizational change.

Core Concepts (click icons to jump to discovery)

How do organisations genuinely transform (for good)? (10)

What are the elements that play a key role in organizational transformation or development? How do organisations manage organisational change and transformation successfully?

What is the role of leadership in business transformation? (11)

What is leadership? What is the role of leaders in organisation? What is the overall contribution of leadership, and leaders, to organizational evolution? Consider how leadership behaviors, decisions, and strategies can influence the transformation process, positively and negatively.

How can we develop good leaders? (12)

What does leadership development actually mean? And how does it work? What is the relevance of identity or "moral development" in leadership development? What is "practical wisdom"?

What is the "source" or spirit of transformation? How do leaders build, embody or amplify such a source?

Based on all of the above, note down in your journal some personal reflections. How do individual and organisational development interconnect, and is there a more essential “source” or spirit organisations and leaders can tap into for inspiration?


Our Perspective On Core Concepts

“An Ethical Business is one where people have learned to think and act for themselves – and come up with proper judgment of a situation. That requires an inner compass of what is right and wrong. When all people are on the same level of consciousness and understanding of what makes an action a ‘good action’ the business is ethical.” ― Alicia Hennig

Transformation for Good: From Agile to Excellence

Our primary goal is to unravel the interplay between a) business transformation, b) leadership development, and c) the deeper sources that might drive both individual and organizational evolution.

Therefore, we initially explore how a shift from "agility to excellence" is rooted in the purposeful reconfiguration of the organisational system, and observe how the organization's "moral climate" emerges over time. Then we delve into the critical role of leadership. We recognize the differences within contemporary leadership paradigms and theories, and establish the interconnection between systemic leadership cultivation, business transformation, and the development of individual leaders. Our hypothesis is that an organization's maturity can never exceed that of its leaders. Subsequently, we develop a leadership competency framework grounded in the concept of "practical wisdom" to examine the imperative for leaders to undergo personal transformation before they can become a force for good within their role. Finally, we seek to understand whether "good leadership" necessitates leaders to connect with and embrace a more transcendent and spiritual "source" within their organization, serving as the driving force and energy for perpetual development. Might that "source" enable or limit an organisation’s potential?

Below you will find, in a nutshell, the core concepts and hypotheses that drive the exploration: 

✿ CORE Concept 10: transformation (SLIDES 1-3)
What is a “good” transformation?

Expanding on our previous examination of the "good organisation" model, we operate on the premise that every aspect of an organization, spanning people, culture, and structures, mirrors its moral maturity. Implicitly, each organizational facet conveys messages about its identity, beliefs, and purpose - answering questions about its essence, priorities, motivations for work, and future direction. Together, these components coalesce to define the organization's actual "moral climate." This moral climate is maintained and continually reproduced by the organisations' employees, interacting with each other within the organisational context. Put another way, the organisational moral climate is interwoven with the company's "action logic", which shapes collective organisational behaviour.

Therefore, a true shift from "agility to excellence" (slide 1) must be rooted in the purposeful and "constitutional" reconfiguration of the organisational system. The "good organization" model incorporates specialized governance frameworks, known as micro-organisations and corporations, to actively manage the organizational components. These frameworks serve to acknowledge and reflect on the maturity of organizational entities and foster their development as needed. 

How can organisations evolve their "moral climate"? 

We believe that "virtuous" modifications within any of the organizational S-P-C entities can generate transformative power to alter an existing moral climate and amplify the potential of an organization. Introducing specific virtues (slide 3) can help communities to progress towards higher stages of moral climate and wisdom, e.g., social and ecosystemic virtues enhance moral sensitivity, while intellectual and civic virtues contribute to reasoning capacity and "political" participation. For instance:

  • CULTURE- Changes to the organizational vision, purpose, values, success measures, language, symbols, and other communication elements to shape a more virtue-centric and purpose-driven narrative. Recognition of virtuous exemplars etc.
  • SOCIAL STRUCTURES - Evolution of team management routines, systems, technology, operational processes to embed and foster virtuous principles and support positive organizational impact on customers.
  • PEOPLE - Continuous betterment of Individuals and Relationships through learning and development, job crafting, community investment, people policies that take care of people in need and foster a culture of care and mutual support within and beyond the company

What does transformation imply?

However, while establishing governance routines is a crucial step, it alone falls short in driving genuine transformation. To truly evolve, organizations must enhance their reflexivity and cultivate a capacity for responsible action. This is where our transformative vision centers on nurturing and amplifying "practical wisdom," encompassing the organization's internal self-awareness and its steadfast dedication and capabilities to enact positive change for the collective good.

At the individual level, practical wisdom hinges on four specific competencies: moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral imagination, and moral action, all anchored in a person's moral identity. Framing the development of wisdom at the organizational level, we could loosely align them to the S-P-C model:

  • People: An organisation’s moral sensitivity, expressed as a capacity for mutual care and development and the continuous extension of the organisation's "moral circle"
  • Social Structures: The organisation’s processes and routines that foster a capability for moral action and ensure steadfast ethical conduct even in challenging circumstances.
  • Culture: The organizational vision, purpose, values, success measures, language, symbols, and other communication elements that shape the organisation’s moral imagination, motivation and identity. 

How can such wisdom be developed?  

In this context, we found Alasdair MacIntyre's work on professional practices, encapsulated in his Virtues-Practices-Institutions (VPI) model, particularly intriguing. He defines a practice as a social process inherently directed towards achieving the most essential "internal good" of the practices's activities. It involves cooperative and structured mechanisms to continually refine and develop the community of practitioners, traditions and shared standards of excellence, and a relevant body of knowledge. Embedded within the practice, apprentices acquire skills, develop wisdom and virtues, and evolve their identity over time.

Note: It is important to remember that virtues are not quite the same as values. While values might be in people's minds or on organisation's PowerPoints, virtues are always enacted. They are habits - like justice, courage, compassion and temperance - acquired through practice that connect individuals with their best selves as well as the greater good.

In summary, attaining organizational excellence necessitates a pivotal shift in the organizational "action logic." This shift hinges on the organization's ability to introspect, comprehending its essence, and to actualize its highest potential within its specific context through ongoing governance and moral experimentation.

What are the pre-requisites?

Such collective development requires individuals to step into more demanding interdependence with colleagues to co-create the shared identity and mutual commitment for the organisation. This is not easy in times of increasing individualism, suspicion and a mostly transactional understanding of the psychological contract between employee and company. It will take dedicated "constitutional" activity to create and continuously evolve a governance model whereby everybody has sufficient capacity to "co-own" the shared identity and character of the organisation, including the shared purpose and the basic structures, policies and principles that guide relationships between employees and between employees and managers (as corporate agents). The resulting organisation will give every member the freedom to contribute creatively to its evolution, while ensuring sufficient integration and coherence between all members to collectively pursue their shared goal effectively.

  • Governance: A collective and overarching capacity for moral judgment within governance and decision-making approaches, and the capacity to appreciate the morality of organizational purpose, business and operating model. 
Note: this does not necessarily imply a change in the operational processes, nor require a say of every employee in every decision. Like in any modern state, employees will delegate day-to-day accountability for execution to executive bodies and managers. However, it is our firm belief that good organisations will need to develop morally, thus enabling individuals to willingly accept mutual and equal responsibility for each other, as a prerequisite for justice, and shared accountability for the flourishing of the stakeholder community, as a result of genuine care. Therefore, any genuinely transformative journey is underpinned by an emergent moral identity, i.e., a solid commitment embraced by all members of the organization to perpetually strive for individual and organizational goodness.

✿ CoRE COncept 11: leadership and transformation (slide 4-7)

Successful organisational development or transformation hinges on the seamless integration of numerous small changes across organizational entities, approached holistically and purposefully. This is why we define organizational leadership as a systemic, generative, and intentional process of collective development aimed at unlocking an organization's full potential. In essence, leadership embodies an organization's collective capacity to shape its positive future.

But let us start with a provocation (Slide 4): Our perspective is that leadership has mostly failed, for two main reasons. Firstly, the ambiguity in defining leadership. Despite the wealth of efforts from consultants, researchers, and practitioners, there is a remarkable lack of consensus on what "leadership" truly entails, coupled with a surprising absence of reflection on its ethical foundations. Secondly, in terms of practice, we encounter a seemingly endless array of often-contradictory approaches, including recent calls for more participative leadership, agility, or sustainability—frequently lacking substantial empirical evidence. 

I can personally speak from the experience of my three-decade-long career: I've been requested to embody countless different leadership styles – from inspiring and controlling, to fostering empathy and coaching for performance, all while reducing costs and, of course, constant expectations to overdeliver. The diversity of discourses, theories, and frameworks depicted on the slide underscores this complexity. This pervasive confusion, perhaps paradoxically, has arguably led not to more but to less leadership. Focusing extensively on the myriad permutations of traits, styles, and behaviors of leaders, most businesses have ignored the crucial question of where they should lead in the first place. Consequently, by distracting from its ends and obsessing about its means, the discourse of leadership has potentially done more harm than good.

Hence, instead of approaching a leadership definition "bottom-up," our perspective starts "top down". We view a "leader" as an institutional role within an organizational system, accountable for facilitating a broader systemic leadership dynamic, in order to achieve organisational excellence and goodness. In this context, leaders are not merely individuals, styles or positions; rather, they are individuals stepping into roles conducive to supporting organizational transformation. In other words, setting aside the cacophony surrounding the "everybody is a leader" mantra, or the many fashionable notions of self-leadership, we suggest "leaders" only matter insofar as they take up specific roles endowed with organizational power for the purpose of increasing excellence within an organisational system.

How do leaders and leadership interlink?

As observed, conventional leadership theories frequently concentrate on personality traits, behavioral styles, or their amalgamation with contingent tasks. However, this approach overlooks both the systemic context and the essential alignment with an organization's direction. In our perspective, the essence of "leader development" lies in personal growth intricately linked to an individual's ability to optimally fulfill their roles in support of organizational transformation.

Sadly, this capacity is often constrained due to a widespread tendency among individuals in executive positions to cling to their personal power and identity, rather than fostering the transformative power necessary for organizational leadership. Yet, leaders can only guide an organization towards places they have been themselves. With Marshall Goldsmith's words: "what got you here won't bring you there."

To foster development, leaders need to cultivate the ability to "inquire in action" (Slide 5), blending self-awareness within the system with a conscientious consideration for an expanding set of stakeholders. Drawing on Bill Torbert’s framework, it's helpful to propose that leaders typically progress through a series of predominant "action logics" during their careers. Starting as diplomats, characterized by individualism and a focus on adhering to established norms, we evolve into experts—often taking on managerial or highly skilled practitioner roles—expanding our relationships within a chosen domain while adhering closely to practice norms. Eventually, as "achievers," we assume responsibility for the broader business, managing relationships across teams and driving ourselves ardently to succeed in the eyes of the executive. At each successive stage, we refine our mental maps and enhance our ability to delve into who we truly are, how we relate, and what holds significance for us.

What is the challenge in leader(ship) development?

To put it simply, a majority of leaders find themselves at the achiever stage (Slide 6). If you think this sounds a bit too theoretical, take a moment to consider some typical habits of achievers and see if they resonate. In essence, the biggest challenge for achievers is quite straightforward: we're trained to WIN, and we often win when we shouldn't. We tend to "add too much value". For example, when someone comes to present us an idea, rather than saying: that's great, go ahead. We, as achievers, often say, "That's a great idea; why don't you also add this?" Before we know it, the idea is dead. Why? Because effectiveness of execution is a combination of a) the quality of the idea and b) the commitment to deliver. When we add too much value, the commitment of those around us plummets. And the higher up we are, the worse it gets. In fact, it is very hard to learn for executives that at some stage they must operate on and not in the organisation.

Yet, merely enhancing relational capacities or reducing egocentrism is insufficient. We must also cultivate the ability to scrutinize our own role within the system (Slide 7). It's crucial to recognize that leadership roles are often shaped by both organizational narratives and unconscious and conscious relational expectations. As leaders, we gradually internalize the specific meaning of leadership within our organization, symbolically embodying the narratives, hopes, and needs of our group. In essence, we become a manifestation of the institution. As we progress toward leadership mastery, it becomes imperative to learn to release our internalized concept of leadership and transcend the very institutions that support us. This is a challenging endeavor because our identity is intricately linked to these institutions.

In fact, if leaders manage to progress further, it's often through a turbulent and traumatic transformation. As leaders gain a deeper understanding of both the contextual power of the environment and the moral ambiguity inherent in their roles, they come to recognize the limitations of the "Achiever logic." This logic fails to allow them to authentically express the entirety of who they are as individuals, nor does it embrace a broader sense of interdependence and morality beyond the confines of the institution. From being perfectionists and power-conscious, leaders gradually let go, becoming "imperfectionists" and reflective. From "identifying with their role", they start to become "whole". Mature leaders, suggests Manfred Kets de Vries, are not only born but “twice born” through painful “individuation”.

Leadership is (ethical) commitment

Once we operate from the freedom of deep self-knowledge, profound connection, and caring, with the ability to see life beyond our own ego, it becomes crucial to understand how to utilize that new freedom. Indeed, "Socrates was mistaken: it’s not the unexamined life that is not worth living; it’s the uncommitted life." Ultimately, excellence in leadership is synonymous with ethics—it revolves around our commitment to act intentionally for the greater good. This encapsulates the essence of practical wisdom—the ability to make decisions in conditions of uncertainty and complexity, driven by a steadfast commitment to bring about the greatest good. Through our continuous development as leaders, we contribute to the flourishing of all organizational stakeholders, society, and the ecosystem. Leadership, fundamentally, is not about us individually but entails collaboratively elevating the energy across the system to a higher level.

✿ CoRE COncept 12: good leader development (slides 8-9)

What are the core competences of good leaders?

In practical terms, effective organizational leaders must not only enhance personal, relational, and institutional competencies but also attain elevated levels of personal (identity) maturity by deliberately cultivating moral character and identity. Grounded in this understanding, we can construct a comprehensive capability framework for developing good leaders. Our model integrates the capabilities needed for fostering practical wisdom and character at the individual level with the qualifications essential for institution-building to implement "nodal changes" within the organizational system, strategically positioned to propel the organization to a higher level of energy and moral climate.

a) Personal competences

Drawing from both developmental and moral psychology, leadership encompasses a high level of competency across all dimensions of practical wisdom:

1. Moral Sensitivity: Love for the Good in Every Living Being

  •  Empathy and listening, relationship and conflict management, diversity, and inclusion.
  •  Ability to perceive interconnected wholes and sense interdependent ecologies.
  •  Cultivation of organizational community through deep curiosity and care for transformative relationships.
2. Moral Judgment: Deep Commitment to Social Justice
  •  Synthesis and evaluation of complex information.
  •  Perspective-taking and critical thinking.
  •  Ethical literacy and the ability to understand multiple and long-term perspectives
  •  Mastery of deliberative processes that integrate across diversity for the greater common good.
3. Moral Imagination: Leading Beyond the Ego
  •  Mature self-awareness and reflective capacity to see self within roles and systems.
  •  Holding space for ambivalence, emergence, and mutual transformation.
  •  Embracing integration of self, others, and nature without losing one's essence.
  •  Willingness to “serve life’s calling” and being part of a living dynamic towards an essential good
4. Moral Action: Virtues in Action
  •  Initiative-taking, ethical efficacy, and perseverance.
  •  Problem-solving and political stakeholder management.
  •  Moral persuasion and commitment to protect social flourishing.
  •  Seasoned expertise and competence to nurture the firm's higher purpose and foster interdependence across the ecosystem.

b) Institutional competences

Aligning the competencies of leaders directly with the interventions necessary for fostering organizational transformation, we can identify three interrelated areas: a) Leaders cultivate personal development and foster interdependence, nurturing mutual development within the organizational community.
b) They safeguard the organizational spirit and identity while adeptly managing the political aspects of the corporation. c) Leaders drive the evolution of organizational practices, creating an environment conducive to character development and value creation across stakeholders. This could include specific actions, for example:

  • Developing People: Investing in community building, nurturing high-quality connections, ensuring effective leadership development, fostering team consciousness and co-elevation, enabling job crafting, and role modelling virtues and practical wisdom.
  • Developing Micro-Organizations: Emancipating management practices, creating space for development, participation and deeper reflection, driving agility and learning, fostering innovation and experimentation, and integrating development and learning across and beyond the organization to grow corporate “commons”.
  • Developing Corporation: Legitimizing a good organizational purpose, ensuring ethical governance and decision-making, challenging unhealthy practices and dynamics, promoting stakeholder engagement and corporate citizenship, and encouraging the continuous evolution of institutions to support collective ownership, wisdom, and co-elevation

In practical terms, as mentioned earlier, effective leaders operate both "in the system" by nurturing individual and team excellence and "on the system" by intentionally evolving organizational practices and institutions to protect and enable the greater purpose of the firm. In doing so, they create conditions that allow new ways of working to emerge. On a daily basis, this involves delicately balancing a focus on organizational performance and long-term viability, prioritizing the integral development of all stakeholders by recognizing and addressing diverse needs within the organization, and upholding the integrity of the collective good that the organization contributes to the broader world.

This sheds light on how the role of leaders evolves with increasing influence and "reach" (Slide 9). As leaders conscientiously embrace their role, they first cultivate individual excellence in themselves and others. Then they become catalysts for organizational transformation, serving as "guardians of the institution." With growing seniority, they transition into "community development partners," and eventually, in a statesmanship role, they contribute to fostering a good society through public interventions within communities of enterprises and collaborations with wider societal partners.

What about the “source”? What is the “difference that makes the difference”?

What propels individuals to undergo transformation? What drives leaders to redefine their role within an organizational system, aiming to unlock the potential of the entire system? Is it an internal energy or a primordial spirit that they hold on behalf of the community?

We propose that it might be the latter. Leaders often express that they don't own the ideals guiding them but rather hold them on behalf of the community. Rather than being the leaders, they are the "first followers" of something transcendent. Thus, in good organizations, there may be an underlying generative flame, an essence or spirit that manifests in receptive individuals and permeates the entire organization. Hegel spoke about the "geist", while Aristotle referred to it as "telos," a potent force within us pulling us toward the true and good, provided we are willing to embrace it. If such a force exists, nurturing and fostering it might be critical to illuminate our organizations for the greater good. 

A final (metaphysical) word on source: Plato and the essential spirit of organisational transformation

Paraphrasing Plato's famous assertion, genuine transformation within organizations is unachievable unless philosophers become leaders and leaders adopt a philosophical mindset. Why?

According to Plato, philosophers control their passions, in order to delve deeper into the exploration of reality. Within this reality, they uncover the forms—ideals that imbue things in our world with qualities such as goodness, beauty, or justice. Forms transcend mere common qualities; they represent essential reality, not created but only recognized by the human mind. As we learn to discern forms, knowledge transforms into wisdom. Forms begin to serve as standards against which we assess our lives, and act as deep sources of inspiration, compelling us to strive toward excellence. Plato suggests that by practicing wisdom, we not only lead good lives individually but also contribute to society. Humans are inherently social beings and genuine excellence is always the excellence of a social creature—the excellence of the citizen.

Ergo, if we want our organizations to embody worthy ideals, leaders within these organizations must turn to philosophy. Goodness and justice can only manifest themselves if they are imminent in the lives of leaders. Wise leaders strive not only for self-improvement to reach their full potential but also shape their organizations to enable every member to live a good life according to their capacity.

Herein lies a common misunderstanding of Plato's Republic. Good leadership is never pursued for the sake of the leader but for the good of the organization. When leaders deviate from reason to fulfill personal desires, especially the pursuit of power, they transform into tyrants. According to Plato, power is finite, and its pursuit as an end invariably leads to its accumulation through force by a few over the many. Conversely, wisdom and knowledge are infinite - there's a shared recognition that the more wisdom a community possesses, the more it flourishes. Hence, for Plato's philosopher-kings, there are only two ends: the understanding of the forms and their realization in the structures, routines, and life of the community. True practical wisdom consists in bringing these two ends together.

This also might serve as an appropriate reminder to all those passionately advocating for a shift from scarcity to abundance "mindsets" as a solution to our current troubles. Firstly, what truly matters is not the abundance of resources, opportunities, or successes but the abundance of wisdom. Secondly, the key to successful transformation is not merely mindset but actual practice!

(Based on C.E.M. Joad, Philosophy)


Below you can also find a few blog posts that dive into our evolving thoughts around these concepts

good leadership
Letting Go of Leadership -The Urgent Case for A Global Leadership Iconoclasm
Stop The Suffering: Good Organizations Wanted!

Are you a good leader? In case you are emphatically nodding, how would you know? Regrettably, it has become increasingly difficult to discern what “good Leadership” actually means. Searching Google reveals a mind-boggling 148 million links to the term. Amazon hosts over 100,000 entries.
(9 min read)

CC10 transformation
We Need to Start the Transformation With Ourselves

Interview New Work, Agile, Teal – there are many initiatives for a new future of work. Otti Vogt, until recently COO and Chief Transformation Officer C&G at ING, and Prof. Dr. Antoinette Weibel from the University of St. Gallen explain in this interview why these have not yet achieved broad transformational power and how things could be improved.
(5 min read)

CC11 leadership
100 Years of Messy Leadership Theories

Chances are that someone has gifted you one of those multi-coloured, slogan-rich “airport” management books that often come with “washing lists” of highly critical characteristics, or secret “power traits”, of successful leaders...
(9 min read)

CC12 leadership development
Stop LEADING, Start FOLLOWING! Or: The Leader Who Pointed A Finger…

What unites our traditional leadership approaches is that the lens of analysis is fixed on the leader: on his traits, his behaviour, his-strategy-in-context, his mindset. And I will argue that most of these interpretations - at least in part - are missing a point. Leadership is not just about the leader. Good leadership is about making a new potential reality possible; about transforming the capacity of an organisation "to become" its own best future.
(10 min read)

Curious to read more about our ongoing inquiry? A good place to start is our blog with all recent leadership articles and posts.

knowledge expeditions

Discover New Puzzle Pieces of Wisdom On A Search For Eureka Moments!

Curious to watch more interviews? Jump to the Leaders for Humanity series for all our exciting interviews with some of the greatest minds of our time.

Materials marked in  dark purple  are foundational. Those flagged in light purple are for in-depth exploration.

Core Concept 10: Business Transformation (as a Shift in Collective Capacity)


How do organisations transform (for good)?

What are the elements that play a key role in organizational transformation or development? How do organisations manage organisational change and transformation successfully? 

It can be argued that the successful management of change is crucial to any organisation in order to survive and succeed in the present highly competitive and continuously evolving business environment. However, theories and approaches to change management currently available to academics and practitioners are often contradictory, mostly lacking empirical evidence and supported by unchallenged hypotheses concerning the nature of contemporary organisational change management. The purpose of this article is, therefore, to provide a critical review of some of the main theories and approaches to organisational change management as an important first step towards constructing a new framework for managing change. The article concludes with recommendations for further research.

Contemporary organizations often struggle to create meaningful, sustainable changes. At the same time, relevant organizational research lacks an easily accessible consensus on basic change management processes and principles. One consequence is practitioner reliance on popular change models that more often cite expert opinion as their foundation rather than scientific evidence. This article reviews both key tenets of widely used practitioner-oriented change models and findings from scholarly research on organizational change processes to develop an integrative summary of the available evidence of what is known, contested, untested, and underused in change management. It identifies ten evidence-based steps in managing planned organizational change along with implications for research and practice.

We discuss some core issues in the field of change management. We use thesetopics to identify some mindsets that dominate the practice of changemanagement, and argue that these should be replaced by some alternatives.The alternatives are drawn largely from operations management and socio-technical thinking. We characterize existing approaches as partial, and speculate that this may be one of the reasons why so many change initiative sare ineffective at meeting their goals. We identify some of the reasons why existing mindsets are sustained. We also point to some ways forward, focusing on changes in the mindsets and language we use. We speculate that thesewould improve the effectiveness of change initiatives.

The purpose of this paper is to shed some light on the reasons and circumstances why strategic change initiatives based on new public management and managerialism go wrong. In particular, how such change initiatives are being justified, communicated, perceived, and implemented within organisational discourses and politics. It reveals personal and group interests behind ideologies, and what change management of this type is really about.

This chapter describes and examines psychoanalytic and socioanalytic approaches to organisational change research. Initially, a range of relevant psychoanalytic theories are described leading to a primary focus on those approaches that prioritise a combination of whole systems and psychoanalytic ideas, known as systems psychodynamic or socioanalytic approaches. Following this, the chapter names and describes some major concepts shared by such approaches. These include: unconscious processes; repression; group mind; group dynamics; free association; social defences; transference, projection, introjection and projective identification; and the institutionalisation of psychological processes.

Transformation as a Shift in Capacity to See, Enact, and Change Social Practices

This paper adopts a case study approach to explore the complex process of organisational change towards greater social and environmental sustainability. The case study of a major global financial services organisation involved interviews and examination of company documents, and their website over the period 2000–2014. The rare longitudinal empirical evidence from different sources provides important insights to how companies are responding to increasing demands for sustainable development. Usin. Environmental disturbances and organizational transitions and transformations: some alternative models. Organization Studies, 12 (2), 209–232] pathways of change model, the study investigates the interaction between organisational discourses (i.e. its interpretive schemes) and organisational practices (i.e. design archetypes). The findings demonstrate the centrality of organisational discourses, especially those relating to accounting calculative practices, to radical change towards sustainable development. The paper also contributes to the literature on institutional logics, particularly multiple institutional logics, and how these are implicated in change processes.

Manfred Kets de Vries and Katharina Balazs, from a clinical perspective, suggest that insights drawn from individual change processes can be applied to the domain of organizational transformation to facilitate and speed up the process. Based on large-scale surveys, the authors explore the psychodynamics of the individual engaged in change, and translate them to organizational transformation. Given the reality of power dynamics, it is the corporate leaders who are best placed to start and subsequently develop the change process. It is suggested that a staged 'focal event' and changing the corporate mindset can greatly speed up the process. Also, companies can learn that there are certain primary factors which make it easier for individuals to manage change. A major conclusion is that organizations which foster 'constructive conflict' among their people will be in the best position to align with a continuously-changing business environment.

We live in a time of massive institutional failure, in which we collectively create results that (almost) nobody wants. The list is well known: Climate change. Hunger. Poverty. Terrorism. Violence. Destruction of communities, nature, life—the foundations of our social, economic, ecological, and spiritual well being. These times call for a new consciousness and a new collective leadership capacity to meet these challenges in a more conscious, intentional, and strategic way. The development of such a capacity would allow us to create a future of greater possibilities.

The complexity of our current social, environmental, and economic realities requires conceptual frameworks that help us chart transformative pathways of collective action. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U is one such framework, offering a profound synthesis of relevant theories and practices related to systems thinking, organizational learning, and leadership. Theory U is also a rich, multi-layered framework that is challenging to apply in action due to its conceptual complexity and because of the demands it makes of both facilitators and participants. As a means of facilitating the skillful use of this theory and its practices, the authors find it helpful to examine and explore Theory U through the lens of a distinct, yet related framework: Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry (Torbert, 2003, 2004). CDAI is a methodology based on action science that integrates adult development theory, first, second, and third person inquiry, and transforming action.

With its emphasis on analytical dualism and its detailed account of the concepts and methods necessary for its application, Margaret Archer’s morphogenetic approach seems to provide significant poten-tial for empirical research. over a decade after its publication, however, the potential of the approach remains largely unrealised. This paper seeks to begin to address this situation by reporting on and assessing the application of the morphogenetic approach to a longitudinal case study of information systems (IS) development and organisational change in British local government.

Core Concept 11: Leadership (and Transformation)

What is the role of leadership in transformation? 

  • What is leadership? What is the role of leaders in organisation? 
  • What is the overall contribution of leadership, and leaders, to organizational evolution? 
  • Consider how leadership behaviors, decisions, and strategies can influence the transformation process, positively and negatively.

Scholarly research on the topic of leadership has witnessed a dramatic increase over the last decade, resulting in the development of diverse leadership theories. To take stock of established and developing theories since the beginning of the new millennium, we conducted an extensive qualitative review of leadership theory across. We then combined two existing frameworks to provide a process oriented framework that emphasizes both forms of emergence and levels of analysis as a means to integrate diverse leadership theories. We then describe the implications of the findings for future leadership research and theory.

In the last 40 years, leadership studies (LS) have moved from a condition of near despair, where complaints of slow progress were commonplace, to a situation of self-confidence and self-praise. However, during recent years we have seen an upsurge in criticism alongside a contradiction between positive leadership ideas and a working life bearing little imprint of the upbeat messages said to characterize successful leaders. LS primarily produces results where “positive” leadership is correlated with various “positive” outcomes. This is made possible through peculiar conventions characterizing LS, which produce a recipe for flawed, but publishable, research and career progress. This paper points at 20 elements of this recipe and argues for a radical rethinking of LS norms and practices to develop more complex and sophisticated knowledge that is intellectually and methodologically sounder, facilitating less ideological and more relevant and insightful studies and research results.

This chapter discusses a new paradigm of emerging leadership in organizational life that I call “eco-leadership” (Western, 2008b). To be clear from the outset, eco-leadership is not focused on a leader who defi nes themselves through environmental concerns, although this plays a part. Instead, ecoleadership implies leadership in relation to the ecosystems in which we live and work. Eco-leadership conceptualizes leaders as being agents distributed throughout organizations (of all kinds) taking a holistic, systemic, and ethical stance. Eco-leadership works in organizations that are conceptualized as “ecosystems within ecosystems.” This contrasts with the normative 20th-century idea of organizations as stable and boundaried systems that operate with leaders at the top of clear hierarchies. Eco-leadership shifts the focus from individual leaders to leadership, asking of an organization “how
can leadership fl ourish in this environment?”

This paper examines the philosophical foundation of servant leadership by extracting several value-laden principles drawn from Greenleafs and Jesus Christ"s delineation of the concept. The primary intent and self-concept of servant leaders are singled out as the distinctive features of servant leadership. While empirical research studies are critically needed to develop the concepts underlying the servant leadership movement into sound theory, an accurate understanding of the conceptual roots of servant leadership is essential in the process. The current developmental stage of the servant leadership movement is explored in order to provide some useful signposts for future research directions.

We build a theory of marginal leaders’ conception of learning in organizations. We found that, as marginal leaders, L&D executives lacked an established template for their leader identity and had to navigate conflicting prescriptions for their function. The conception of learning—a process that involved finding a place in relation to significant counterparts, taking a stance on learning, and building learning spaces—allowed them to craft identities that gave meaning and direction to their work, grounding their identity as leaders. Not all marginal leaders took the same trajectory toward firm ground for their identities. Some left the margins to lead, embracing either an instrumental or a humanistic view of their function. Others learned to lead from the margins, casting that duality as a paradox. Taking a systems psychodynamic approach to examine marginal leaders’ trajectories through a defining duality, this study reveals the interplay between existential and strategic layers of leader identity construction. Theorizing the conception of learning as the process through which leadership comes to life and becomes organized, the study expands and bridges the literatures on leader identity and on the management of dualities.

The emergence of “moral leadership,” discussed here as a situation wherein individuals take a moral stance on an issue, convince others to do the same, and together spur change in a moral system, abounds in practice. Existing ethical and moral leadership theories, however, have remained confined to micro-level behavioral research. Therefore, in this paper, we develop a process theory of the socially situated emergence of moral leadership and its development into a broader movement affecting moral systems within and across formal organizations. We theorize the pathways through which moral leadership emerges; the triggers that bring about moral awareness and the moral courage to offer an alternative moral stance toward an issue, and leaders’ ability to deftly connect followers and their moral convictions into a broader movement, such that a moral system changes from within. With our process theory, we bridge between micro and macro levels of analysis, and highlight the crucial ability of leaders to be both principled and pragmatically savvy, and thus capable of bridging between their own moral convictions and those of others in order to develop a common and mutually binding ground toward change.

Core Concept 12: Leader Development and Practical Wisdom

How can we develop good leadership?

  • What does leader(ship) development actually mean? And how does it work? 
  • What is the relevance of identity or "moral development" in leader(ship) development? 
  • What is "practical wisdom"?

Over twenty years ago, Bartunek, Gordon, &Weathersby (1983) in the Academy of Management Review advocated
for the use of developmental stage theories to inform the design of management education programs that increase
“complicated” understanding in managers. This ability to see and understand organizations from multiple perspectives
was (and is) seen as necessary for dealing with the complex nature of many of the problems managers face. The
potential contribution of developmental theories is in their description of how adults develop more complex and
comprehensive ways of making sense of themselves and their experience. In the intervening years since the Bartunek et al. publication, a number of practitioners have used developmental stage theories in designing leadership development interventions that help managers deal with complex challenges (Laske, 1999; Palus & Drath, 1995; Torbert, 1991; Torbert & Associates, 2004; Van Velsor & Drath, 2004; Wagner et al., 2006). These will be discussed and reviewed here.

Most developmental psychologists agree that what differentiates leaders is not so much their philosophy of leadership, their personality, or their style of management. Rather, it’s their internal “action logic”—how they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. Relatively few leaders, however, try to understand their own action logic, and fewer still have explored the possibility of changing it.

Moral actions (and moral wisdom) entails four inner psychological processes termed the four component model. These are (1) moral sensitivity, (2) moral judgement, (3) moral motivation, and (4) implementation.

Coinciding with the recent psychological attention paid to the broad topic of wisdom, interest in the intellectual virtue of phronesis or practical wisdom has been burgeoning within pockets of psychology, philosophy, professional ethics, and education. However, these discourses are undercut by frequently unrecognized tensions, lacunae, ambivalences, misapplications, and paradoxes. While a recent attempt at conceptualizing the phronesis construct for the purpose of psychological measurement offers promise, little is known about how phronesis develops psychologically, what motivates it, or how it can be cultivated. Many psychologists aspire to make sense of wise thinking without the contextual, affective, and holistic/integrative resources of phronesis. This article explores some such attempts, in particular, a new “common model” of wisdom. We argue for the incremental value of the phronesis construct beyond available wisdom accounts because phronesis explains how mature decision-making is motivated and shaped by substantive moral aspirations and cognitively guided moral emotions.

Traditional approaches to organizational improvisation treat it as a merely functional response to environmental constrains and unforeseen disruptions, neglecting its moral dimension, especially the valued ends improvisers aim to achieve. We attempt to address this gap by drawing on virtue ethics. In particular, we explore how phronetic improvisation is accomplished by drawing on the diary of an emergency-room physician, in which she describes her (and colleagues’) experience of dealing with Covid-19 in a New York Hospital, during the first spike in March–April 2020. We argue that improvisation is phronetic insofar as practitioners actively care for the valued ends of their practice. In particular, practitioners seek to phronetically fulfil the internal goods of their practice, while complying with institutional demands, in the context of coping with situational exigencies. Phronetic improvisation involves paying attention to what is salient in the situation at hand, while informed by an open-ended commitment to valued ends and constrained by scarce resources, and driven by a willingness to meet what is at stake through adapting general knowledge to situational demands. Such an inventive process may involve reshaping the original internal goods of the practice, in light of important institutional constrains.

In accounting for the nature and positive functioning of virtuous leadership, recent efforts (e.g., Wang & Hackett, 2016) have relied solely on attribution and modeling, concepts tied to social-cognitive theories. This approach does not account for important processes associated with virtuous leadership, such as the crucial role ascribed to the self-cultivation of virtues. To remedy this, we apply the concept of moral identity i.e., one's sense of self as moral, taken from identity-based theories of leadership, to develop a new construct, virtues-centered moral identity. As part of the process, we explain the uniqueness of our approach relative to existing views of moral identity that emphasize moral values and moral goals, rather than moral virtues. In comparison to often unsuccessful externally-based attempts to promote ethical behavior, including regulations, codes of conduct, and audits, our emphasis on virtues-centered moral identity highlights the importance of fostering moral character in leaders (and ultimately followers as well) as the most promising way to promote ethical (moral) choices

The 'Role of Source' is an ongoing work-in-progress since 2009, researching the principles by which founders organize and materialize their enterprises, projects and initiatives. The research is not 'scientific', in the sense of departing from a preconceived hypothesis and seeking to test this, rather empirical and 'postconceived', in the sense of starting from zero, listening to founders' stories and experiences, attempting to distill out and describe the common, universal threads; submitting the distillation to test in further iterations.

Recommended Book Shelf: Leadership, Leadership Development, Transformation

Leadership: A Critical Text

by Simon Western

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

by Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright

The Leader on the Couch: A Clinical Approach to Changing People and Organizations

by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

Metaphors We Lead By: Understanding Leadership in the Real World

by Mats Alvesson (Editor), André Spicer (Editor)

Systems Leadership: Creating Positive Organisations

by Ian Macdonald, Catherine Burke, Karl Stewart

Images of Organization

by Gareth Morgan

Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership

by William R. Torbert

Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of life-affirming 21st century organizations

by Giles Hutchins, Laura Storm

The Business of Building a Better World: The Leadership Revolution That Is Changing Everything

by David Cooperrider (Editor), Audrey Selian (Editor)

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time

by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Cynefin - Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World

by Dave Snowden

The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future

by Charles B. Handy

Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology

by Darcia Narvaez (Editor), Daniel K. Lapsley (Editor)

Virtuous Emotions

by Kristján Kristjánsson

Leading Beyond the Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader

by Danielle Grant, Greg Young, John Knights (Editor)

Transpersonal Leadership in Action: How to Lead Beyond the Ego

by Duncan Enright (Editor), John Knights (Editor), Danielle Grant (Editor), Greg Young (Editor)

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change

by Charles Duhigg

Warriors for the Human Spirit

by Margaret Wheatley

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

by Daniel Goleman

Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini

The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry

by William R Torbert

Leading Without Authority

by Keith Ferrazzi

Goddess Luminary Leadership Wheel: A Post-Patriarchal Paradigm

by Lynne Sedgmore

Agile Leadership Toolkit: Learning to Thrive with Self-Managing Teams

by Peter Koning

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

by Patrick M. Lencioni

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

by Joseph Campbell

Understanding Organizations

by Charles Handy

Organizational Culture and Leadership

by Edgar H. Schein

Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change

by Prof. Don Edward Beck, Christopher C. Cowan

Leading Change

by John P. Kotter

The Lean Startup

by Eric Ries

Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

by L. David Marquet

The Different Drum: Community-making and peace

by M. Scott Peck

Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change

by David Cooperrider, Diana D. Whitney

Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

by Spencer Johnson

Blue Ocean Strategy

by W. Chan Kim, Renée A. Mauborgne, Renee Mauborgne

The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization

by Peter M. Senge

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization

by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey

The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work

by Mats Alvesson, André Spicer

The Oxford Handbook of Critical Management Studies

by Mats Alvesson (Author, Editor), Todd Bridgman (Author, Editor), Hugh Willmott (Author, Editor)

Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean

by Kim Scott

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization

by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

by General Stanley McChrystal, David Silverman, Tantum Collins, Chris Fussell

Personal and Organizational Transformations: The True Challenge of Continual Quality Improvement

by Dalmar Fisher, William Torbert

The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems

by Peggy Holman (Editor), Tom Devane (Editor), Steven Cady (Editor)

Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow

by Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais

Work with Source

by Tom Nixon

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization

by Scott Barry Kaufman

onwards and upwards!

Journey Map