Educating evolutionary co-leadership to embody a radically new development paradigm

(Published in  World Futures, The Journal of Global Education  – December 2012)

The purpose here is to explore why and how to develop an emerging form of integral leadership – called evolutionary co-leadership – that is responsibly dedicated to the co-evolution of life and humanity on Planet Earth. After offering some fresh distinctions about leadership, this article calls for a shift to a radically new development paradigm, and identifies key qualities and practices of evolutionary co-leadership. It then shares some views on the multiplying effects of an integral approach to co-leadership development – in the context of transforming education – and conclude with some avenues to disseminate this emerging leadership form, mainly to deal constructively with what Barbara Marx Hubbard 1   calls the current “birthing pains” of a new civilization.


We are witnessing, as some have identified it, “the end of a world” – as three great waves are now ending simultaneously: 1) A 30-year wave of ultra-capitalism and hyper-consumption that has been characterized by damaging economic excesses at the expense of social and environmental well-being of countless people, as well as the mindless pillage and pollution of the earth. 2) A 300-year wave of modernity that has brought multiple freedoms and human/social rights, but also an objectification of nature and humans, including new forms of inhumanity. 3) A 6000-year era of “patriarchy”- that has resulted both in the domination of nature and women by men, and the hegemony of our rational brain at the expense of our empathetic capacity and our instinctual wisdom 2   . The conjunction of these 3 cycles has produced leadership forms that have inhibited the development of individuals, their communities, their harmonious relationships with nature and the meaning of their life.

However, many signs of the swelling of a new wave are already visible – not yet acknowledged by the mainstream media. And new forms of leadership are emerging that create conditions for people to “grow in humanity”. These developments combine the best of modernity and the best of traditional and indigenous societies into a new wisdom – in a balanced relationship to nature, the human community, and meaning. Leadership everywhere can exemplify the deep interdependence between personal and societal transformation – through the wider adoption of appropriate individual and collective developmental practices that will become an essential component of transformed education. Such embodied leadership creates the conditions for a qualitative development for all beings – during the quantum jump in evolution that is underway.

Right now, new leadership distinctions are crucial

A profusion of articles and books have been written about leadership in recent years. But many of them do not make a clear distinction between authority and leadership, between authority and influence, or between executive leadership and distributed leadership. Authority is well adapted to solving technical or convergent problems (problems that have one solution), whereas leadership is required to address what E.F. Schumacher 3   called “divergent problems” and Ronald Heifetz 4   characterized as “adaptive challenges”.

The term leadership is “imported” in other languages, such as French, German, and Spanish, because it does not have a true equivalent in them. The verb “lead” comes from the Indo-European root “leith”, which means to go forth, to cross a threshold, or even to die. What threshold needs to be crossed, so that something new can emerge? What do leaders need to let go of, to die to, in order to cross that threshold? What if exercising leadership meant: facing the unknown with openness and trust, sensing what is emerging by being present to what is, participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing, giving voice to an evolutionary impulse, inviting self and others to new places – never seen or experienced before – and enabling access to the leadership capacity of everyone involved?

Crossing a threshold is the first step in the hero’s journey, according to Joseph Campbell 5   . Individual heroes may still be needed today – particularly in the middle of a crisis – but, in the best case, one of their key roles is to invite many others to become “heroes” as well – on the path to exercising shared or collective leadership (co-leadership for short). Dying to one’s sense of “separateness” – from the Source, from Self, or from other human beings – is to allow compassionate expansion in the heart. It also means perceiving oneself both as a singular instrument of evolution and capable of playing in harmony with others for the greater collective good. To connect and give energy to the Self of another is to enact the true spirit of partnership or co-leadership, as musicians do in a jazz band or chamber orchestra without a conductor. In the Global Transforming Ensemble 5   , we call this “awareness-based, love-infused, presence-centered, evolutionary leadership”.

Current global crises call for a shift in the prevailing development paradigm

What Edgar Morin 6   calls dimensions of a poly-crisis (such as global financial speculation, hyper-debt, economic disparity and instability, jobless recovery, ecological threats, the widening gap between rich and poor) can be viewed as interconnected facets of a deeper and systemic crisis of development.

Our prevailing development paradigm is based largely on masculine/patriarchal values, with four self-reinforcing building blocks:

  1. A view of human nature: one that is materialistic, driven by libido, instant gratification, utility, aggressiveness, and separate from nature. That view is at least a century old, and was popularized by Freud and others.
  2. A domination paradigm : domination of the many by a few, of the weak by the strong, of women by men, of nature by humans, of sensitivity by reason, of quality of life by work, of local cultures by colonizers. Some aspects of this paradigm are as old as agriculture and patriarchy; others are only a few centuries old.
  3. The quest for ongoing material growth : can be seen through quantitative measures of progress, consumerism, glorification of greed, scarcity mentality, globalization, objectification of nature and other humans, as well as disregard/externalization of social and environmental costs. This quest started in Europe with the merchants in the Renaissance period and has become generalized in modern times. Dependence on a single currency issued by a central bank in each country has created or reinforced the sense of scarcity and competition for resources.
  4. Blind faith in free markets: markets are deemed best to “regulate” the economy and adjacent domains – which leads to unrestrained financial capitalism and speculation, economy as war, externalization of ecological and social costs, political plutocracy, market- and performance-driven education, and privatization of healthcare and other public services or benefits. All of this has become a Western ideology in the last 30 years, largely exported through globalization.

This largely unquestioned model of development – and the corresponding growth in the number and influence of MBAs and modern economists in the last 30 years – has led to a hypertrophy of the economy, at least in most western countries. Many people were led to believe that a quantitatively growing economy would bring progress into their lives, and it did so for a while. In Europe, we moved 300 years ago from an “economy of salvation” (where people could buy papal indulgences to redeem their sins) to “salvation by the economy” (where people could buy happiness in this world). But now the economic sphere has invaded and damaged the geosphere (over-exploitation of non-renewable resources), the biosphere (deforestation, degradation of arable soil, air and water pollution, climate change), the political sphere (growth of influential lobbies and corruption), and the cultural sphere (loss of independence of mass media, education, and the arts, as well as degradation of family life).

A radically new development paradigm is needed now – one that is not based on ever-increasing material growth, but on long-term sustainability – with broader measures of individual and collective well-being. This new paradigm offers a better balance between masculine (Yang) and feminine (Yin) values, and has the following foundations:

  1. A new view of human nature as empathetic 7 , relational, cooperative, searching for meaning, and looking for both differentiation and integration, or both singularity and collaboration. While acknowledging the shadow side of human nature, this humanistic and spiritual perspective represents a major shift from a materialistic, individualistic, and reductionist view of humans that has prevailed for one century at least.
  2. A partnership paradigm 8 : where one considers and treats others as equivalent (i.e. having equal value), generates trust through mutuality, favors flatter or circular structures governed by the wise, and weaves stories that honor partnership and shared leadership as the norm. This new paradigm has been gaining ground vs. the traditional patriarchy or domination paradigm, at least in Western countries, with the increasing number of “cultural creatives” and women in influential roles, as well as the rapid growth of civil society organizations and social enterprises.
  3. A quest for sustainability: while acknowledging the need to meet people’s basic material needs, the call for voluntary simplicity and measures of well being – such as Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” – is being heard around the world by a growing minority of people. Post-conventional consultants and economists have been proposing a richer blend of quantitative and qualitative measures of development at both organizational and societal levels. Moreover, at least five thousand complementary currencies 9   are now used in communities around the world: With their emphasis on local exchange of value, they represent the seeds of a monetary ecology that would be much more resilient than the current system.
  4. A balanced use of markets and regulation: speculative companies’ downfalls and financial market crises in the last few years have led to increasing criticism of the free- market ideology. The need for both national and international regulation and greater rigor is more widely expressed. More generally, there is a growing recognition – including among economic leaders – that simplistic and individualistic mechanisms, based on greed and inspired by Adam Smith’s concept of “the invisible hand”, are not adapted to today’s global complexity.

Wide adoption of this emerging paradigm depends on the level of awareness and collaboration of leaders across various sectors of society: private, public, civil, education, and media. Through their own exemplary behavior as well as cultural and structural innovations, leaders can create conditions for many others to expand their own consciousness and find ways to experience a more encompassing sense of abundance in their life, and feel co-responsible for evolution. Within the context of a radical rethinking of education, breakthrough forms of leadership development – focused on both inner and outer changes – are critical for the diffusion of the new paradigm over the next few years, as time is our scarcest resource now. These new forms integrate the interior and exterior dimensions of change, at both individual and collective levels.

New qualities and practices characterize integral evolutionary co-leadership

In response to the poly-crisis and to the need for radical rethinking of our prevailing development model, new concepts and forms of leadership are emerging in a number of organizations and communities around the world. They include shared, distributed, or collective leadership – emphasizing interpersonal influence, dialogue, and mutuality – by considering leadership as a relational process rather than a position. Such leadership engages simultaneously in top-down, bottom-up, diagonal, and circular change processes. It also cuts across boundaries to generate open innovation that involves suppliers and customers as partners, or to address complex challenges of sustainable development by forming partnerships across companies, government and civil society.

Shared or collective leadership challenges the traditional distinction between leaders and followers who agree on one or two objectives to be achieved. In these emerging forms, co-leadership produces direction, alignment, and commitment as means to attain longer-term goals 10 . Each one of the co-leaders needs to examine their beliefs about both individual and collective leadership and engages in practices – such as mutual adjustment, shared sense-making, collective learning and intelligence – that will generate a new leadership culture.

Surveys of more than 600 communities – undertaken jointly by the Global Transforming Ensemble and the Institute for Strategic Clarity 11 – show that about 15% of them report a high level of well-being and a feeling of abundance or harmonic vibrancy. Members of these groups experience simultaneously a high quality of relationship to self (freedom for self-expression), to others in the group (mutuality), to the larger human community (contribution, service, care), to nature (respect and balance), and to spirit (meaning and evolution). When the dynamics of harmonic vibrancy are at work, there is a positive connection between the ability to self-sustain and to self-determine, a sense of cultural identity, effectiveness of social structures and processes, strength of the social fabric, and available economic opportunities.

The level of harmonic vibrancy in the collective is influenced by the quality of leadership that can be characterized by several interior conditions: being acutely aware of one’s own beliefs, attitude and behavior; having a sense of profound interdependence; opening to inspiration and guidance from the larger field; trusting life’s process and evolution; having a beginner’s mind; being humble and willing to learn, with a sense of humor and playfulness; paying attention to the quality of relationship with self, others, and the larger whole; valuing diverse and complementary views, gifts, and skills; and willing to partner and to be of service.

Leadership development is a key leverage point within a radical reframing of education

On a global level, a transformation of education in all its aspects: 1) parental education, 2) primary, secondary and tertiary education 3) management and leadership development, 4) media programming, and 5) life-long learning – would offer the largest multiplying effects on both individual interiority and behavior, as well as culture, systems, and structures. The quality of education affects indeed all domains of human experience: awareness, empathy, esthetics, ethics, values, relationships, ethics, the arts, health, eating habits, energy uses, habitat, work, business practices, political choices, etc.

However, this transformation requires a radical re-thinking of its premises – as well as the collaboration of many individual leaders and institutions – while building on the many experiments and alternatives that are already in existence and growing.

One of the key aspects of this transformation is a shift from the predominance of rational learning to a wholesome balance among cognitive knowledge, development of the capacity to love, and liberation of spontaneity – what Claudio Naranjo calls a tri-focal education.  To heal individual consciousness – and our civilization – from the consequences of thousands of years of patriarchy and at least 30 years of materialistic excesses, education needs to foster a massive psycho-spiritual development of the population 2 , starting with individuals who aspire to or currently hold a leadership role.

A new view of human nature, as well as a newly conceived education in its various forms, will be both nurturing and challenging – and will develop empathy and emotional maturity, appreciative inquiry, participative observation, collaborative learning, environmental, and social literacy – through shared pedagogical experience and facilitative teaching. It will enable every person to become more aware of his/her own true gifts, with the willingness to offer them in service to the community. From a developmental perspective, this education will cultivate the ability to be present to what is, adopt a systemic perspective, search for inclusive responses in the midst of ambiguity and paradoxes, and feel responsible for authoring one’s life, while caring for the whole.

Within that broader context, new forms of leadership development will enable leaders to adopt practices at three levels that reinforce each other, support personal and organizational transformation, and give access to internal guidance and collective wisdom:

  1. Personal practices include various forms of individual action inquiry that develop one’s openness, humility, and exemplarity as a leader, such as journaling, challenging one’s beliefs and assumptions 12 , deepening one’s intuition and inner knowing through body- heart-mind integration, and seeking coaching or support from a peer group or network.
  2. Interpersonal practices encompass multiple forms of collaborative inquiry such as empathetic listening, compassionate confrontation, reflective and generative dialogue, approaching conflicts as opportunities to learn, working creatively with polarities 13 , dilemmas and paradoxes, and undertaking intercultural journeys in a small group.
  3. Systemic practices include building a shared vision with diverse partners and stake- holders 14 , bringing a microcosm of the whole system in the same room, setting up the conditions and processes for open innovation across organizational or sectoral boundaries – with a combination of singularity and collaboration.

The development of evolutionary co-leadership can be accelerated and amplified

Several directions already exist or are emerging to widen and disseminate evolutionary co-leadership on a large scale in the next few years. They range from offering breakthrough secondary and tertiary education for future leaders to supporting/connecting evolutionary leadership development programs, to identifying/showcasing evolutionary leaders, and to augmenting the public reach of “better world” organizations and movements.

  1. Embed radically new content and pedagogy – based on the emerging paradigm of development – in world universities who are preparing young leaders in various fields for tomorrow. For example, the Giordano Bruno Global shift University will start enrollment in the Spring of 2013 and plans to ultimately reach millions of young people from low-income families who, until now, could not dream of having access to accredited world-class higher education. The new system will combine an internet-based form of education with the traditional campus-based classical form by licensing programs to thousands of middle schools around the world. The educational methodology of the University is trans-cultural, interdisciplinary, experiential, playful, and addressing both left- and right-brain in a non-hierarchical mode – based on close and constant interaction among students and tutors/teachers. The core program will help students comprehend their world and transform it in light of their emerging insight and wisdom.
  2. Expand the number, reach, and interconnections of educational programs that are already developing evolutionary or global leadership in a number of countries. The Global Leadership Network 15 initiated a first survey of 30 such programs in 2008, and the report on Global Leadership Development Programs highlights common characteristics, unmet needs, and some of the next steps that could be taken. Among those are the incorporation of more evolutionary components in management school programs, the development of qualified teachers/facilitators, and the accessibility of programs to a greater number of underprivileged local leaders.
  3. Identify, connect, support, and globally showcase the many leaders who are already practicing new forms of leadership in social enterprises, alternative companies, NGO’s, and local or virtual communities. A number of for-benefit organizations and networks – such as the Club of Budapest, the Presencing Institute, the Berkana Institute, The World Café Foundation, The Art of Hosting, the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Ashoka, and the Institute for Strategic Clarity – are already supporting work in that direction. Some of them are investigating ways to leverage similar initiatives on a global scale.
  4. Enhance communication, sharing of practices, coordination, and collaboration among respected organizations and networks across the fields of conscious evolution, peace, justice, social innovation, sustainability, and wise use of technology. The number and reach of such organizations have greatly increased in the last few years, but their influence on the dissemination and embodiment of a new development paradigm has often been limited – culturally and geographically – by their lack of funding and management capability, as well as by the fragmentation of the field. To help reach a critical mass in terms of world audience and effectiveness, a co-creative process is to be launched and fostered among the organizations that share similar values and are most open to cooperation. Based on a groundbreaking communication and collaboration platform, this initiative would both allow a more effective use of the resources that are available and attract new funding within the 2012-2013 timeframe – years that may prove to be critical for birthing a civilization based on this emerging paradigm.


  1. Barbara Marx Hubbard, The Shift from Ego to Essence, 2001
  2. Claudio Naranjo, Healing Civilization, 2009
  3. E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the perplexed, 1978
  4. Ronald A. Heifetz et al, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership – Tools and       Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, 2009
  5. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 2008
  6. Edgar Morin, La Voie, 2010
  7. Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathetic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, 2009
  8. Riane Eisler, The Power of Partnership: Seven Relationships that will Change Your Life, 2003
  9. Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Lietaer: Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies , 2010
  10. William Drath et al, Direction, Alignment, Commitment: Toward a More Integrative Ontology of Leadership, Leadership Quarterly, 2008
  11., and James Ritchie-Dunham, Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance , forthcoming
  12. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, 2009
  13. Barry Johnson, Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, 1992
  14. Alain Gauthier, Developing Collective Leadership – Partnering in multi-stakeholder contexts, in Leadership is Global: Co-creating a More Humane and Sustainable World , edited by Walter Link, Thais Corral, and Mark Gerzon, 2006
  15. .

About Alain

Alain Gauthier’s current focus as an author, consultant, facilitator, educator, and coach is on evolutionary co-leadership development and collective learning as prerequisites for cultivating deep and lasting change in and across organizations. A graduate from H.E.C. (Paris) and an M.B.A. from Stanford University, he has served over the past 45 years a large variety of client organizations in Europe, Japan and North America. He first worked as a senior associate of McKinsey & Company in Europe, then as a partner of a Paris-based consulting firm, and is currently Executive Director of Core Leadership Development and Founder of the Global Transforming Ensemble, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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7 Responses to Educating evolutionary co-leadership to embody a radically new development paradigm

  1. replay says:

    Very well written information. It will be beneficial to everyone who usess it, including myself. Keep doing what you are doing – can’t wait to read more posts.

  2. Lovely site! I am loving it!! Will come back again.

  3. And lots of of them can be done at the same time.

  4. John Renesch says:

    Alain, good piece! Ties nicely into my work on conscious leadership and the work we are doing at Futureshapers. Looking forward to talking more over lunch.

    Have you been in touch with Aftab Omer at Meridian University? Their focus is on transformative education.

    • Alain says:

      Thank you, John. It is true that there are many areas of convergence in our work.
      I just met Aftab Omer at the Integral Theory Conference and look forward to pursuing my conversation with him.

      Looking forward to our time together on Thursday.

  5. Very interesting ! But, it’s urgent to make this new paradigm emerging. For example, finding a way to limit climate change can not wait Therefore, how to make current leaders and organization changing NOW ? I’m involved in this thought and changing process in the business environment since 25 years. I failed several times; especially when I tried to found companies offering products and services to preserve the environment. But now, I found a way to at least open the eyes of managers on the necessity to change their way to manage. More information on my website (in French)

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