Leadership As We Know It Has to Change

Alain de Botton recently tweeted something that really hit home: "So normal to want a better life: so unusual to set out to be a better person."

I feel that this distortion can be felt at a collective level as well. The crises in our society that politicians and leaders incessantly point to cannot be separated from a crisis in leadership. A better community has to start with better individual responsibility. Leadership is merely a reflection of our nation.

New leaders will arise, not only because it is a natural process but because a trust crisis has been brewing for since so many years. As shown in Edelman's recently released annual Trust Barometer, distrust is growing strongly across the board, be it of media, business or governments. Only 14 percent trust their government a great deal, and only 16 percent trust business and media institutions. When a huge societal shift is occurring, institutional powers are the last ones to understand the need for change. Denial is a tempting trap when you have everything to lose and are not sure what you stand to win in a new, uncertain world. The common reaction could be to say, "It was better before," or, even worse, to erode essential human rights to keep your status at all costs. No, the world was not "better before"; this is an illusion. Something Bill Gates, the most admired personality in the world, according to a Times report, said recently reminded us all of this. Where? On Twitter, of course, the place that he defines as "the town square of the global village." Change is always scary or exciting. Your vision depends on your fear or your curiosity for the unknown.

This is a new era. Bubbles have been replaced by networks of collaboration, microcosmos by communities of action. The tools are not only the sign of a technological turn but a context for a shift in power. The other side of the table is rising, sitting behind their computers or running the world from the Internet in their pocket. Brands have to learn to let go. The same holds true for our political executives and media. This is not because of "the tyranny of the crowd" or even "the transparency dictatorship" but because we are no longer receiving information. We live in an era where we can be makers and creators and are empowered by our social (media) environment. We have a voice. Any human being who can participate will take the chance to have an impact. If we know we have this opportunity, we cannot ignore it and pretend everything is the same as it was five or 10 years ago.

Last week, the annual World Economic Forum in Davos took place, uniting 2,500 attendees, supposedly the "top leaders of our world." Davos claimed to explore the needs for "the world of tomorrow." Only 15 percent of the attendees were women, and there were less that 40 individuals under the age of 30.

I have never been, and it is always dangerous and usually unwise to criticize something you are not familiar with. But what we can all agree on is that in the connected era, this vision of an annual gathering where the masters of the universe meet sounds like an anachronism at best. The new leaders have nothing in common with the ones of the previous industrial revolution. Supported by their community and the power of decentralized network, they navigate a world where curiosity, vision and adaptation are more necessary than convictions and authority. John Maeda, former director of the Rhode Island Design School and new partner at KCPB, explains that in the age of interconnectedness, we are moving from authoritative leadership to creative leadership:

Art is about asking questions, which is a good way of looking at how to solve a problem. I like to apply how artists think to look at how to improve design, technology... and now leadership.

The leaders of tomorrow will have more common points with artists than technocratic leaders, thriving in open systems versus closed systems. Leaders are only a reflection of society and their values. The new leaders will represent the new priorities of the digital revolution. Surveillance and lack of privacy are not the values of the Web. They are the manifestation of keeping power "at all costs." No, the values of Internet users are far from it. Just spend one day in Internet-land and you will realize that empathy, community and resilience are key and common beliefs.

Empathy is not only feeling for others; it is knowing there is something bigger than us that we can impact and be part of. The Dalai Lama has 2 millions followers on Twitter, and I do not believe it is a coincidence. He represents a creative leader outside the conventional system that the digital generation can believe in. Purpose-driven brands and projects will be the new normal very soon. Empathy is also related to caring, caring for this planet and our environment, especially in light of everything we are constantly learning about our impact.

Sharing and transmitting knowledge are also a key values of the digital era. Education systems cannot function on the same old model. Creativity, empathy and compassion have to be the basis of the world the new leaders will reinvent.

And of course community. Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, networks of collaboration and creation are part of our lives and create so much value that we cannot even imagine a world without them anymore. Kickstarter and Wikipedia are not only websites; they are part of the movement. They represent decentralized networks that, beyond previous institutions, create and blossom.

This is what the world of tomorrow is about. The crisis in leadership is just a transition. Those who resonate with the new society are coming, faster than ever. And they will never be part of a bubble of influence. As Ralph Nader said, "The function of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers."

In a world where your voice can have a meaningful impact, what may start as a small following on Twitter can reach globally and profoundly change billions of lives.