Where is the leadership?

“Who are todays (world)leaders and what can we learn from them?” It was a question during a Q&A session with Chris Guillebeau during a conference last year. Chris is an ‘authority’ on micro-entrepreneurship and one of his life achievements was to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday. Not his answer but the bewildered absence stayed in my memory.

The question came from a concern because the world recently lost great leaders and there is a lack of inter-generational exchange of important leadership qualities.

(This is a translation of a pervious published Dutch-only blogpost)

Autonomy, democracy, authority and power

Paul Verhaeghe brought a story during the Oikos celebration congress that could provide a possible context for both the question and the bewildered answer. He used the following terms:

  • Autonomy: collectively making rules and laws, comply with them and make sure others do so as well
  • Democracy: citizens that self-govern, mostly via a group of representatives who always act on behalf of a heterogeneous community
  • Authority: someone has authority over someone else on the basis of an external 3th point that the two people recognise. It implies a voluntary submission
  • Power: power functions as a two folded structure. Power is based on forced submission

Paul Verhaeghe’s thesis is that when authority disappears, power comes to fill the void. As a result from this autonomy will decrease. And consequently democracy will decrease too. Traditional sources of authority work top-down en vertical, but the basis for this has disappeared. The question to restore authority is valid, but according to Paul Verhaeghe we need a new form of authority. Bottom-up and horizontal, with the collective as new basis. It won’t be a straightforward transition and conflict will be unavoidable. (video blow is Dutch only)

Strategic narrative as new authority?

Diane Nijs gives, with her work around Imagineering a possible answer on how we can restore the 3th point Paul Verhaeghe talks about. She offers a method where we can restore the problems of today by changing the way we think about them and design solutions.

In a linear system, central authority that monitors and sanctions works. But addressing complex problems in a hyper connected word with linear logic doesn’t work. The problems of today are not complicated, but complex. Everything is connected and cause and effect are not always so clear. In a hyper-connected world creativity doesn’t only start from an individual (central creativity) but also by interaction between people (distributed creativity).


Imagineering is a method that tries to create a mind-shift by bringing stakeholders in a differed mode. It tries to create new order by designing instruments that give individuals confidence to change because he or she knows everyone else changes as well. It inspires people to show certain behaviour. It’s effective because every person involved makes his or her own interpretation of how the complex problem at large, specifically manifests to him or her. A strategic narrative framework is the beginning of a change in direction of growth of a living system.

Maybe the answer to the question “who are the (world) leaders of today?” is that we all are a little bit a world leader.


  • Alive in Berlin 2014 (30-31 Mai 2014)
  • shiftN – shifting the mental furniture with Diane Nijs (9 January 2015)
  • Oikos celebration congres with Paul Verhaeghe (31 January 2015)

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