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What type of Renaissance leader are YOU?

Buckminster Fuller's Biosphere in Montreal - Drawing by Capri Z. Liu

What type of Renaissance leader are you? A philanthropist, an evangelist, a corporate hacker, a purpose warrior, a soccer coach, a Jedi, a shaman, or a trailblazer?

I am a Montrealer in exile. It's been nearly four years since my wife and I dropped our suitcases in Amman; I have now lived and worked on three continents; expatriation is a humbling experience. Jordan is the world's second water-scarce country; planetary boundaries are no longer a fancy economic concept but a reality of my daily life. From my new friends and neighbors, I hear stories of war and forced displacement and feel the pain of their open wounds. Taking refuge in the ease and comfort of my privileged Western lifestyle is no longer an option; I want to do work that matters. As a leadership advisor and a coach, I impact vicariously through the leaders I serve.

I spent the month of June back at the foot of Mount Royal, losing myself in long walks in my old neighborhoods of MileEx and le Plateau, surfing the buzz of creativity and innovation of the city, and reconnecting with the soul of the place, feet on the rock and washed by the river. Seeing the Biosphere on the horizon from the old port, I remembered the words of its visionary architect, Buckminster Fuller:

"We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody".

Toward the end of my stay, the forest fires were burning, there was news of more drone strikes on Kyiv, and schoolbooks and guns were smoking down South in the US again. But rather than despair, it is hope that I felt.

In Montreal, I met evangelists amplifying the conversation on the future of work, technologists rallying around the call to design products for the greater good, and venture capitalists committed to impact investing and developing conscious leaders and entrepreneurs. I wondered: Are we seeing the emergence of a new type of leadership? Is the Nouvelle Renaissance near?

If so, let me ask again: What type of Renaissance leader are you? A philanthropist, an evangelist, a corporate hacker, a purpose warrior, a soccer coach, a Jedi, a shaman, or a trailblazer?

The philanthropist

We only met once, but I still remember her passion and drive. It was over lunch in the cafeteria of a coworking space in the center of Paris in 2015. She and her partners were launching a platform to facilitate and accelerate the integration of talented newcomers (migrants or refugees). Eight years later, the platform has blossomed into a vibrant community of 50,000+ members in seven countries and has incubated 320+ startups. (Alice Barbe, Singa).

As her enterprise was still in its early stage, Barbe received unexpected support in the form of an invitation to participate in the very first cohort of the Obama Foundation's Leaders program, an initiative aiming "to inspire, empower, and connect regional cohorts of changemakers to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities and throughout their region."

When philanthropy acts as a mechanism to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, it has a corrective function. But what would it look like to engage in the long game? I may have a professional bias for human and leadership development. Still, I dream of philanthropy supporting the emergence and development of a new generation and style of leaders, mindful not only of impacts but also of the growth and fulfillment of people.

The evangelist

You are a filmmaker and creative writer on a mission to re-ignite creativity in each of us (Barnet Bain, The Book Of Doing And Being).

Or, after your daughter had a violent allergic reaction to eggs, you embarked on a crusade to take on the unhealthy relationship between Big Food and Big Money (Robyn O'Brien, The Unhealthy Truth).

Or you are a leadership advisor on a mission to help women navigate patriarchy and regain their seats in the circles of power (Gisèle Szczyglak, Subversives).

Or you are an anthropologist, an educator, and a practitioner reinventing how we work (Samantha Slade, Going Horizontal).

Or, like my friends Mervat, Ranya, and Rajwa, leaders and educators at Learning Trail kindergarten school in Amman, you teach composting to your five-year-old pupils and take them on field trips to the local forests to pick up the mountains of plastic trash left behind by the weekend picnickers.

You sail against the winds. Before you found your groove, you may have felt lonely.

The corporate hacker

Corporate hacker is a term I first heard from an inspiring friend and formidable midwife of organizational transformations (Nathalie Nowak, Infusio).

You are a tradesperson on the factory floor, a project manager in the engineering department, or a business unit manager. Well aware of your circle of influence, you commit to changing your organization from within.

When Ed reached out to me, he was about to step into the shoes of the CEO and country manager of a division of a F100 corporation in the software industry. His predecessor was a charismatic leader who would monopolize air time in meetings and manage by fear. Throughout the 300+ people business unit, trust, initiative, and ownership were at an all-time low. The stress-o-meter would inevitably reach its highest markings in the weeks preceding quarterly closings. Ed wanted to shape a culture of self-leadership and agility, where performance would come with ease and flow.

But on a global level, the top-down carrots-and-sticks approach to management was the norm between Ed's higher-ups and peers. Like evangelists, corporate hackers blaze new trails and often feel solitary with no one to turn to.

Also, as he and his team progressed through reinventing their organization, Ed had to find the courage and humility to face his hyper-achiever and controlling ways and let go of them. He had to engage in his journey of personal transformation.

Courageous is the one who challenges the status quo from within.

The purpose warrior

You are a flag bearer on a mission and take massive action. You are a compelling communicator with the talent to get us to embark on your crusade.

For example, you may be one of the 1000+ innovative entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs developing technically and economically viable solutions to tackle climate change under the umbrella of Bertrand Piccard's Solar Impulse Foundation. With your peers, you lobby governments to amend legislation.

Your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is not limited to climate action. It may address one of humanity's seventeen Grand Challenges, from hunger and poverty eradication to gender equality (UN's seventeen Sustainable Development Goals - SDGs).

You have an exponential growth mindset and operate for the greater good. Your story could be one of Project Breakthrough's case studies.

As a purpose-driven leader, you know (or maybe not) the dangers of purpose washing, purpose bloating, and purpose myopia.

Purpose washing is the sum of greenwashing (understating negative impacts) and impact washing (overstating positive impacts).

Purpose bloating is a condition that affects those who still thirst for glory. In this day and age, you wouldn't want to work for X, would you?

Having purpose myopia means you are so focused on your cause that you have blindspots around some indirect externalities of your work or your organization's cultures and managing styles. For example, I hear countless stories of team inefficiencies or burnout from NGO leaders around me. How far will you sail if there is a mutiny onboard your ship? Clarity of purpose does not suffice to engage teams sustainably.

The soccer coach

You are committed to seeing everyone develop into their best selves, and teams play in the flow. Under your watch, missteps are not a thing to cover up but an opportunity for growth. For you, the way we work transforms people for the better. You have a people growth mindset.

Maybe we will read your story in the next edition of An Everyone Culture, the playbook for becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO).

The Inner Development Goals (IDG) framework is a guide to enriching your people's skills and your organization's culture in the areas of being, thinking, relating, collaborating, and acting.

You remind the skeptics that there is a correlation between people's growth and high returns: a pioneer of the DDO model is American billionaire investor and hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, who founded Bridgewater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds, in 1975.

You subscribe to Principled Perspectives, Ray Dalio's newsletter on LinkedIn.

We think of you when we watch Ted Lasso.

The Jedi

Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever who likes to remind us that he almost became a priest, is a leading figure in the Jedi community. After ten years at the helm of Unilever, his scorecard was impressive, with a total shareholder return of 292 percent, far outrunning the 131 percent for the FTSE index.

Yet, the CEO's magic did not come from the CFO's playbook but from a bold vision to do away with short-termism and put sustainability first, proving that it is profitable to do business to make the world a better place.

To support his iconoclastic business strategy, Polman launched a leadership development program with the top 100 executives and extended it to the top 1800 leaders in the company. Unilever later offered a one-and-a-half version of the program to all employees globally.

As a Jedi, you are a crossover between a purpose warrior and a soccer coach. You strive for net positive impact AND developing people in your organization. You trust that profits flow from doing good out there AND within.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) AND the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) frameworks guide your journey.

You subscribe to Becoming Net Positive, Paul Polman's newsletter on LinkedIn, and indeed, you own a copy of Net Positive, the book he co-authored with sustainability expert Andrew Winston, to share the learnings from the Unilever Net Positive case study.

The shaman

A post-Woody Allen New Yorker's joke: "People don't brag about their therapists anymore; they share stories about their shamans and their weekend heart- and third-eye-opening ceremonies."

You may be a Burner, a yogi, or a meditator. Or, like my good friend Ted, you can take long hikes in the wild (Theodore Fairhurst, Dare to Reach). Or you sweat, sing, and pray in Native American lodges. Or you take trips into the depths of the Amazon forest to be rocked by iccaros and expunge your demons.

You have found a way to escape busyness, reconnect, heal, and gain perspective and clarity. As you do your deep inner work, you gain a capacity to hold space for others to do theirs. A temptation is to think that you know better. Luckily, you have realized you are no more than a fellow traveler journeying on learning trails.

Unless you want to escape as a contemplator, you must stay grounded and find ways to help move the needle in the material world with humility.

The trailblazer

It is another quote by Buckminster Fuller that you like and hum as a mantra:

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

You think outside the box and the system, sometimes chanting degrowth and post-capitalism slogans. But your experiments occasionally inspire.

Less than one hour's drive from where I live, a few kilometers away from the Baptism site on the Jordan River, there is an organization called Greening The Desert.

There, Nadia and Geoff Lawton embarked on a moonshot. They bought a piece of land in what is possibly one of the harshest inhabited desert regions in the world. With the involvement of the local community and by adapting and applying permaculture principles, they turned their dry land into a lush and profitable farm that I regularly visit and buy from.

But now, we wonder: Can we green deserts at scale?

Ask Robyn O'Brien, the mother on a crusade to take on the unhealthy relationship between Big Food and Big Money. After a decade of advocacy, O'Brien co-founded rePlant Capital, a $250M fund to finance the transition of farmland to regenerative and organic agriculture by focussing on soil health and farmer profitability.

I would anticipate her answer to be: yes, we may.

Let us all find the courage to blaze new trails at work, home, and life.


The penguins in the South were rallying around the dream of their charismatic leader and chanting in a choir: "Make Antarctica Great Again." Their cousins in the North were dancing to the beat of a different tune: "Make the Artctic Groovy Already." Following bouts of arguing on social media, they dared each other to swim and meet in Fiji for a final debate in a giant rally. They drowned en route—all of them.

Over two decades ago, Simon Sinek embarked on a crusade to educate leaders to articulate and communicate purpose with clarity to inspire action. His famous 'Start With Why' TED talk is the most popular ever, with sixty-two million views. Yet, as humbling as this may be, the idea that purposeful leadership is what it takes to tackle the challenges of our times may not have crossed the chasm. Ask the penguins.

There are a few ways to promote the importance of purposeful leadership further. One is to build a robust economic case for purpose-driven enterprises. Another is to wake up to the fact that 'the way we are working is not working' (a good read by Tony Schwartz) and focus on HOW we do what we do (not just WHY) and WHO we are becoming because in the end, we, the people, are the product of our work.

When progressives, activists, dreamers, and utopians quickly rallied under the purpose banner, economic actors -corporations and investors alike- were slower to answer the call. Renaissance leaders show us how to craft a new pitch to align business strategies with pursuing a worthy purpose. Poleman laid the groundwork with Unilever. Corporations may generate significant profits by giving more than they take. Funds with high ESG scores perform better. Burying our heads in the sand is both morally and fiscally irresponsible. We can now tweak Sinek's talk for the C-Suite. The business of doing good is good business.

Regarding HOW we work, Renaissance leaders recognize that humans yearn to blossom and thrive. We do not seek work that needs balancing with life but work as an opportunity to develop relationships with others and ourselves that nourish us, make us evolve, and come fully alive. Beyond the drive to do work that impacts the world positively, Renaissance leaders seek inner maturity, reinventing organizations and themselves. With Dalio's Bridgewater Associates business case in hand, this, too, is an idea worth sharing with the C-suite.

Few speak more eloquently of work, inner work, and outer work than poet and C-suite influencer David Whyte:

'At its best, work seems never-ending only because, like life, it is a pilgrimage, a journey in which we progress not only through the world but through stages of understanding. Good work, done well for the right reasons and with the end in mind, has always been a sign, in most human traditions, of an inner and outer maturity. Its achievement is celebrated as an individual triumph and a gift to our societies. A very hard-won arrival.'

On the cover of his Crossing the Unknown Sea (a book I read this summer and now recommend to all my coaching clients), Whyte offers a novel and inviting definition of work:

Work/werk/n: an opportunity for discovering and shaping; the place where the self meets the world.

As a Renaissance leader, you won't leave the shaping to chance. You partake in collective enterprises to shape your worlds, your communities, and yourselves for the better.

How are you making your inner/outer work matter?

Who are you becoming?

PS: Calling Renaissance Leaders

I am writing a whitepaper on Renaissance Leadership. Whether you are a philanthropist, an evangelist, a corporate hacker, a purpose warrior, a soccer coach, a Jedi, a shaman, or a trailblazer, I want to hear about you! Let's connect! Drop a line here, or book time for a call here.

PPS: Conversations with Renaissance leaders

Dare to Reach, with Theodore Fairhurst.

High Flying Above the Walls, with Bertrand Piccard.

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