Need a new leadership style? Line up the contenders

Everything you know about leadership is wrong.

OK, not everything, but eventually something will displace the current leadership orthodoxy.

In the next few decades, if not years, a new theory is bound to upend our current notions of what makes a great leader and how one is developed.

What makes me so sure? Continuing research and reevaluation of every aspect of the universe, including the social sciences.

Isaac Newton discovered and described the laws that govern everything we know — the laws of motion and universal gravitation — until Einstein and others showed that those rules didn’t apply at the microscopic level. Now we live in a combo world of quantum and classical mechanics.

Every few years an archaeologist finds a fossil that rewrites what we thought about the development of humans and animals, pushing timelines forward or backwards thousands or millions of years. Since 2000 alone, new experiments, discoveries and theories have exploded what we knew about our hunter-gatherer past, the expansion of the universe, human consciousness, genetics and evolution, infant learning, life in the depths of the ocean, interbreeding among humans and Neanderthals, plant biology, cancer metabolism and dark matter.

Leadership theory doesn’t stand a chance of resisting a theoretical overhaul.

In the next few decades, if not years, a new theory is bound to upend our current notions of what makes a great leader and how one is developed.”

Such a prediction isn’t an — excuse me — a quantum leap. In October 2022, this very column traced the evolution of leadership theory from the 1840s to today, spotlighting six different approaches that emerged and evolved over the years. Each approach lives on today in some way.

So what’s tomorrow’s new approach to leadership?

Since we are talking quantum, a philosophy called quantum leadership exists, and it can be traced all the way back to the late 1990s. According to the 2019 book Quantum Leadership: New Consciousness in Business, by Frederick Chavalit Tsao, that style involves changing someone’s consciousness to unlock “his or her leadership potential to create wealth and serve humankind.”

Rob Balmer’s 2020 Quantum Leadership: Igniting the Limitless Power of People in Disruptive Times (yes, there are multiple books on the subject) defines its subject matter as “supercharg[ing] many established approaches to organizational leadership and enabl[ing] leaders to excite a quantum leap in performance to match the seismic shifts confronting their organizations.”

Or will tomorrow’s dominant leadership style be AI-driven leadership, which was described back in 2018 in the MIT Sloan Management Review? The authors identify seven attributes of the AI-driven leader, including understanding the technologies, establishing clear business objectives and looking beyond pilots and proofs of concept. While AI-driven leadership seems more operational than philosophical, in a world of dominant AI, perhaps this style rises to the top.

Metaverse leadership could be another contender. Lessons in leading in the metaverse may evolve into a general approach to leadership. That style may, for instance, involve juggling leadership approaches between the real and virtual worlds.

Most likely, these contenders for the mantle of Next Great Leadership Paradigm are mere buzzword-specific pretenders — epiphenomenal offshoots of or blends of other leadership theories. The heir to the throne’s fate rests on the vicissitudes of business, academia, human resources and cultural shifts.