The leadership style evolution from control to collaboration

Stepping stones representing human evolution of consciousness
Posted on: Monday 03, July 2017
Category: Thought Leadership

This article explores how human consciousness is evolving the shape of future leadership styles and organisational cultures from controlling business processes to embracing new forms of teamworking. 

Over the past 150 years or so mankind has harnessed successive waves of new technology - from steam engines to computers that have impacted our everyday lives. Furthermore, in the last few decades alone, we have dramatically increased our ability to both produce and innovate new inventions at breath-taking speed. In doing so we have created systems, schedules and processes that control both the technology itself and the people involved in its management and operation.

That process driven world has, in broad terms, been successful in enabling many developed societies to meet people’s most basic needs - food, shelter etc. This, in turn, has created a sufficiently stable environment in which some of our deeper needs (as Maslow described them) for security, belonging and self-esteem to be satisfied. 

Process versus ever-evolving human consciousness

Process driven approaches have their problems however, too. It extols hierarchy, formality, rationality and rigidity. Moreover, what I call the evolution of human consciousness is now beginning to outpace process driven principles. In the process-driven world motivation and self-actualisation (the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are largely limited to the achievement of bottom line profits and financial results. Consequently, leadership and team building styles are, therefore, often solely governed by performance goals and rewards which only appeal to our rational ego-centric, instinctive drives. 

To help further understand this, the graphic below illustrates that driving the above-described organisations has meant that human consciousness began to evolve away from power based cultures (red) into more ordered and conformity based organisations (blue). In the later 20th century we then saw another shift of consciousness to success and achievement based cultures (orange).

These styles of consciousness (or worldviews) are still very much present today. But, I suggest, moving forward, that these approaches will stifle the ability of business teams to function successfully in the new economy of our 21st-century world. Let me expand on this further.

Moving away from traditional organisational cultures

In the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century a new leadership approach, characterised by a focus on collaboration, consensus, emotional intelligence and soft skills principles began to emerge (shown as green in the graphic below). Early adopters such as Ben and Jerry’s, Innocent, Virgin, even Google and many more, looked to incorporate values such as honesty, integrity, co-operation and consensus and so on into their modus operandi.

Importantly, they weren’t saying that processes or rules or KPI targets were no longer required. Not at all. They were saying that freeing people’s minds to encourage creativity, to find new solutions and to create a more fulfilling cultural environment were more important to the growth and sustainability of the business.

Today, these concepts have started to take root in many other organisations, driven by a new generation of business leaders, an increase in customer power and sometimes even through legislation and the shifting attitudes of the Millennials generation.

As the new millennium continues to unfold before us, so too new leadership styles are emerging in line with the expansion of human consciousness and continual technological innovation. I have talked about the potential upsides and downsides of computer technology such as AI in previous blogs. However, it surely can’t be a coincidence that the boundaries of what seems possible have expanded in tandem with both the dizzying growth of computing power and the massive increase in instant online connectivity brought by the internet. The ability to connect, share, co-operate and calculate on a global scale seems to be changing all the rules and breaking down many barriers and opening new opportunities.

See my supporting blogs, AI versus humanity and A lack of team cohesion makes you WanaCry.

Emergence of growth mindset styles of consciousness

What consciousness guru’s Frederic Laloux and Ken Wilber call the '2nd tier of advanced forms of consciousness' are now beginning to emerge (shown in the above graphic as yellow). These organisation principles are based on developing a growth mindset. Here, business success will be measured in terms of purposefulness, making a difference, building a better world for everyone, and even serving mankind.

At the moment, we see people like Tim Cook at Apple and Elon Musk at Tesla and SpaceX introducing an integrative and synergistic approach. This is begining to galvanise the efforts of their management and employees by encouraging authenticity, helping people to work towards an 'inner calling' and developing people’s ability to cope with ambiguity. This in turn will be reflected in organisational culture as it catches up with its leaders — current reliance on the way we behold shareholder value will need to adapt too.

This more holistic and synergistic approach to business could provide a more ecological hope for the whole of humanity too. Today there a lot of social-economic speed bumps to overcome, so we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out, but I’m optimistic!

This approach isn’t just the remit of large (and well-funded) technology companies either. Buurtzorg is a Dutch home care provider that has turned the standard low-cost, low-quality model on its head. Instead, it has created well qualified, highly trained community nurse teams to provide outstanding patient care. Even though they operate in a highly regulated sector the nursing teams are empowered to work autonomously and proactively to meet patient needs. Buurtzorg’s experience is that although it costs more per hour than traditional home care services it requires fewer hours to deliver a better result – everyone involved benefits.

You get a sense of what this organisation is about from how it portrays itself to potential employees who are asked if they are seeking:

“A trust-based organisation including a positive attitude toward colleagues, a focus on principles above personalities, solutions above problems, and demonstrates a supportive attitude toward colleagues.”

Future human consciousness styles

There is a final stage in the development of styles of consciousness, one that I have called holistic leadership (shown in turquoise in the above graphic). I don’t know whether anyone is yet even close to this vision of existence, which I posit as being one of compassion, humanity and soulfulness (maybe the Dalai Lama). What it does provide is a forward direction of travel for mankind, perhaps an ultimate goal, one that we should hanker after as leaders, team players and as citizens of the world as we advance as a human race.


So, the question remains – is it possible to persuade today’s leaders that business processes and rules are only a function of successful service delivery but, not the whole basis on which to run a modern 21st-century company?

I believe that the answer is yes?

Leadership teams I have had the privilege of working with have been inspired by the thinking behind emerging human consciousness as well as developing a growth mindset. Furthermore, the high performance team principles and tools I teach them to use to develop people and teams improve their business performance. To learn more, refer to my new book - see below.

The evolution of consciousness is a natural human growth phenomenon and the emergence of 2nd tier organisations, I hope, will change the world for the better. It’s difficult to escape its influence, whether we deliberately plug into the connected world or not. I believe that even the most rigid (and regulated) organisations will eventually have to take these emergent principles on-board. Interestingly, defence and security organisations have had to react to new threats (from computer hacking to militant ideologies) with teams whose structure and operation is completely different to the norm.

The exciting thing is that we could be at the beginning of a huge shift in human consciousness and that this wave could have the potential to make the world a better place for successive generations. I am delighted to be in at the start of something so big. Just hope that we can overcome the very present and real dangers currently facing humanity?


[1,300 words]

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Further reading and resources

Frederic Laloux and Ken Wilber - Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

The New Leadership Paradigm. Barrett, Richard - Routledge 2013

(My first book - helps you create personal change and how to overcome your conditioning to reach your true authentic self.)

Download my detailed FREE questionnaire too. It measures where you are on an authenticity scale. It includes tips on advancing towards your authentic self. 

Other Leadership Blogs

High Performance Teams Fact or Fantasy - Blog Post

Leadership - Who is Pulling Your Strings -Leadership development blog from Andrew Jenkins Leadership Development Consultant and Coach

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Graphics used in the article

Styles of consciousness graphics are my own, adapted from the concept of spiral dynamics. The stepping stones graphic is from creative commons usage Free stock photos from Hamid Elbaz (


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