I have to admit I’m rather fond (read: I’m a huge fan) of those four annual days of learning, engaging and networking at the ATD, the Alliance for Talent Development’s annual International Conference and Exposition. But as time and years pass by, I’ve grown a quite an itch towards leadership.

It’s inescapable at the conference, in general sessions, in keynotes, in concurrent sessions, on the exposition floor: leadership is big business. Maybe this level of attention, expenditure and time can be explained by the fact that leaders are the happy few in organisations and not the mighty many. Maybe because they’re the ones that have decision making and budgetary authority over expenditures on learning and development. And maybe even by the fact that our brains are wired for status, position and authority.


My growing itch is this. We’ve seen the world change over the past few years from pretty predictable to incredibly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous): in terms of our ecologies, our economies, our politics and our technologies. The fact that we still look upon leadership as the single point accountable steering mechanism for our institutions seems worrisome at best and sometimes even plain wrong and outdated. How can just one person make sense of all this complexity? What would leadership look like, instead, coming from all of us, from the wirearchy, instead of the hierarchy? Why is it that these questions aren’t addressed at a world conference such as this? Why aren’t we raising these issues, we, the ones who are tasked with developing our leaders?


This year my itch lessened a bit and I have Brené Brown to thank for that. Her session resonated deeply with me. This was primarily due to the fact that Brené spoke from a place of integrity: she wasn’t portraying pretty pictures of leadership, she invited us into the trenches of her own personal experiences and struggles in that regard. I recognised her statement that our emotions are in our driving seat. Emotion gets the first crack at making sense of a difficult situation: not cognition. It is imperative therefore, according to Brené, that we excavate all things that are happening that’s getting in the way of good work and that especially leaders embrace this as their primary job. This requires courage, where cour stands for heart in Latin. And courage rests on four pillars:

  • vulnerability: uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure
  • clarity of values: since you’d better know exactly why you’re being brave and with empathy and self-compassion as the most undervalued seats in the arena of leadership
  • trust: with boundaries; reliability; accountability; vault (no gossip); integrity; non-judgement; generosity as braving keys
  • rising skills: the ability to get up, reset and go further with more tenacity.


My upsight (uplifting insight) from this year’s conference is this. If we can all lead from courage and vulnerability, leaders and followers alike, wouldn’t this be the key to transforming hierarchies to wise wirearchies? Won’t this help to go from institutions where the happy few lead to networks where the views from the mighty many help navigate us through VUCA waters? Would broadly shared courage and vulnerability be the missing link for our organisations to finally evolve from army-like constructs to organisms?

I’ve gone from itch to hope in a heartbeat. How about you?