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The Leadership Development Paradigm is ChangingThis is a featured page

Author: Raquel Gutierrez
Date: 08.16.10

Source: 22nd Century Leadership

A new paradigm for leading social change is emerging; a worldview acknowledging the importance of leadership that is life-affirming, inclusive, and sustainable. The transformation of social change leadership culture is a response to beliefs, practices, and teachings that are passed on from one generation of social change workers to the next; beliefs which ultimately determine the quality of life, leadership practices, organizational practices, and efforts of professionals working for social change. Leadership paradigms and approaches by nonprofit leaders often reflect the lack of possibilities for action that are bound by old ways of thinking and being in the sector. (1) Today, practitioners and scholars have a better understanding that “leadership development is not about filling a gap but about igniting a field of inspired connection and action.” (2)

Leadership development opportunities for nonprofit leaders are an increasing phenomenon and have been successfully able to (3):
  • Impart specific skills and provide learning experiences;
  • Provide opportunities for respite;
  • Encourage leaders to reflect on practice;
  • Increase the visibility and prestige of nonprofit leaders; and,
  • Create a network of contacts.

In the last five years professionals who fund, run, and study leadership development opportunities for nonprofit professionals have conducted groundbreaking research. Their research has explored the possibilities and limitations created by different types of leadership programs. The majority of leadership development opportunities focus on individuals, supporting them to “develop critical skills that make them more effective leaders in their organizations." (4) While this theory of change has had success, it is limited in terms of large systems change because the emphasis remains on individual leadership development. In 2010, the socio-political and economic climate requires a new approach that necessitates leaders thinking differently about how change occurs and how nonprofit professionals develop themselves and work with each other.(5) Leadership practitioners, funders, and scholars now advocate that networks of nonprofit leaders are better positioned to affect systems and social change when using a paradigm that understands the value and benefits of leadership development that focuses on teams, organizations, communities.(6)

Increasingly, there is an understanding that leadership is a process grounded in relationships that are fluid dynamics, non-directive, and non-unilateral. This is a fundamental shift away from a paradigm only advocating leadership as the skills, qualities and behavior of an individual who exerts influence over others to take action or achieves a goal using their position and authority. (7) According to Leadership for a New Era, a consortium of individuals invested in the leadership development field and who have specific experience with nonprofit leaders, three fundamental shifts must occur to broaden and sustain the effectiveness of leadership development opportunities. (8) From:

Individuals to Communities Organizations to Networks Silos to Partnerships
Leadership is a relational process that occurs in groups, communities, and networks. Leadership in networks is relational, collective, bottom-up, and emergent. Leadership recognizes that multi-stakeholder approach that cut across sectors and disciplines in required.

The work that has been cultivated over the last ten years on leadership development has played a significant role in the paradigm change that is occurring in this field. What is important to note is that the approach used to study leadership development has modeled the very change that is occurring, making the work, for me, have more legitimacy because of its coherency between theory, general ideas, and action.


(1) Gutierrez, R. (2008). Life-Affirming Leadership: An inquiry into the culture of social justice.
(2) Scharmer, O. (2009).Ten propositions transforming the current leadership development paradigm.
(3) Ford Foundation. (2007). Grant Craft: Practical wisdom for grantmakers.
(4) Meehan, D., Reinelt, C. (2010). Leadership for a New Era Series: A new leadership mindset for scaling social change. (www.leadershipforanewera.org)
(5) Meehan, D., Reinelt, C. (2010).
(6) Meehan, D., Reinelt, C. (2010).
(7) Meehan, D., Reinelt, C. (2010).
(8) Reinelt, C. (2010). Leadership for a New Era: The future of leadership groups, networks, and partnerships. (www.leadershipforanewera.org)

Latest page update: made by nataliallc , Aug 17 2010, 1:39 PM EDT (about this update About This Update Edited by nataliallc

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