May 29, 2015

Gabrielle Walker explores ‘The new leadership landscape’

The discussions at this year’s Performance Theatre will be guided by our theme: ‘Exploring the new leadership landscape’. In this blog, programme director Dr Gabrielle Walker, pictured, asks how leaders can rejuvenate their relevance and guide their organisations into a new world of collaboration, innovation and sustainable growth.

Everywhere you go in Lisbon, you see signs of the navigators. There are monuments, tombs, towers and docks celebrating the Portuguese sailors who, during the 15th and 16th centuries, were at the vanguard of European overseas exploration. They sailed from here to map the coasts of Africa, Canada, Asia and Brazil, in a period still dubbed (by Europeans at least) the ‘Age of Discovery’.

And there was more to this than just adventure; profit was to be had in the African and Asian trade routes, and in dominating the Eastern spice trade. Thanks to the navigators, Portugal was enriched with gold, silver and spices, and also gained hugely in global power and influence.

This was a time awash with daring and innovative new leaders. There were the big names of course: Magellan, Columbus, Vasco da Gama, but in truth every isolated captain of each individual ship had to learn new leadership skills to deal with the storms, the winds and the unpredictable troubles of waters that were literally uncharted.

At The Performance Theatre in Lisbon this year, we will draw on Portugal’s rich history of exploration to ask how today’s leaders can be inspired by yesterday’s navigators. Though every age likes perhaps to claim to be exceptional, plenty of leaders today feel they are facing similar challenges. We live in turbulent, uncertain and rapidly changing times. While the prevailing growth model has delivered huge gains for humanity, we now see all around us – in climate change, severe pollution, tightening resource constraints and deepening inequality – signs that growth as we know it has become outdated and ill-equipped for the resource, climate and demographic realities of the 21st century.

Our world, in short, is failing across three axes: we humans are too often pitted against the environment that sustains us; growth predominately benefits the few rather than the many; and our thinking and actions are myopically focused on the short term. Something has to give.

There are those who say that all these factors are inevitable, necessary trade-offs in the interest of aggregate gain. At The Performance Theatre we challenge those assumptions. The early explorers navigated by the fixed stars, not by the lights of passing ships. In the same way, during our programme in Lisbon, we will be seeking out and sharing the immutable leadership principles and values that we need. What will it take to re-energise our followers, and revitalise our sense of purpose? How should we change our mindsets and hone our skills to be flexible in the face of rapid change? What values should we live and work by? And above all how can we help forge a new kind of growth, one that is inclusive and develops a healthy respect for the environment around us, and for the future generations who will inherit from us?

I am much looking forward to navigating this landscape with those attending TPT Lisbon. Please come ready to challenge and be challenged—and expect a few surprises!