The leadership landscape is dramatically shifting: 2015’s Performance Theatre met in unchartered waters. Some of the world’s most inspiring and successful leaders are also some of its most dangerous. Calls for action around climate change got louder and bolder as the weeks continued to countdown to COP21 in Paris. And we saw one of the largest generations in history – the Millennials – leading the charge to reshape the economy, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.
Our ambition for The Performance Theatre in 2015, held in Lisbon, was to draw on Portugal’s rich explorer history and build insight into the new leadership landscape. What does it look like? What can we learn from those at the front line of change? How can 21st century leadership be taught and learned?
A guiding principle throughout the theatre was how we can reinvent growth: so it works with and not against nature; benefits larger numbers of people; and delivers value over the longer term.
The programme: Exploring the new leadership landscape
Taking our inspiration from theatre, our programme took the form of five Acts.
The first, ‘Witnesses to history in the making’ provided eye-opening context about the complexities of the new leadership landscape. Leaders from business, religion, humanitarian aid, and the military, each nominated a ‘witness’: a frontline actor from a major fault line of change.
Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard, appeared alongside his nominated witness, Chetna Sinha, founder of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, which aspires to launch one million rural women entrepreneurs. Yves Daccord, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was with Omar Odeh, an aid worker specialising in protection and programme management, currently deputy head of delegation for Somalia at the ICRC. Lieutenant-general Sir Graeme Lamb nominated James Le Mesurier, director of Mayday Rescue, Syria Civil Defence; and Bawa Jain of the World Council of Religious Leaders appeared alongside Masomah Regl, a young woman who was born in Kabul and survived a rocket attack. All had exceptional stories to tell.
Act 2 explored entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes’ famous assumption that nobody is a leader if there are no followers. With the help of panellists including: António Mexia, CEO of EDP, António Simoes, CEO of HSBC UK; Remi Eriksen, group executive vice president and COO, DNV GL Group;and Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, we explored the nature of the current gaps – or fault lines – between leaders and their followers, and potential ways that leaders can bridge the gap.
Act 3 brought ‘The Lisbon Dialogues’, in which intimate groups of participants discussed topics connected to our overarching theme: exploring the new leadership landscape. We debated the energy transition: evolution or revolution? (Dialogue 1); vanguard leadership: has our next generation of leaders been taught to play the wrong game (Dialogue 2); climate change: are we serious about two degrees (Dialogue 3); development: how can we shift the conversation from ‘aid’ to ‘investment’ (Dialogue 4); and finance: how inclusive should the financial world seek to be (Dialogue 5). With contributors including Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever;Baroness Bryony Worthington, shadow minister for energy and climate change, House of Lords; Remi Eriksen, group executive vice president and COO, DNV GL Group; and Jo Confino, executive editor of The Guardian, there was some excellent discussion across all groups.
Act 4 asked: ‘Leaders create value but can values create leaders?’ We invited first panelists – including Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick; and Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson – and then other participants, to share personal narratives about the role that values have played in their leadership.
Act 5 rounded off the theatre with a break-out ‘walk and talk’, where participants were paired up to swap impressions about what struck them during The Performance Theatre 2015 and how this might affect their leadership in the future. We then returned to plenary for a room-wide discussion, which was followed by the presentation of the Inspired Leadership Award to Jeremy Heimans and the formal close of the theatre.