A new renaissance for leadership?

Written by
Adam Kingl
Duke Corporate Education

12 Nov 2019

12 Nov 2019 • by Adam Kingl

Our Future Talent Conference 2020 compère, Adam Kingl, explores whether we are in a new Renaissance for leadership, where work is created around human fulfilment.

Today, we stand astride a fault line in terms of where we wish to go as a global, interconnected society. The role of business itself is being questioned.

If we take a very long view, we can observe that capitalism and its role in society is challenged and reinvented every one to five hundred years. Feudalism, between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, reached its apex during The Renaissance and was replaced by mercantile capitalism. Mercantilism made way for industrial capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century, which evolved into shareholder capitalism in the twentieth. Capitalism, specifically how business is organised, has not been a stagnant system.

Looking deeper at one of these stages of history, The Renaissance was a flowering of art, culture, education and commerce. It was undoubtedly one of the most profoundly important periods of societal development in human history. Business and arts intermingled in a synergy that benefited each estate.

While wealthy merchants sponsored artists, that creativity catalysed a new curiosity of anatomy, astronomy, perspective, metaphor, narrative and natural science among many fields, which, in turn, energized intellectual discipline, fostering new opportunities for scientists, businesses and universities. In other words, the arts not only benefited from the economic prosperity of the time, artistic endeavor contributed to it.

The discarding of art

In humankind’s quest to perfect the process by which we create wealth, the ménage à trois between science, business and art has since become a cosier domestic arrangement between science and commerce. The industrial revolution perfected the philosophy of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management, in which the way we organise business is intended to drive efficiency in and variance out.

Henry Ford, that scion of automobile manufacturing, famously quipped, “why is it every time I hire a pair of hands a brain comes attached?” Over a short period, the universe of business lost its constellation of artistic exploration. We dehumanized organisations, yet today we lament that we lack humanity.

The German sociologist Max Weber remarked, “the fate of our times is characterized by rationalisation and intellectualisation and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world”. As a result, we are particularly unprepared for a world in which the delta of change is increasing by the day at least partially because we’ve been trained as leaders for almost 150 years to push out those very human qualities that would better enable our organisations to navigate these turbulent waters: inspiration, innovation, adaptability, empowerment, curiosity. By the way, while business worked hard to drive out these qualities, the arts have continued to explore how to drive them in.

The possibility and necessity of re-enchantment 

And yet, the reason I am optimistic today is that capitalism does have a good track record of reinventing itself. We happen to live during one of those inflection points of history. Scientific management has had its day in the sun, making many executives and investors very wealthy. But we now require a new Renaissance, a flowering of interchange between the arts and business whereby we recreate work around human fulfilment.

I hear from executives from around the world who feel an unprecedented pressure to reinvent how they lead, learn, operate, structure, incentivise, hire, promote and communicate. Business must reflect the needs of its employees, customers and society in better ways than those we have experienced. If capitalism requires reimagining, the new solutions will come less from the ‘science’ of management and more from the ‘art’.

Adam Kingl will be the compere at the Future Talent Conference 2020. For further information about our speakers, to view the agenda and buy tickets please visit https://www.futuretalentconference.com

Duke Corporate Education