Andrea Learned

The award-winning Living Change podcast: Listen and follow now wherever you get your podcasts!

2016: The Year of Accessible Leadership?

Open door to leadership accessibility

Year-end upon year-end, the business predictions can start to sound suspiciously similar. “Collaboration” is one “trend” that repeatedly comes up. If the increasing rate of successful public-private partnerships is any indication, there may be more hope of that actually coming true. Still, we should focus on what helps “open the door” to that collaborative possibility: accessible leadership.

Why might 2016 be the year for this? We just witnessed an amazing global example in the collaboration that resulted in the COP21 agreement.

No small feat, the success of the Paris Agreement had to boil down to more than simple “French diplomacy.” With just a quick look at their Twitter activity during the first two weeks in December, Laurence Tubiana and Christiana Figueres (and others in influential COP21 roles) demonstrated what I’d call a unique level of accessibility. This is all the more notable, given that this occurred  in the midst of the traditionally exclusive back room meetings typical to such high stakes diplomatic gatherings.

In their daily posts, the tweets of Tubiana and Figueres demonstrated an authentic interest in connecting with the many hundreds of thousands of like-minded others in the world. It was clear they were determined to get the job done. But, it was also clear they knew the importance of celebrating even the smallest of wins along the way. They brought the “crowd” along with them.

Wise use of Twitter makes key influencers and decision-makers feel accessible, and THIS can be incredibly disruptive. And, the ways by which Tubiana and Figueres garnered support and built momentum should be studied by any business leader hoping to make change or drive innovation.

Accessibility As Leadership Disruptor

As leadership models, Tubiana et al (see this Onalytica analysis of the top influencers at COP21 for more examples) demonstrated the use of their established networks and communications skills as an absolute essential tool before, during and after the Paris talks. They wisely developed what Herminia Ibarra terms “outsight” in her recently published book: Act Like A Leader. Think Like a Leader. In so doing, COCP21 leaders put into practice:

• sensing trends and seeing opportunities
• building ties to opinion leaders and talent in diverse areas
• working collaboratively across boundaries to create more value
• avoiding groupthink

Now, contrast Ibarra’s “outsight” approach with the general analysis of what went wrong at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks. As Coral Davenport described in a December 6, 2015, New York Times piece:

While multiple factors contributed to the Copenhagen meltdown, many participants said part of the blame went to the Danish government. The Danish hosts were excoriated as rigid, secretive and uncreative in running the talks.

In Paris, the already more accessible leaders had well developed skills to counter rigidity and secrecy, and to give them real-time feedback loops. Their accessibility likely put their collaborative and decision-making innovation in overdrive.

Accessible Leaders Focus On Eco-systems

How does anyone in a leadership role go about building and maintaining accessibility that results in such engagement? By taking a long-term relational view, and building a foundational community of trust across the many barriers,… one connection at a time.

To again quote Davenport’s New York Times piece:

Ms. Tubiana and her friend Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who stand out as the two most prominent women in the talks, have a shared joke about how to navigate the process of building consensus among nearly 200 governments.

“Climate change is about ecosystems,” Ms. Tubiana said. “Climate change negotiations are about ego-systems.”

While it may not be the source behind the Tubiana and Figueres joke, Leading from the Emerging Future uses those exact terms in its subtitle: “From Ego-system to Eco-system Economies.” As co-authors Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer note therein:

“Eco-system awareness is an internalization of the views and concerns of other stakeholders in one’s system. It requires people to develop the capacity to perceive problems from the perspective of others. The result is decisions and outcomes that benefit the whole system, not just a part of it.”

Tending wisely to eco-systems, all joking aside, is exactly what occurred during the Paris talks. And, the outcome of that agreement will absolutely benefit the whole system of our planet and its people, for the long term. Egos be damned.

Twitter celebration by, of and about COP21 leadership.

2016: The Year of the Accessible Leader

As we begin 2016, how might all businesses become powered by accessible leadership? Personal values must be better aligned with company missions and vice versa. And, a more prioritized, intentional – and strategic – commitment to building human-scale relationships will be key.

This is not optional. It is simply the smartest approach to business. Fortunately, we live in a time with the amazing digital tools to make this sort of reach possible.

If the COP21 example has you thinking about new potential for collaboration, strive first to incorporate the idea of accessibility into your organization’s leadership development. By building trust and engagement with a wide range of people from all sorts of industry sectors and business roles – long in advance of ever “needing” it – you too can be primed to piece together big, unexpected, unfathomable solutions – in 2016 and beyond.


Special thanks to Neosnaps for use of the image.