How to lead in the face of societal disruption

As we experience increasing disruptions to our lives, with the risk of more to come, more of us are wondering how to turn things around.

There is one question I often hear asked:

“Where have all the good leaders gone?”

I have come to understand that could be the worst question for us to ask.

I mean it is unhelpful if the aim of our conversations is to determine new ways to help our friends, colleagues, and fellow citizens to address the many challenges that humanity faces today.

Because within the question itself is an assumption that does not help us to act together for significant change.

The assumption is that what is most important to positive or negative outcomes is the competence and character of the individual at the top of a hierarchy, rather than other factors. Yet those other factors are many and significant, such as the ability of people at all levels of community, society and organisation to be willing and able to learn and act for common cause. So a focus on the individual leader dumbs down our conversations about why there is so much suffering and risk in the world. It also means we don’t look at ourselves and what we might do or not do in future.


I teach and coach leadership and leadership development for people in many organisational sectors and from many countries. I believe that the first thing to learn is to better question how our assumptions of leadership and change might be limiting our imagination on how to approach today’s challenges and predicament. After that, a whole new vista of competencies arises, as well as the motivation and confidence to make changes in one’s life and work.

For the past couple of years I offer that support within the context of increasing societal disruption and likely collapse.

If that is something you are interested in, please consider joining my courses in sustainable leadership and Deep Adaptation. I host these 4 times a year: twice online (to enable participation from all time zones) and twice in-person (UK and Europe).

The next planned online Deep Adaptation course (in November 2020) is sold out. The scheduling of the next one will depend on levels of interest from different time zones. To register your interest and be informed when a course is offered, please use this form (mention your time zone).

The next planned in-person course will be over 4 days in April 2021 at the University of Cumbria in England’s Lake District. If the pandemic disrupts this plan, then it will be offered online.

The next planned retreat co-led by Jem will be in mainland Greece in June 2021. A film of people’s experiences of that retreat is available here. There are only 5 places left.

The last cohorts of the in-person and online courses are still meeting every month on zoom to provide peer support as they apply their new ideas and approaches in their lives, work and communities. Here is what some of them said about the last course:

“A course not only for the brain but for the heart. Transformative in its true sense. Truly thought provoking and challenging. Respect and warmth at its core. Humbling.”

“Leadership is not something I associate with myself, so going on this course was pretty scary. It was such a relief to see the old notions and patriarchy cemented in to the expectation of leadership being thrown up in the air to land in completely new, available and inspiring ways. It was intellectually stimulating, deeply connecting and very motivating.”

“I’m so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of this module; it’s given me more confidence in my ability to navigate, and cope with, systemic and environmental change – and to be of support to others. It’s also reminded me of how to keep a focus on appreciating everyone, and everything, in every moment – even the uncomfortable ones! Thank you Katie, Jem and all the people who took part”.

We encourage diversity amongst the participants, and so on the last course were a Vice Chancellor, management consultants, school teachers, XR activists, professionals facilitators, politicians, and social workers, amongst others!

I have produced a free online course in the past, on other matters, and may launch a free online course in 2022 (if you could help fund the process, please use the contact form). Information on relevant courses offered by other people is available at the Deep Adaptation Forum.

To learn more about ‘deep adaptation’ to climate chaos and the ethos it suggests for collaboration, see this introduction. To see the latest activities by people using this approach in their lives, see this newsletter. To read how the anticipation of collapse is motivating people to lead changes in their communities, see here.

Thanks, Jem Bendell (Professor of Sustainability Leadership, University of Cumbria, UK)