Leadership, as we knew it, changed. The next generation of leadership is emerging. The fifth generation of leaders is an evolution rising out of a workforce that is global, information abundant, unsatisfied with work/life balance and hungry for peak life experiences.

Over the past 200 years or so organizations and their leadership have been adapting to an ever-accelerating pace of change.  Image Darwin on steroids putting the magnifying glass on how people organize to adapt and succeed so there can be a next generation. Our evolution has moved through five generations of leadership and organizing principles.



1st: Empires led by Fear and Authority creating safety against enemies

2nd: Hierarchies led by Command and Control creating large scale and long life

3rd: Companies led with Management by Objectives creating innovation and distributed accountability

4th: Organizations led with Management by Empowerment creating greater purpose, culture and stakeholder perspective

5th: Organizations led with Sense and Autonomy creating aligned, caring and purposeful contributions



Leaders exist in all levels of an organization and in any part of a community. Leadership is less frequently reserved for higher level positions or in a hierarchy. That is at least two generations past. The familiar “org chart” has decayed and is vanishing.

Command and control is evolving and being adapted in all forms of organizations, including the military. U.S. Navy Captain David Marquet, retired commander of the USS Santa Fe nuclear attack submarine, speaks about leadership beyond command and control. Captain Marquet “turned his ship around” when he treated his crew as leaders, not followers. Marquet took command of a crew ranked dead last in retention and operational standings then went from “worst to first” in the Navy. Marquet created an empowering work environment to release passion, initiative and intelligence of every member of the crew. Marquet’s book, “Turn the Ship Around! How to Create Leadership at Every Level” is a good place to see the evolution of leadership in perhaps the least likely places.



Emerging network diagrams, tribes and flat organizations are not a fad.  They are a natural and necessary evolution.  The leadership required and demanded by this evolution is also emerging quickly.  Harvard Business Review in 2014 with Rita Gunther McGrath’s article and book declared that we had entered a new era of management simply called “empathy”.  The ability to SENSE people has emerged as an underpinning of leadership.  Empathy recognizes that the only true reason for organizations to exist is PEOPLE.  People have dreams. People have passion. People innovate.  People create knowledge out of information.  People act to produce results. And, people have feelings, experience emotions, source and live spirit, in addition to working hard and smart to meet commitments.

We could be called on to be a leader at any time. We could step up and decide we are a leader at any moment. Position power has become ineffective in most circumstances. Doling out power through top-down objectives, “need to know” information rules and controlled authority is being challenged constantly.  People are not accepting that managers above them have the intelligence, answers or authority to help them get their job done.  Well, the truth is managers never did. People who became empowered and dared to do great things, discovered that it was unrealistic to expect those above to be better. Great managers often found that stewardship was a better model to embrace in order to create an environment where empowered teams of people learned, innovated and were responsible for meeting commitments. Leadership became shared, distributed and a little confusing.  Any person could be asked to step into a lead role – not just a “manager” or “supervisor”.

When looking for leaders, we have to look throughout entire organizations, throughout a whole community.



This next generation, the fifth generation, of leaders emerging right now must operate on four key principles. These principles are increasingly making teams successful, organizations successful, and each of us successful when we lead. The four principles of fifth generation leaders are clarity, freedom, empathy and results.

For a 6 minute overview of these four principles, see Lane’s YouTube video “5th Generation Leadership“.



Clarity is all about creating a very clear “signature” of the organization. Without thinking, you sign your name nearly every day.  That signature is so consistent that handwriting analysts can read a great deal about you through your signature. Each team member, customers, partners and stakeholders want to experience consistency from organizations so obvious that it is just like the clarity of your personal signature.

Our purpose, the thing that brings passion most easily to our life, is encoded in our signature.  Our heart pulls us along a pattern of choices, learning and successes that empower our life.  Purpose is connected to the reason why we do the work we do and are in the position we have for that work. Ultimately, it is why we are living the life we have created. It turns out that organizations all have signatures too.

Take a peek at Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” approach to purpose.  Discovering and consciously making choices that support our “why” are extremely powerful.  The simplified process goes something like this:

  • Look at where you are your most successful
  • Look for the patterns in those successes
  • These patterns are indicators of your purpose, inform what really delights you, show what really is your passion.

Organizations must discover and consciously develop their “Why” to have a clear signature. Here is where clarity becomes important as a leader. In the past, most organizations state and re-state their purpose developed by their executives. This helps people (investors, employees, customers, partners) understand reason for being, mission, values and how the organization expects to achieve its purpose. What is nearly always missing, however, is alignment of an organization’s purpose with the purpose of the same people who are inseparable from achieving that purpose.  Yes, everyone needs to be invited and coached to find their own alignment and way of expressing the organization’s purpose.  This alignment is best demonstrated when leadership emerges at every level of the organization.  Decisions are made with greater autonomy, directionally right and ultimately delivering results.

Sounds like a big task? Well, yes, if there has been little or no effort made to consciously develop a people-powered culture.  The culture of the organization must be geared to recognize that people are the only way the organization can achieve its aims. Building such a culture is not laborious or even an outrageous investment for organizations embracing the reality of the workforce today.

Leaders must now take steps to build a sustained collective purpose and help people understand how that relates to their individual purpose. When the “Why” of individuals in an organization is consistent with the “Why” of the organization, an entirely new source of innovation, speed and growth will be the result.


We are in an age now that is completely changing the way our work force behaves. This is not simply the rise of the millennials who want a wholly different experience in their job (as opposed to a 30+ year career leading to retirement). People of all generations want the freedom to bring more of their true self to work.

Our true self is spirit, mind, emotion and body. It is a passion for making a contribution bigger than we can achieve alone and aligned with our purpose.  Rather than putting that mask on when we walk in the door at work, why can’t we just be authentic and true to our self? People are increasingly dissatisfied with compartmentalizing work, home, play and community involvement.

Leaders of this generation are helping people step into more of themselves. Step into the passion that comes out of personal purpose. This freedom is providing opportunity for people in our organizations to pursue what they know is going to be the success of the organization and what they know they can deliver as value. New organization models are emerging that support this approach to freedom.

There is a good reason why Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness” was recently chosen as the #1 most impactful book by Inc. readers.  Zappos was built and grew to massive scale through focusing on their culture, on employees, to deliver happiness inside and outside Zappos.  That grew a business from zero to over $3 billion. Then Amazon.com bought Zappos and it apparently continues to grow through innovating on its culture.

People, who are employees, are beginning to demand a lot more freedom and happiness from their work.  People want to be more true to themselves, be who they are authentically, regardless of whether they are at work, home or play. Leaders have an awesome fertile opportunity to develop the freedom principle that will attract, retain and unleash new growth.


There is only one reason why organizations and companies exist: people. Empathy is about allowing people to be vulnerable, expecting people to bring their whole selves to work, have sensitivity toward others, and honor our emotions in the workplace.

Emotions?! Wow, scary. Right? Not really. What’s scarier is continuing to ignore emotions.  Unresolved emotions are the source of nearly all conflict.  Ignoring or tuning out emotions guarantees that conflict and inefficiency will continue.  More than this threat, emotions are an untapped, rich area of passion and success in the organization.  Only empathy will lay the groundwork to name, honor and go through emotions.

Learning empathy at work is allowing our hearts to connect. Scientific research and spiritual practices have now arrived in agreement that:

  • Our brain is not the master organ; that is shared with our heart,
  • Our heart produces an electromagnetic field of 3 feet in diameter,
  • Our heart-field is transmitting and receiving measurable intention, thought, feelings and emotions,
  • Emotions are a key determinant of our energy level, and
  • Intelligent management of our human energy can be learned to increase our capacity and resilience.

Few people know the scientific facts about their psychophysiology.  Once better understood, it is not such a giant leap to embrace “empathy” as a key principle of leadership. The focus until of leadership now has been on people’s mind and body with a little bit of spirit that will ignite passion.  That is not sufficient to capture and ignite the bigger energy of an organization which only comes from its people living their true self.

Have you ever entered a room and felt that charge of excitement, eagerness or joy?  Or maybe you felt another room where it was so dark and depressing that you just wanted to turn around an exit quickly?  That is an element of empathy.  In scientific terms, you are experienced a coherent (or incoherent) field effect.  Your heart senses the energy in the room and then sends a message to your brain which then responds with biochemical releases and transmitted message through your body.

Our ability to sense is a part of our true self.  Leaders need to understand, grow and employ their empathetic sense along with business and purposeful sense to be successful.


Accountability has been associated with management control in the previous generations of leadership. We make people accountable by control. What about another idea here? How about if we focus on unleashing the untapped potential we have in the organization: our people?

Leaders now have the critical role to help people

  • Choose where they are going to make their contribution and
  • Define how they are going to be personally accountable.

Too frequently there is insufficient discipline from each individual and every team to explicitly lay out their objectives including how that aligns to the organization itself. The principle of accountability has allowed us to scale organizations and achieve better results. Leaders are responsible to ensure those basic principles of accountability exist.

The key leadership principle of accountability becomes more critical in this new generation of organizations — from top to bottom, side to side, and across networked teams. The freedom to be self-managed as an employee comes with the responsibility to be accountable for decisions and actions. Leaders help produce results through people by adapting accountable their teams quickly. Look at Frederic Laloux’s book, “Reinventing Organizations.” Many of the new concepts he covers about this new generation of leadership are not only fascinating, they’re working.  There is an increasing tide of organizations and communities going beyond experiment to generating sustainable superior results.

Results are not desired outcomes. Results are not produced by driving to a singular goal. Results in a new generation of organizations are the product of unleashing the potential in people.  Mindfulness is quickly being embraced in many organizations as an important step toward supporting people to work and live consciously, balance and empowered.  Unleashing people’s potential requires attention on culture.  That is where focus on the people in the organization is the fifth generation of leadership mantra. This is where all four principles come together.



When Harvard Business Review declared this the era of management empathy, what does that mean as a leader? It means that there is sensitivity needed to succeed as a leader.  Leadership sense now must embrace more of our natural senses that have been often underground or shut off altogether in the workplace.  Going beyond common sense and business sense, leaders need to access their own natural abilities of intuition, energetic sensitivity and implicit knowledge. In effect, this is bringing our whole true self to a leadership task.  It means being vulnerable and emotionally intelligent.

This is an exciting time for leadership. Leaders from every part of an organization, every part of our communities, can step up to make a contribution that unleashes new human energy and results.