November/December 2019

Advanced Leadership Can Change the World

Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative trains leaders to seek and implement global changes.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter & Judy Perry Martinez

Editor’s Note: Judy Perry Martinez, who currently serves as president of the American Bar Association, participated in 2015 as a fellow in residence at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. Program co-founder Rosabeth Moss Kanter leads off this article by describing her vision of leadership, followed by Martinez’s personal account of her participation in the initiative.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter: There’s a big leap between exercising leadership in one’s own firm, company, agency or professional practice and leading change in the wider world. In the first instance, as part of an organization, you might be responsible for a set of clients, a team or the development of associates. You have a relative degree of control over what it takes to ensure high performance, there are tools and incentives to motivate people, the tasks and standards are pretty clear, and there are numerous precedents and procedures to guide the work.

But the second kind of leadership, which I call advanced leadership, is not cut-and-dried, and classic leadership skills are not enough. To have significant impact on a profession, a major community or a societal problem—to change the world—requires persuading people you don’t control and who don’t work for you to join you in a quest that is sometimes ambiguous, complex, messy and contentious. In fact, the major challenges that people say they care about today have that character: inequities and injustice, climate change, gun violence, health and wellness, education, student debt and advancement of democracies. They can’t be addressed by any one discipline acting alone, and they require wide coalitions rather than small teams.

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