Leadership questions are dominating global headlines. The world has been abuzz about government transitions in the US, China, now Israel – and we have watched spectacular death spirals in leadership at the CIA, BBC and Lockheed Martin.

Since the questions we ask define our answers – and our actions, I suggest that rather than asking “Who is leading?” a more relevant question is “Who is not?”

The leadership required depends a great deal on the situational context. The challenging times we face call for collaborative leadership that is diverse in every respect – in experiences, expertise and ethnicity.

Our world is facing a global onslaught of wicked problems economically and environmentally that impede our ability to live in peace and prosperity. Globally, we see a convergence between public and private sectors, a re-examination of the social contract of business and demands for increased governance and accountability. We also have new tools and technologies that are increasing interconnectivity and dramatically altering power dynamics within countries and companies. The opportunity is ripe for innovations bridging sectors and for building companies with permeable boundaries that are socially and environmentally responsible and value-creating for all stakeholders.

This context calls for leaders – men and especially women – who can facilitate creative new solutions in a rapidly changing world. We now have empirical data indicating that creativity, profitability and sustainability are stimulated by diversity. We have studies demonstrating the efficacy of heterogeneous teams and recent reports of correlations between stock price and gender diversity at top corporate levels.

Yet, we are facing unprecedented global challenges with a dramatically severe handicap: women are half the population, but approximately 97% of top political and corporate leaders globally are male – and we are nowhere near parity farther down the leadership pyramid. Our world is essentially fighting Goliath with one hand tied behind our back and one eye blindfolded.

Considering the colloquial definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, it is madness for us to perpetuate such severe imbalances. As highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s recent Global Gender Gap Report, there is a critical need to remove systemic and cultural blockages of equality – and, not surprisingly, how countries rank on the diversity index is correlated with rankings in the Forum’s Global Competitiveness index. And there is evidence that gender parity is correlated with improved impact: since 1993, when India ensured 33% of village councils were women, there has been a demonstrable increase in public goods investments such as drinking water.

Fellow Young Global Leader Samer I. Asfour, Jordan’s new Minister of Social and Economic Affairs – who inherited a population 97% educated but with only15% of females in the labour force – defines women’s full participation in the workforce and as entrepreneurs as “essential for Jordan’s GDP growth”. Asfour pragmatically recognizes that sustainable, equitable growth for countries and companies around the world requires tapping the full talent pool.

Business and societal leadership today requires an ability to mobilize existing resources in new ways – to convene to catalyse. To “convene + catalyse” in this highly interconnected and networked world, we must quickly evolve beyond the tired hierarchical, command-and-control leadership – and beyond “too male, too pale”. The leadership we need is flexible and dynamic, open and collaborative – with diversity as a critical means to that end.

As together we face our global Goliath, it is time to unleash ourselves; time for humanity –“womanity” included – to realize our full potential. The most relevant leaders will emulate and stimulate parity and diversity in their spheres of influence, they will “convene to catalyse” sustainable growth.

Author: Valerie Keller is founder and CEO of Veritas and Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School. She was selected as a 2012 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

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