We need a new kind of leader

Thumb-MasterSince humans learned to communicate, we have told stories to each other to sort through the chaos of the natural world. It has enabled us to connect and to create together – to organize and to exercise power.

Some of these narratives are wearing thin in the face of technological disruption. We struggle to navigate the increasingly complex information available to us, hampering our ability to make crucial decisions around our future.

The disintegration of these previously sacred stories upends those institutions and power structures that were founded upon them. With this, new opportunities emerge for existing power brokers who seek to reassert control, while historically marginalized groups grasp new ways to amplify their own stories and build power. It is a highly energized dynamic that leads to both creativity and conflict.

At the same time, technology — especially artificial intelligence — is set to reshape our relationships with governments, businesses, civic entities and each other. Increasingly, machines are leveraging the data that we each generate every second of our lives. This is done mostly to anticipate our needs. While this kind of automation may ease our burden, it may also push us to question our relevance as humans. Will the stories we’ve told to make sense of our lives and guide our collective decisions, still resonate when the machines can seemingly do it better than we can?

We have crucial choices to make about our near future, our data, and even our DNA. These must be made in a spirit of mutual recognition and respect. In this context, there is an emerging, increasingly vital role for “communication leaders.”

As such, in consultation with our community, we have created this Declaration of Communication Leadership, intended as a guide for those of us who seek to spark change in the service of humanity.

Hanson Hosein, June 2019


We live in a time of acceleration.

We must contend with vast information flows, inundating us in every waking moment and challenging our worldview.

Yet human nature has not changed. This disconnect between the pace of change and our base instincts is creating new anxieties.

Even as we seek to upgrade our minds to meet this new reality, we must also adapt our hearts.

In doing so, we can envisage the human-centered future we want to live in — and join together to build it.

With a shared sense of purpose and trust, we can tackle great challenges through collective action.

But to do so requires a generation of spirited leaders who can create a new narrative momentum towards our collective well-being:

They are dynamic storytellers who inspire us to connect and collaborate around ideas.

They are sense-makers, crafting meaning from complex, changing, global realities.

They are agents of translation, operating at the nexus of institutions and communities to champion the needs and values of stakeholders. And they are agents of transformation, catalyzing change in alignment with those needs and values.

This declaration is a living framework for those who know that “communication” is intrinsic to the change they seek within their communities, organizations and companies.

Communication Leadership is not just our graduate program’s namesake. It’s a behavioral model for today’s world — anywhere in the world. It’s the basis for the “social infrastructure” that enables the human-centered future we seek. And most crucially for those in professional practice, it’s a mode of understanding our increasingly vital role within the collective that we work.

These are its core tenets:

Communication Leadership Declaration handouts

  1. Storytelling: Communication Leaders embrace the power of story as the instinctual way in which people process information. Using universal storytelling principles, we create meaningful content across changing media and platforms. We inform and inspire. We use stories strategically to advance our goals and our organizations.
  2. Technology: Communication Leaders adapt to emerging technology. We understand that technology is a valuable set of tools, but not an end in itself. We work to align technology with human needs and values, and ensure that innovation is inclusive and doesn’t amplify existing inequity. We respect individuals’ boundaries, privacy, and ownership of their data. In this way we support thoughtful decision-making around the adoption and deployment of technology.
  3. Values: Communication Leaders are principled in how we connect with people. We value emotional intelligence so that we can read the needs and motivations of others. We act ethically and are conscious of the primary and secondary impacts of our work. We hold ourselves to principles of integrity, accountability, and transparency. We believe all our work must be guided by clearly articulated values.
  4. Responsibility: Communication Leaders recognize our power to effect change, and embrace the responsibility that comes with that power. We are aware of our social position, privilege, and implicit biases. We seek a diversity of voices for guidance and authority. We advocate for the vulnerable and prioritize accessibility, inclusion, and equity in all of our work.
  5. Community: Communication Leaders build, strengthen and serve communities. We see digital communication as a reflection of interpersonal communication, and recognize the connection between online and offline communities. We value human connection, and approach communication as a collective and collaborative process.
  6. Advocacy: Communication Leaders are persuasive advocates. We understand audiences and consumers. We know how to synthesize ideas, marshal an argument and foster consensus. We are strategic in our thinking, and are engaged with the “why” behind what we are advocating.
  7. Leadership: Communication Leaders support fellow humans through times of acceleration and transformation. Our fast-changing world requires us all to be lifelong-learners. We believe listening and service are key elements of effective leadership. We are creating the new stories and collective meaning that will lead us into the future.