21st Century Leadership

Bildung as a leadership method

Managers and CEOs are navigating a world that looks nothing like the world they were trained to navigate. Everything has become more complex and happens faster; the same goes for decision making. Meanwhile, nobody wants to tell the Western middle-class that they cannot keep up their drain on the global resources, businesses are still pursuing performance goals and optimization within a 100-year-old mindset, and people are suffering from burn-out. This is not sustainable.

The old optimization mindset builds on a top-down organizational structure where decisionmakers set goals, engineers, economists, and psychologists figure out roadmaps and KPIs, and then the organization implements and either succeeds or fails. The model is literally built on military command structures and a military language that involves ‘conquering markets’ and ‘killing competitors’ etc. Meanwhile, humans are seen as a resource on par with oil and cement, and education and personal development have been turned into marketable skills.

What’s the alternative?

Based on The Nordic Secret, at Nordic Bildung, we suggest an alternative to marketization and capitalization of humans. Humans need meaning and purpose, and one of the greatest human joys is to collaborate with others around something that is meaningful. Work could become meaningful.

For that to happen, we need to be mearning-making on the terms of the 21st century. Particularly as leaders. We need a fundamentally different way of looking at leadership, business, and work – and a new, more meaningful way of defining success:

  • Business bildung instead of business psychology.
  • Informed, distributed decision making instead of top-down command.
  • Self-organization, systemic creativity, and meaningful development instead of goals and KPIs.
  • Inspiration from the lushness of nature instead of the power game of military.
  • Balance, fruitful friction, and collaboration instead of hierarchies and toxic competition.
  • Getting a free ride on complexity by understanding it instead of trying to either avoid or control it.
  • A multilayered, truly growing, regenerative, and living economy instead of a GDP growth economy.

The Business Bildung program

We offer the Business Bildung program in four formats:

  • A 3-hour workshop that
    • Explains bildung, Business Bildung, and the shortcomings of business psychology and the 100-year-old paradigm,
    • Let’s you try out your new insights leading the company Delicatessen Delights (see below)
  • A 1-day workshop that
    • Does the same as the 3-hour workshop but with much more time for discussion and learning.
  • A 3-day seminar that
    • Opens with the 1-day workshop and then
    • Let’s you take your new insights and apply them to your own organization in a simulation game
  • An open-ended process that includes the above, and where we develop bildung programs together with your organization for the people in your organization.

Nordic Bildung cannot tell you how to run your organization, but we can show you alternative ways of dealing with the challenges you and your organization are facing in the 21st century. Business Bildung is not just for businesses, but also for NGO’s and public institutions, of course.

Business Bildung: The Delicatessen Delights case

Delicatessen Delights is an (imaginary) old family company that has produced charcuterie products since 1950, their 75th anniversary is coming up, and their high-end consumers are abandoning meat products and switching to a vegan diet.

How would you lead Delicatessen Delights leading up to the celebration of their 75th anniversary?

A: Using traditional leadership methods
B: Using the Business Bildung method presented in the workshop

AI generated with Adobe Firefly


The business of business is business, as Milton Friedman (in)famously claimed. It may have been true in the 20th century: Around the year 1900, millions of Westerners went hungry and lacked the bare necessities, but capitalism, heavy industry, cheap available fossil energy, the conveyor belt, work optimization, and increased productivity turned workers in the West into an affluent middle-class. Economic growth, typically measured as GDP, became a goal in itself, and in management, a branch of psychology willingly sold its services: Beginning in the 1880s, business psychology emerged to optimize productivity of the workers, performance of the managers, and marketing towards the consumers so everybody would buy ever more products – and more than they ever needed.

As a result, we got so good at producing efficiently and making consumption a lifestyle that we now must keep throwing out perfectly good stuff to keep our jobs, and we have run into planetary boundaries. We are facing a poly-crisis that includes climate change, mass-extinction of species, global inequality, and increasing pressure from migration, which threatens to polarize our democracies. Hundreds of millions are over-consuming and dying from it, the planet is dying from it, and in the so-called Global South, 700 million people are living for less than 2.15 dollars per day[1] and more than 2 billion people do not have access to the internet.[2]

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

[2] https://dig.watch/updates/itu-report-one-third-of-the-global-population-remains-unconnected