The co-creation of Open Source Leadership

In the 21st century, rapid technological advances are bringing unprecedented change and uncertainty. Technological advances are changing not only the kind of technologies we use, but also our values, thoughts, actions, and relationships to each another. We truly live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world where the status quo is no longer static. What does it take to be a leader in a world like this? Outdated leadership models are unable to address these new challenges.

At Common Purpose, we were keen to get a fresh, modern perspective on what kind of leadership young people will need to develop in order to adapt to the times we’re living in. So, in 2017, we consulted with over 1,000 young people from across the Commonwealth. The diverse range of young people we consulted during this process came from many different countries, genders, religions, and cultures. We conducted interviews, focus group discussions, and online surveys, focusing on the question of what leadership traits the 21st century demands.

We distilled the insights we gained from the co-creation process into one cohesive, crowd-sourced model –a leadership model for the 21st century. The result was Open Source Leadership (OSL).

The Open Source Leadership model

The Open Source Leadership model is a set of five interrelated character traits: Awake, Accessible, Interconnected, Trustworthy and Quick. To embody these Open Source Leadership traits is to equip ourselves to lead change in this VUCA world. Let’s unpack what each of these traits mean, and why they’re so important for young leaders.  

The first Open Source Leadership trait is AWAKE. To be an awake Open Source Leader is to know about the intolerance and discrimination experienced every day by our peers. Over three quarters of the young people we consulted said they had personally experienced prejudice, either in person or online. When prejudice wins, everyone loses. When someone is devalued or excluded on the basis of who they are, they are systematically barred from contributing to their full potential. Think of how many problems could be more easily solved if everyone was empowered – and motivated – to contribute. A first step in this empowerment is to first know exactly what intolerances and discrimination our communities are facing. So to be Open Source Leaders, we must listen carefully to each other and be aware of prejudice – be Awake.

The second Open Source Leadership trait is TRUSTWORTHY. The young people we consulted with noted that in today’s world, there has been a perceived increase in mistrust; in our governments, in industries, and in our neighbours. However, they also agreed that it’s essential that we Open Source Leaders don’t give up on trust entirely. Trust is key to a sense of well-being, and it drives engagement and interconnection with one another. That said, we cannot simply build trust by suddenly believing in it; we think the way to spark wider trust is by rebuilding our own trustworthiness. As Open Source Leaders we need to be trustworthy by knowing what our ultimate values and goals are, and aligning our words and actions to them.

The third Open Source Leadership trait is QUICK. Just as the Industrial Revolution sparked massive changes in societies, another technological revolution is happening now with Artificial Intelligence. This will lead to greater and more uncontrollable changes in the world that will directly impact leaders across sectors. We can be quick by understanding the technological changes taking place around us and by harnessing them to enact positive change. In this way Open Source Leaders can lead change, rather than be led by it.

The fourth Open Source Leadership trait is ACCESSIBLE. Many young people described instances where they had been taken less seriously by senior leaders or elders because of their age. In today’s world, young people are often discouraged from questioning or challenging their elders, but this silences good ideas and stunts positive progress. Respect is always key, but authority need not come with – and we argue, must not come with – silencing of other opinions. To be an accessible Open Source Leader is to acknowledge that with authority comes a responsibility to listen and respond across multiple levels of hierarchy.

The fifth and last Open Source Leadership trait is INTERCONNECTED. The world has shrunk as the internet has created new opportunities for people to step out of their insular zones and connect with people from other nations, cultures and backgrounds. These new networks create new zones of possibility and innovation which Open Source Leaders can utilize to create even more positive change.

You may notice that these five Open Source Leadership traits are themselves interconnected. For example, you can’t be quick to lead positive change if you’re not awake to how your innovation will affect others; you can’t be awake to injustice unless you have interconnections across diverse groups; you can’t have these connections if you’re inaccessible or stuck within your own silos; and people aren’t likely to approach you in the first place if you haven’t first demonstrated your trustworthiness. An Open Source Leader embodies all five traits in their leadership style.

Commonwealth100 – the online Open Source Leadership programme

Commonwealth100 is the online course we built around the Open Source Leadership model. The course consists of written articles, videos, exercises, and activities that guide you to think about the five key Open Source Leadership competencies – Awake, Interconnected, Accessible, Trustworthy, and Quick. As you learn to become an Open Source Leader, you will learn to adapt these traits within the context of your own leadership style.

The Commonwealth100 programme about Open Source Leadership runs regularly in seven week cohorts. As more students go through the programme, the more it grows and improves; Open Source Leadership is Open Source after all! The entire course can be completed within 3-6 hours, which you can do at your own pace. If you complete the course, you will receive an Open Source Leadership badge for your CV and online profiles.

Perhaps the most important part of the course, however, is the opportunity it provides to learn and become an Open Source Leader alongside peers from around the world. Over 10,500 students from over 48 Commonwealth countries have registered for the course so far. As a student of Commonwealth100 you will have the opportunity to reflect on some of these experiences together with your fellow participants, and not just as individuals working in your respective countries and sectors. You will have the opportunity to cut across boundaries, discuss with other Open Source Leaders and share resources to counter some of the collective challenges facing the world today.

You can find more information and become an Open Source Leader yourself by visiting the course website here: