“Sapient Leadership” for Educators

What might "Sapient Leadership" mean for educators?

It is an understatement that COVID-19 has brought a sea change in school and universities across the globe. The three-dimensional (3-D) change, i.e.,

  • “It’s perpetualoccurring all the time in an ongoing way.
  • It’s pervasive — unfolding in multiple areas of life at once.
  • It’s exponential — accelerating at an increasingly rapid rate” (Chima & Gutman, 2020), hold water for educators too. So does the concept of “Sapient Leadership,” which is:

characterized by being wise, sagacious, and discerning in navigating change while also being humane in the face of change that can often feel alien. This kind of leadership emphasizes — counterintuitively — an anti-heroic leader. Sapient Leaders exhibit authenticity, humility, and vulnerability, inspiring the necessary trust and psychological safety that drives shared learning and intelligence, resulting in enhanced collective performance and leading to a better future for all. (Chima & Gutman, 2020)

In a pre-COVID 19 scenario, the World Economic Forum (2016a) had estimated that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” Educators as products of the existing educational systems with linear thinking capabilities must prepare the next generation of citizens, currently in their classes for a post-COVID-19, 3-D changing world. This calls for a great deal of contemplation.

            Chima and Gutman (2020) propose the following four pillars for Sapient Leadership:

“1. Leader humility, authenticity, and openness instills trust and psychological safety.

2. Trust and psychological safety empower individuals and teams.

3. Continuously learning teams enable effective navigation of 3-D change.

4. Shared purpose and values enhance focus, cohesion, and resilience during 3-D change.”

The descriptions below each of the four “pillars” are my perspectives as an educator:

“1. Leader humility, authenticity, and openness instills trust and psychological safety.”

Educators can no longer be the cliched, Sage on the Stage. With the rapid expansion of knowledge, educators cannot know everything; and showing vulnerability should be seen as a sign of humility. Chima and Gutman’s (2020) concept of “anti-hero” applies here. In order to be authentic, the personal and professional beliefs of educators have to be aligned.

“2. Trust and psychological safety empower individuals and teams.”

Creating psychological safety for the students in the classroom—virtual or face-to-face, can only foster learning. A 3-D changing world requires camaraderie and team work—beyond the silos of departments and disciplines, international borders, and divisions such as race, class, and gender. Virtual and face-to-face classrooms ought to be nurturing grounds for cooperative than competitive tasks for students.

“3. Continuously learning teams enable effective navigation of 3-D change.”

It is imperative for competitive educators in this transitory period of change to attempt to function in teams and team-of-teams, and eschew from petty acts of self-promotion. COVID-19 taught educators to become flexible and innovative. These are worthwhile qualities to be passed on to students. While there is a tendency to think that the current generation is digital-savvy, the digital divide serves as a reminder of the existing digital inequities in some of the developed and developing countries. The pandemic taught educators that life-long learning is not just a rhetoric. Our classrooms are preparatory labs for students to find solutions to real-life problems. For 3-D changes, better solutions can be found in teams and when the chasm between class and life are also blurred. In these times, Deep Learning (Seif, 2018) and Futures Literacy (Miller, 2018) with closer-to-life curricula and assessments are vital.

“4. Shared purpose and values enhance focus, cohesion, and resilience during 3-D change.”

In 2015, Bill Gates had predicted, “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.” It is these kinds of issues, including the climate crisis that are threats to the survival of the human race. More than ever, we need to find solutions and at a swifter pace. As educators, we must be poised for the development of the 21st century competencies—foundational literacies, skills, and character qualities (World Economic Forum, 2016b). We shoulder a herculean task of educating the next generation as the 3-D changes unfold—even as we navigate them personally and professionally. Networking with professionals and members of the community will help ease the situation.

Educators as Sapient Leaders can enable the next generation’s “enhanced collective performance” which would mean “a better future for all” (Chima & Gutman, 2020). This requires transformational vision as well as working in the trenches.


Chima, A., & Gutman, R. (2020, October 29). What it takes to lead through an era of exponential change. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/10/what-it-takes-to-lead-through-an-era-of-exponential-change

Gates, B. (2015, March ). The next outbreak? We’re not ready [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_the_next_outbreak_we_re_not_ready

Miller, R. (2018). Transforming the future: Anticipation in the 21st century. UNESCO. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000264644

Seif, E. (2018). What is Deep Learning? Who are the Deep Learning Teachers? https://inservice.ascd.org/what-is-deep-learning-who-are-the-deep-learning-teachers

World Economic Forum. (2016a). The future of jobs and skills. https://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/chapter-1-the-future-of-jobs-and-skills

World Economic Forum. (2016b). What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/21st-century-skills-future-jobs-students

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