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Co-creating the future and a new generation of leadership

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By João Graça Gomes , Pedro Ferreira, Bruno Santos

· 8 min read

In today's complex landscape, leadership faces multifaceted challenges including climate change, the decline of humanistic education, the impact of modern media, an elite-public rift, and the advancement of AI. Addressing these challenges requires cultivating diverse leadership, integrating young professionals into decision-making processes through shadow boards, prioritizing collective action and mentorship, and fostering entrepreneurship. While these actions won't immediately resolve issues, they pave the way for a new generation of leaders capable of navigating and addressing society's most pressing concerns.

The world stands at a pivotal juncture, grappling with multifaceted challenges ranging from climate change to geopolitical tensions, new forms of warfare and the advancement of AI. As the youth in the West confront a demoralizing housing crisis and their counterparts in the East face rising rates of unemployment, the aspirations and outcome of what is often regarded as the most educated generation in history appear increasingly intangible.
Creating a new generation of leaders that is capable of harmonizing society's past and impacting its future, its experiences and aspirations, discerning society´s vital interests and devising a strategy for attaining them, has never been more imperative.
To unravel the potential impact of leadership in addressing today's pressing challenges and to chart a course for cultivating a new generation of leaders, our reflection begins with an exploration of the cultural and philosophical dilemmas prevalent in contemporary society.
The first maelstrom is found in today's academia: 

The decline of humanistic education

Humanistic education ideals, characterized by person-centred teaching that aims to encourage not only the intellect but also artistic and practical skills, are experiencing a decline. Across a broad spectrum of undergraduate courses, there is a noticeable absence of teaching in history, moral philosophy, entrepreneurship and economics. This trend poses a significant risk to the emerging generation of graduates, who may find themselves lacking in broad historical perspectives. Moreover, contemporary education is increasingly dominated by quantitative approaches. Universities prioritize the quantity of research output over its tangible impact on the scientific community, namely with patents and industry-oriented technology. Researchers are pushed into the perspective of “publish or perish”. This emphasis risks fostering a generation of technocrats or activists who may lack a nuanced understanding of complex issues - such as the energy challenge. 
For instance, in addressing the energy transition, it is imperative to strike a balance between energy supply security, social equity, and environmental sustainability. Yet, many individuals may overlook this nuanced approach, failing to grasp the importance of ensuring access to energy for all, especially considering that a significant portion of the global population still lacks reliable access to energy resources. 

The second impact reflects a complex change in the culture.

Impact of visual culture and modern media

With the advancement of the Internet age and modern media, along with the benefits of easy connectivity and increased information, the global society started to move from a written culture to a visual culture. This visual culture is exemplified by what is called “shorts”, TikTok, Youtube and Instagram videos, that prioritize short-term emotionalization, and lead to foreshortening and sideline in-depth and comprehensive examination of facts. This has severe implications for advanced societies, creating “3-second generations” without critical thinking, risking the consensus needed to handle, for example, the energy transition road, and turning social media into a vehicle for disinformation.

The third effect connects with the two points above and impairs the stability needed for societal consensus on hard topics, such as the energy transition, the role of the state, and geopolitics:

Elite-Public rift

In the Western world, the financial crisis of the past two decades and the energy dependency on foreign regions, coupled with deindustrialization, have precipitated a decline in public infrastructure, spending and value generation, rising poverty in many communities. This has shattered the once-prominent ideals of upward mobility and equal opportunity, which were seen as pillars of the advanced economic systems, leaving them as mere illusions for the average person.
The erosion of the middle class is particularly concerning, as it undermines the social contract upon which many organizations rely. Young professionals and families increasingly find themselves priced out of urban centers, grappling with an inflated housing market, stagnant wages, and a pervasive cost-of-living crisis. This has resulted in a palpable loss of belonging and a fracture in community cohesion and is leading to more adherence to radical ideas spread by the modern media.  
On their part, elites often play a vital role in society, serving as experts in their respective fields, and innovators. If deeply integrated within the community, they can influence and shape demands, trends, and societal norms. Through their dedication and selflessness, they usually propel society towards excellence. Nevertheless, the present intellectual and economic elite often wields increasing influence over the development and implementation of policies and regulations, leveraging their power to further their own interests. With the advent of social media, they have unprecedented capabilities to shape and manipulate the narrative in their favour, amplifying their reach and impact to levels never before seen. 
These interconnected elements are causing the elite and the general public to increasingly view each other with suspicion and dislike, eroding a needed shared civic culture.

The advancement of AI

The march of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is unstoppable. Throughout history, we've pushed the boundaries of our ingenuity by exploring, experimenting, and innovating. Now, AI, a result of human initiative, is reshaping the world, surpassing human cognition in speed and perception. As AI continues to evolve, it will redefine our understanding of knowledge, and reshape culture, politics, and society as we know it. 
AI also poses a threat to our privacy. The ability to harness and analyze massive amounts of personal data will increase the influence of tech companies and governments. The sheer volume of personal data collected and scrutinized by AI systems is staggering, prompting entire generations to question who holds control over this data, how it is utilized, and what measures are in place to mitigate its potential for abuse. Yet, tech companies and governments often disregard the perils of surveillance and the destruction of personal autonomy.
The rise of generative AI also poses challenges for education, potentially distorting the lines between intuitive insight and mechanized absorption for future leaders. Moreover, as access to advanced AI becomes concentrated in the hands of a select few, leadership may become centralized, and controlled by those with access to the most powerful computing capabilities. In this evolving landscape, the most effective machines may reside within the hands of a small elite, underscoring the critical importance of navigating the ethical, societal, and economic implications of AI advancement.
The impending revolution of AI in education underscores the crucial importance of embracing a humanistic perspective within academia, harvesting the capabilities of AI, and fostering critical thinking instead of research-oriented syllabus. It necessitates preserving a vision of humanity as moral, psychological, and philosophical beings uniquely capable of executing holistic judgments. 

Considering these four challenges, several points may be pointed for what should be the main leadership components of today´s modern age, with a focus on energy sector leadership.


The future generation of leaders must embody diversity, reflecting a mosaic of backgrounds and experiences. Heterogeneity lies at the heart of our complex social, economic, and statistical landscapes, underscoring the need to appreciate and comprehend the myriad differences among individuals, groups, and data points. In the board of directors of global energy companies, diversity among distinct generations should be embraced as a cornerstone of effective leadership. A diverse composition, spanning backgrounds in communication, law, management, history, engineering, and science, fosters a holistic understanding of the multifaceted challenges facing the industry. Only through such diversity can we effectively motivate a new generation of talent to join collaborative efforts and drive meaningful progress, mainly to achieve the balance of the energy trilemma - environmental sustainability, equity and security of supply.
Shadow Boards: It's crucial to cultivate the next generation of leaders from the outset of their careers. Identifying dedicated individuals with demonstrated skills is vital. They should be provided with ample opportunities for growth and development early in their professional career. Integrating young professionals into shadow boards offers a valuable bridge between generations, enabling them to share their unique perspectives with established leaders and fostering a more cohesive and forward-thinking organizational culture. Also, providing employees with cross-functional experiences and rotational assignments exposes them to different areas of the organization, fostering a broader understanding of the business. These experiences enable individuals to develop new skills, train adaptability, and acquire a global perspective, making them well-rounded candidates for future leadership roles.

Collective Action

The selection of future leaders should prioritize the individuals who participate in collective actions. Selecting individuals who contribute to collective actions cultivate a leadership style grounded in collaboration, empathy, and a deep understanding of community needs. Such leaders are more likely to possess the essential qualities of inclusivity, consensus-building, and a commitment to the common good. Mentorship programs or succession programs can be an efficient vehicle to motivate young professionals and transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. It will allow experienced professionals to share their knowledge, insights, and experiences with young talents. Mentors can provide valuable guidance, offer career advice, and help navigate challenges, thereby accelerating the growth and development of emerging leaders, while receiving their innovative perspectives.


Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives is crucial for empowering the leaders of tomorrow. Encouraging young individuals to think outside the box, take calculated risks, and pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions can lead to breakthrough ideas, disruptive technologies, and transformative solutions. Also, providing access to lifelong learning opportunities, professional development programs, and upskilling initiatives ensures that emerging leaders remain competitive and capable of navigating evolving industries and challenges. Within the next few years, organizations should be capable of proving autonomy and self-responsibility to empower young professionals. This will encourage Generation Z to take ownership of their actions and decisions. By allowing them to exercise autonomy, they will explore their strengths, learn from their mistakes, and develop the confidence and skills needed to tackle complex challenges effectively.

These actions won't immediately solve the complex challenges we confront, but they will pave the way for a new generation of leaders. True leaders don't just have foresight: they're the guardians of hope, igniting and safeguarding the dreams of their people.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

João Graça Gomes is the Head of Research and Development at the Sino-Portuguese Centre for New Energy Technologies (SCNET). His work is focused on joint research projects between Portugal and China, mainly related to energy storage and electricity planning. João is also a board member of the Global Future Energy Leaders program at the World Energy Council and the Coordinator for Asia and Oceania of the Portuguese Diaspora Council.

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Pedro Ferreira, project manager at EDP's Digital Hub, brings over seven years of experience supporting EDP's carbon neutrality goal. With a master's in Electrical Engineering from the University of Porto and a PhD pursuit in Sustainable Energy Systems under INESC-TEC, he drives energy transition through digital transformation. Former chair of FELPT and ex-Member of Global FEL from World Energy Council.

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Bruno Henrique Santos is a Senior Advisor at REN and Chair of Future Energy Leaders Portugal. Mechanical Engineer and MsC by University of Porto (UP), is finishing his PhD in Engineering & Public Policies at UP in partnership with Carnegie Mellon (USA) regarding hydrogen regulatory strategies. Chartered senior member and energy specialist by engineering national board.

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