Leadership for Tipping Point Times

Anneloes Smitsman, PhD
EARTHwise Stories
Published in
7 min readSep 13, 2022


We are entering times of catalytic tipping points — climate tipping points, biodiversity tipping points, social tipping points, and economic tipping points. The systemic conditions for our lives on planet Earth are radically shifting, and in ways we’ve barely begun to comprehend.

How do we prepare for this? The journal Science recently published a research article by Armstrong McKay et al., with an updated assessment of the most important climate tipping elements and their potential tipping points. Their research indicates that our world is on the brink of five disastrous climate tipping points, and shows how the world is currently heading toward 2 to 3°C of global warming.

Source: Armstrong McKay et al, 2022, in Science VOL. 377, NO. 6611: “The location of climate tipping elements in the cryosphere (blue), biosphere (green), and ocean/atmosphere (orange), and global warming levels at which their tipping points will likely be triggered.”

The research by Armstrong McKay et al. is yet another publication that warns of the catalytic changes that have begun, while also showing the climate tipping points that we still can AND must avoid. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, policymaking is vastly lagging behind and the increasing wealth inequalities reveal even larger leadership gaps.

The World Inequality Report 2022 indicates how: “The richest 10% of the global population currently takes 52% of global income, whereas the poorest half of the population earns 8.5% of it. Global wealth inequalities are even more pronounced than income inequalities. The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2% of the total. In contrast, the richest 10% of the global population own 76% of all wealth.

More than ever, we need systemic leadership for our future and planetary wellbeing. This includes leadership for the design and development of economic, social, political, educational, and governance systems that behave as living systems (rather than mechanistic systems). And perhaps even more importantly, leadership for the shifts in consciousness and development of capacities that enable:

Collaboration, coordination, and co-creation for a thriving world and future, while addressing the greatest challenges of our time (instead of exploiting it).

As a first step, this requires addressing how current mainstream systems — economically, politically, socially, and educationally — are mechanistic by design, and thus unable to prepare us for the times ahead. The majority of these systems miss essential feedback loops, systemic boundaries, and holistic principles that are coherent with the planetary conditions of life. Furthermore, many of these mechanistic systems and worldviews are at the root of our sustainability crisis.

For a deeper dive into this topic, read my article on a Transition Plan for a Thrivable Civilization based on my Ph.D. research at Maastricht University.

Leadership for our evolution as a species in the midst of its existential crisis is not about an institutional position. Rather, it’s about how you answer the spirit of leadership as a citizen of the Earth, a member of life, and a future ancestor. Learn more about this through our EARTHwise Constitution for a Planetary Civilization.

It’s time to get honest about the huge leadership gaps for the systemic changes that are needed. Especially, where this concerns political, economic, academic, and business leadership. Many leaders preach for their popularity and profits, rather than for becoming the change for what is necessary and required. Even fewer have dedicated their lives (and wealth) in service of the future generations that depend on us now.

Understanding Tipping Point Change

Tipping points are irreversible nonlinear structural changes that can push a system into unpredictable new trajectories. Tipping points are also defined as the point or threshold at which small changes in a system will trigger a nonlinear change process. This process is driven by structural feedback mechanisms that lead to a qualitatively different, and often irreversible, state of the system as a whole.

Birth is also a tipping point, as is death. Once tipping point dynamics activate, the change that unfolds cannot be controlled or predicted through top-down interventions.

There are too many people in leadership positions who try to exploit the chaos and uncertainty of tipping point times. There is also a rise in populist and autocratic leaders who gain in popularity due to their simplistic narratives of ‘us-versus-them’, and their false promises of greatness. Meanwhile, denying the complexity and severity of our sustainability crisis, and blocking the changes that are necessary for addressing this.

Mainstream media is not helping by offering many of these so-called leaders, and their dramatizations, huge amounts of airtime. Often adding their own simplifications, rather than helping people understand the complexity of what’s going on, which further polarizes issues and people.

During tipping point change, systemic attractors play a key role for how a system will balance into new systemic orders. Leadership can serve as an attractor, yet for what kind of change?

How many leaders truly understand how to work with the field dynamics of tipping point change? How many leaders are focussed on how we can evolve as a species, rather than using their leadership for gaining more followers?

We need a paradigm shift in leadership, as well as leadership for paradigm shifts. To become an attractor for the future potentials of a more evolved humanity.

A paradigm shift results from tipping points at the collective level of human consciousness, and this is about so much more than reaching critical mass. It’s about becoming coherent with life and each other, at the next level of our own complexity as a species. If we don’t, we’ll self-destruct.

Becoming planetary conscious requires that we stop trying to make change happen, and instead learn to work with the tipping point dynamics that are activating now — in support of life, each other, and our planet as a whole.

Leadership as a Systemic Attractor

The future potentials of our evolutionary next step already exist within us, and activate when it’s necessary to evolve and transform. The imaginal discs of the butterfly activate when the caterpillar reaches its limits to growth. When the caterpillar reaches that tipping point, its evolutionary next step unfolds through the dissolution of its former structures and systems, so that the new operating systems of the butterfly can take the creature further. Sounds familiar?

Imagine what can change in our world if we were to apply leadership as an operating system of butterfly consciousness for a caterpillar world that’s dying and collapsing….

The worsening climate crisis masks a leadership crisis, which masks a crisis in human consciousness that calls for evolutionary leadership at the deepest and widest levels of our species.

For leadership to serve as a transformative systemic attractor during tipping point change, it requires that leaders develop their:

  • Awareness and knowledge of tipping point dynamics, transition states, and systemic transformational change;
  • The capacity to hold space for metamorphic transformation during times of uncertainty and breakdown;
  • The capacity to support people in accessing our future potentials of higher orders of possibility for a thriving world and future;
  • The capacity to inspire trust in our innate potentials that form part of the evolutionary process of life;
  • Deep listening to, and sensing, how systemic attractors, conditions, boundaries, and barriers are acting upon the process of change and emergence.
  • The capacity to enter into imaginal states of consciousness for holding space for higher orders of complexity and coherence.
  • An attitude of love, service, openness, and playfulness, as well as a healthy sense of humour :-)

The Shift to Evolutionary Leadership

I’ve been training leaders from many different walks and fields of life for over two decades. This includes the many people who are not holding any particular leadership position, but instead recognize that leadership is a way of being. A way of standing together for what truly matters, for what unites us in our care for life, each other, and the future generations.

For several years I facilitated the online Leadership Quest for developing our evolutionary leadership capacities in community. More recently, also the Future Humans Quest. Here is what stands out for me from each of these experiences:

  • When people can personally experience how they are part of a larger field of life — an intelligence and wisdom that we can intimately connect with — a profound shift in consciousness starts to take place.
  • This shift in consciousness enters us into a process of inner transformation through which we develop the capacities, perspectives, and understanding for evolving our lives AND our world.
  • As we embark on that journey of transformation, we come to realize how we don’t need to figure it all out, or know the steps ahead. Instead, we learn to trust in life and open to the experiences and perspectives that prepare us for the future that is calling us forth.
  • By connecting with the potential of our evolutionary next step, which is also our future human potential, we start to experience the futures of higher orders of possibilities that form part of our conscious evolution as a species.
  • As we open to and embrace this future potential — within ourselves and our world — we discover the ways to access and apply the powers of renewal, healing, and transformation that are needed for this time.
  • We then become an imaginal cell for our future becoming, and become the evolutionary leaders for our world in transformation.
  • We then discover how we can each become a tipping point for the co-creation of a thriving world and future.

The shift and journey described above is profound and irreversible; it is a tipping point in human consciousness that emerges by taking our evolutionary next step in life.

Join me in developing our evolutionary leadership capacities together, in a whole systems way. Every last Tuesday of the month I facilitate a Coaching Class with practices and teachings for inner and outer systems change. CLICK HERE to learn more, or to join me online for the next class.

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#SystemsChange #OneHumanity #TippingPoints #SystemicTransformation #Evolve #BetheChange #ImaginalCells



Anneloes Smitsman, PhD
EARTHwise Stories

Futurist, systems scientist, award-winning author, coach, CEO & founder EARTHwise Centre

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