Working paper

Exploring the multiple contributions of the arts and humanities to leadership

Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) Leadership Social issues United Kingdom

One of the consequences of the global pandemic has been a heightened awareness of the importance of science, technology and data in responding to global crises. Moreover, it is widely recognised that COVID-19 has accelerated significantly the shift to digital technologies and services – across sectors as diverse as commerce, health, education, finance, manufacturing and ICT, catalysing what has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and quantum computing fundamentally altering the way we live, work and relate to one another, it is easy to see how science and technology are critical to future leadership.

This study explored the ways in which the arts and humanities might inform future leadership. Twenty faculty members from a range of disciplines across Architecture and History of Art, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, Divinity, English, History, Modern and Medieval Languages, Philosophy and the Language Centre at the University of Cambridge were interviewed. The aim was to gather diverse insights across these varying fields and consider how these insights might inform leadership responses to some of the most pressing and profound challenges and opportunities facing society.


This working paper summarises three emerging narratives about the distinctive contribution of the arts and humanities:

  1. Navigating complexity, uncertainty and the unknown
  2. The importance of climbing into other worlds
  3. Exploring what it is to ‘be human’

The paper serves as a timely reminder for those in business, government or civil society, that the development of leaders based on a narrow privileging of one particular discipline – be that economics, or science, or technology – might not cultivate the capabilities that are needed to navigate the complexity, nuance and ethics of contemporary societal issues. Not only is there a need to cultivate a genuinely diverse workforce that is able to bring empathy, creativity and the capacity for moral judgement alongside technical and scientific dimensions, there is also the need to value the academic disciplines that nurtured that very diversity in how we see, process and engage with the world around us – for the sake of better organisations, and for the sake of a better future for us all.

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