The Evolution of Leadership: A Dynamic Journey Over the Last 25 Years

As Catapult celebrates its 25th birthday this December, we’re taking a moment to reflect upon the changes we’ve seen in leadership and organisational dynamics over the last quarter-century. The world has seen seismic shifts in politics, society, and our relationship with nature, so it makes sense that leadership approaches and ways of working have also changed. This article explores key shifts in leadership we have observed, backed by insights from studies.

  1. From Command-and-Control to Collaborative Leadership: Gone are the days when leadership was a top-down directive. In the past 25 years, we’ve witnessed the evolution from rigid command-and-control structures to a more open and collaborative leadership ethos. Internationally, Google’s ‘20% Time’ policy gives engineers one day a week to work on projects that interest them. This policy is responsible for the development of many Google services, including Gmail. Closer to home, Xero encourages employees to dedicate a portion of their work time to creative projects. 
  2. Agile Networks: Hierarchical frameworks have given way to agile networks that empower teams to make swift, informed decisions. For example, Spark has adopted agile work practices, de-layered the organisation, moved employees into cross-functional teams (or tribes), and leadership teams work as a ‘squad’. 
  3. Change Leadership. Organisational leaders are being tested by change like never before. From the global pandemic to business model disruption and talent shortages, every day seems to bring new challenges. One of the big leadership questions going forward is ‘How can I manage today while leading the future?’ In the past, change was managed. Now it has to be led. Catapult has been working with many of New Zealand’s leading organisations to equip their people leaders to lead the human side of change. The key realisation people leaders have is that ‘change = loss’. We have to lead with curiosity and empathy to meet people where they are, and acknowledge loss, before they will be willing to change. 
  4. Embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): Many New Zealand organisations are seeking greater DEI to enhance their performance. We see that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to make better, bolder decisions. A McKinsey report reveals that companies led by diverse executive teams are 21% more likely to outshine their counterparts. Catapult has facilitated a number of conversations with senior teams to uncover their unconscious biases and craft strategies to create more inclusive cultures.
  5. The Rise of Hybrid Flexibility: New Zealand workplaces have evolved into hybrid models, accommodating both remote and in-person work. This blend caters to employees’ preferences while leveraging technology for seamless collaboration. Internationally, Gartner’s survey highlights that 82% of business leaders envision a future with at least some form of remote work. In New Zealand, a survey shows that people are still keen to work from home post the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  6. Rise of Purpose-Led Business and Sustainability Leadership: A transformative shift in the last 25 years is the rise of purpose-led business. Leadership has moved beyond a singular focus on shareholder value to the recognition of shared value – where businesses create value for their shareholders and society and the environment. The Kantar Better Futures 2023 report found that 69% of respondents think businesses aren’t doing enough to reduce their environmental impact. And a Deloitte survey found that 65% of respondents expect CEOs to do more to make progress on social and environmental issues. 


At Catapult, we have mirrored the evolution of leadership and organisational approaches. From the beginning, we embraced flexible working and have always worked from our homes. This made the events of the last few years much easier to navigate, allowing us to manage the switch to online, and then blended delivery with relative ease. Each year, our people set their own personal and professional goals, and take as much annual leave as they want. As one colleague says, ‘Catapult allows me to be the mum I want to be’.

Our purpose guides and inspires us: ‘Unleashing brilliance for a flourishing Aotearoa’. We use our purpose as a first filter in deciding whether to take on a new client project. For example, we recently declined to work with the vaping industry. This was an easy decision – the week before we facilitated the Tobacco Cessation Working Group’s strategy session! 

Over the years we have invested in upskilling ourselves in the new frontiers of leadership. We’ve done deep dives into future thinking, adaptive leadership, systems leadership and collaborative leadership. By weaving these approaches into leadership programmes and conversations we facilitate, we’ve been able to help people address tricky challenges. 


As Catapult commemorates its 25th anniversary, we are reminded that leadership is a journey of continuous adaptation. From rigid hierarchies to purpose-driven models, the evolution of leadership reflects how much the world has changed. The transformation has been marked by a deep understanding of the connection between employee well-being and organisational success. The rise of purpose-led business further solidifies the notion that leadership is about more than just profitability – it’s about leaving a positive mark on society.