We are, without doubt, living in a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
Personally, I wish we hadn’t borrowed this term from the military. I mean, as a peace-loving gal, if humanity had woken up thirty years back and acted to protect our climate and the natural world, when scientists started ringing the alarm bell, arguably we would not now need a military term and operation to save us from ourselves.
But here we are. 2020 has seen the convergence of climate and biodiversity crisis with social and health crisis.
Leaders from all sectors have been challenged and are being asked to step up and lead in some of the most unimaginably difficult situations.
Sectors such as fashion are facing catastrophic impacts from the events of the past three months, which they may never recover from. Investors and employees are looking to their leaders expectantly, trusting that they will be able to pick their way through the devastation to a new and brighter future.
But how? It can feel too big and overwhelming.
The first thing is to rethink everything you may ever have been taught.
There is a growing awareness within the financial and leadership communities that the skills and theories from expensive business and management schools have in fact contributed to the current crisis.
Siloed thinking, linear economics (that fails to take account of the true cost of products) and an insistent emphasis on certain sized profit margins have helped create more fragile and vulnerable companies.
Now those theories and behaviour are being questioned across the world. Those who have lived and breathed capitalism all their lives are beginning to question if, as a system, it is failing us all in this current period.
The financial community are now hotly debating the ESG (environmental, social and governance) credentials of companies and demanding transparent statements on the future financial risks of climate change.
But a mindset that has been instilled over decades is tough to change and will perhaps be the biggest obstacle for many in finding their path through the wreckage.
The second task is to begin to reshape your own ideas about what it means to be a leader and how you demonstrate it through your actions and decisions.
Leaders must no longer separate their personal and professional values and ethics. For each decision you make check it against a mental image of what your children, your grandchildren and your inner conscience say about it.
Relearn the totally natural art of systems-thinking, which has often been drummed out by prestigious business schools. Actively work with intrapreneurs, boards and even competitors to map out the interconnectedness of nature, people and business.
The kind of leaders we need now are non-hierarchical, well versed in systems thinking and who possess a tool-box full of soft skills, thinking skills and personal effectiveness.
Think of memorable leaders who embody these qualities. They usually inspire enormous loyalty from their staff. That’s because they bring their whole selves to their role – Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop freely gave her store team hugs and joined protests when it was ‘unfashionable’ to do. When leaders allow themselves to be relational unforgettable bonds are formed. Passion and creativity is the engine of their vision not something to be repressed.
Start thinking of yourself as a servant leader. The practices and behaviours of this type of leader are completely different. Honesty, integrity, humility, empathy and listening are what you should be aiming for and exhibiting.
Your role is a steward both of your company and of the planet itself. The bigger your organisation and the more people you employ, the greater your responsibility in this area. It can sometimes feel the two roles are at odds, but this is a sign you are still using past behaviours and thinking.
By developing your skills around foresight and compassionate collaboration you will begin to move into ‘regenerative leadership’ which is fast becoming the leadership model for forward-thinking companies.
Regenerative leadership is a way of living and leading that instead of putting the bottom line at the centre of your work, instead puts life at the centre. Your role as a leader is to create the conditions conducive for life to flourish, for yourself to become more vibrant and purposeful and for your organisation to thrive alongside all of your stakeholders.
Don’t underestimate the scale of the task. As leaders, you will need to move mountains to achieve the urgency required in avoiding climate and ecological collapse while also creating meaningful employment for the 7.8 billion people on the planet.
I believe I can help. My experience in founding and running People Tree has shaped my strong feminine systems thinking and doing approach. I rejoice in the environment and social innovation that comes through trust and partnering with others. I have found ways to merge altruism and ethics with the needs of running a business.
It has not been all plain sailing but those experiences are valuable in themselves. They create greater wisdom and resilience and this is the final element that every leader will need for the task ahead.
We must all step up and lead from where we are and none of us can do it alone.
Interested in executive coaching and mentoring focused on regenerative leadership?