The Full Story
The Resurgence Magazine issue Jan/Feb 2011 printed a variety of articles commenting on current leaders and their individual approaches to this task of leadership with sustainability in mind. There were some common threads that caught my attention, one in particular from Guest Editor Sharon Turnbull's
“Leadership can be a shared phenomenon”1. This idea is that leadership is not about being told what to do or how to do it, working from a hierarchy, from the top down but more about discovering together, being curious, and gathering together with a shared community to solve and relate communally. It involves addressing imbalances, inequities, responsibility, and stewardship of the land among the generations of people working co-operatively not competitively, together as a team which includes working with and understanding mother Nature. It can no longer be business as usual or success to the successful. Jonathan Gosling and Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud explain needed changes in One Planet Leaders, quoting Henry Mintzberg from the Financial Times “Corporations are social institutions: if they don’t serve society, they have no business existing.”2 My understanding was corporations for years, through the teachings of economist Milton Friedman were concerned with profits for the shareholders, if Mintzberg intension was to include stewardship of the planet for the betterment of society as the key role for corporations, this can change things. I wonder if this is widely thought of today as a fundamental corporate goal? Does this need to infiltrate the American schools of economics as this is where traditionally most countries sent their young leaders from around the world to be educated?
The language of sustainability is fraught with troublesome ideals. Sustaining is similar to persevering, not the most encouraging of stories. The Prince of Wales's book Harmony suggests one idea, I would favor In harmony, an action, a way of living, of life, Nature's cycles, seasons, of resilience. I have proposed the forming of a group to artists who are concerned about sustainability, to connect and then show together for an exhibition. We have discussed some ideas on what to call the group. Some said they had environmental concerns, others work from Nature, and some are more about activism, bringing awareness but the goal for us all is to be in harmony, to be one with each other, to be one with the land. The Prince of Wales explains that Science has helped to knock us out of our desire for living in harmony forgetting that “Nature is self-sustaining by being self-limiting,… operating according to a cyclical economy and cyclical process.”3 “We are Nature”4 not separate from her. If we fail the Planet we fail humanity5. It seems we are at a crossroads and at the moment I wonder if people like the Prince of Wales are not being heard then what is wrong, how can we change that? Are we not saying things in a manner that is meaningful? Here is maybe where language may come into play or does it just take time to steer the wheels of the future, to slow the engine to change course? What of the next generation, what is being taught in schools today? Are they immersed in Nature, learning about animals, herbs, foraging, growing food, caring for microbes in the soil?
What are artists doing in this conversation? Some artists moved out from showing in the white cube galleries and began works they called land art, immersing the viewer as a living participant. Sculpture Parks can also transform viewers into willing participants of Nature immersion as Satish Kumar discusses in Art in Nature. I have recently followed Richard Long on Instagram viewing his many paths and patterns from stone and mud paintings. His work seems unconventional. His mud paintings are usually straight on the wall using his hand and patterns. His only tools are a bucket and ladder. His path work is modular and can be duplicated and reworked in numerous series of configurations, almost as if they have a season then they have a chance to be dormant. He is bringing attention to the connections we have with Earthly materials, to our path and connections with each stone or handprint, that we are indeed a part of Nature.
1. Sharon Turnbull, “Gentle Stewardship,” Resurgence Jan/Feb, No 264 (2011):13.
2. Jonathan Gosling, Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, “One Planet Leaders,” Resurgence Jan/Feb, No 264 (2011):22
3. Ian Skelly, “The Making of Harmony,” Resurgence Jan/Feb, No 264 (2011):28
6. Satish Kumar, “Art in Nature”, Resurgence Jan/Feb, No 264 (2011):40-43
Contemporary team leadership seems likely to be well accepted as new ideas of purpose and gender balance become more prevalent and a new understanding for the future is inevitable. The classic model system may be seen in the assembly line of a factory. There is a system of order which must flow to make the products and fill the orders. Changes can be made but there is much disruption. The classic model seems to have rules to follow and the best you are at following and blending into a line the better.
Woman Rising: The Unseen Barriers reflects on multiple barriers for women as leaders, including insufficient role models to bond with and support each other, and difficulty connecting when gender might get in the way but it is a necessary reality of today and tomorrow. The article talks about Amanda who became seen as a leader when women clients wanted to only talk and work with her. Amanda’s confidence was boosted and she began to feel and see herself as a leader. She is now in a position to support other woman leaders. There is a suggestion to have women “anchor women’s development efforts in a sense of leadership purpose rather than in how women are perceived.” By connecting others to a larger purpose, they inspire commitment, boost resolve and help colleagues find deeper meaning in their work.” ”Integrating leadership into one’s core identity” takes time and support from other women. Psychologist Faye Crosby found women are unaware of gender discrimination even at times when it is obvious and in turn, is a general experience, this can be referred to as second-generation gender bias, a problem that exists but is rarely seen.
In the Neuroscience of Leadership, the Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE) says “paying attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamic.” “Given the brain's limited working memory, we need to make a deliberate effort to hardwire an insight by paying it repeated attention.”(8) Leaders wanting to change the way people think or behave should learn to recognize, encourage, and deepen their team’s insights.”(8) This was done at Toyota but weekly or daily “talk about the means for making things better, training their brains to make new connections.”(10) No two brains are alike; therefore, it is far better to be effective in allowing others to come to their own insights and develop pathways for innovation. “Power is in the focus, and in the attention that is paid” to training each brain to think innovatively and reducing the negative effects of change on the brain which may cause distress.
The video interview about Netflix CEO Reed Hastings by Chris Anderson head of TED and in his recent co-book No Rules Rules, talks of the team approach to leadership, developing an environment which looks at “What is best for Netflix”, with management expenses, using a core team of brilliant players, working flexibly always questioning, ”what is best for Netflix?” There is a mission to entertain the world, and the guiding question, to make decisions that are best for Netflix and no other rules. There is freedom in time schedules, and vacations, they focus on flexibility and innovation rather than systems. They work on honesty and respect. They are working on diversity, to be more inclusive and as their customers are 1/3 from the US and 2/3 of other countries diversity will come by utilizing each country's local creatives. The main leadership role is to advocate, influence, and inspire, leading the team to have, create and speak their own voice to bring about innovation which will inevitably guide Netflix in multiple directions, always testing the waters considering their mission.
When we are talking about sustainability it is essential to look at Nature as she is what we are trying to save. Nature is the planet and she works within a system that is not endless but finite. Understanding how Nature works is vital for us to survive our mechanistic approach to living into a regenerative way of living, one which will enhance our passions for Nature and all life, one which sustains us deeply connecting us to the greater world, our planet.
When man looks at nature as a guiding tool to how she has sustained herself, through changing environments we can better understand how we can emerge by regenerating our spirits and working in unison with Nature. In Leadership Skills for the Sustainable Economy taken from a Business in the Community initiative what stood out was their idea of Creating A Vision. By bringing businesses together to design a positive, sustainable future, stimulating innovation, to provide the basis for a “roadmap showing the constraining issues and opportunities and the waymarkers, practical steps, tools, and other resources to support business leaders on their sustainability journey.”(pg. 20) Can leaders imagine visually linking Nature's ways into a language that reflects sustainability? Could we translate our language using Nature's metaphors rather than man’s-built metaphors, the roadmap could be a tree with branches reaching out and roots reaching down? When we think of branching, we automatically align it with a system that works collaboratively, a hierarchical system with a goal or mission of sustainable growth, and flourishing seeds. We think of our family’s tree as a way of documenting our connections to each other, we see the tree as human-centered, which is what sustainability promotes, caring for our future generations in a respectful and inclusive way. The tree is breathing, using our carbon dioxide, our breath by-product to produce oxygen which we intern breathe. We are dependent on trees for our every breath. Animals would be the same as us, they use oxygen. Animal and tree debris fuel the soil, the roots, and the trees with nutrients, the sun provides energy to transform chlorophyll in the leaves into sugar to nourish the trees, the roots, and the soil, as well as microbes and fungi around the tree, also as a form of communication between them. We are interconnected reaching out, but pollution and fossil fuels have made us see the island we are on, of limited resources and the problems of co2 emissions.
What else could creative leaders do to help organizations integrate more of the lessons from nature into their leadership practices? Leaders could look at what a sustainable business might look like? In Tomorrow’s Natural Businesses highlights a case study from the brewing company Adnams which reinvented its business distribution center through the lens of sustainability. Adnams utilized the inherent natural qualities of hempcrete’s naturally occurring carbon dioxide to help regulate the temperature for a constant 11o C. using lime and local hemp. This innovative product regulates temperature without the need for refrigeration or heating which saves 600 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. Solar Panels provide 80% of needed hot water, steam from the brewing process reduces biomethane usage by 30% generated from brewery waste and local suppliers in their anaerobic digestion plant, and heat 235 local homes for a year. Rainwater is used in washing vehicles and flushing toilets. Exploring more and more case studies can make an inspiring impact on what is possible.
When we “connect with the commercial benefits of sustainability” as pointed out in Tomorrow Natural Business, it can be very inspiring and empowering to businesses and their employees. When a company can say that the water which exists the plant is cleaner than when it entered from the municipal reservoir or the native river because of pollutants upstream there is a feeling of accomplishment, of pride that they have contributed to a better world not just a better product. If we could say that the air quality which is emitted from the plant is now pollutant-free, how would you feel? Effective or persuasive communication on sustainability is very simple, by looking at Nature's ways we can be inspired to duplicate her methods to provide sustainability as she intended.
In Toni Carters Ted talk she considers why diversity was such a difficult concept to want to embrace, to have conversations about, or to make any real progress toward. She discovered some of the biases or assumptions people were making about the meaning of diversity, the first being that qualified people would lose their jobs to unqualified but diverse people. She realized that the idea of diversity may not have been inclusive and therefore people did not feel included in the new look of diversity. She found that language became very important for people to embrace these may be new ideas. She found this out by looking at the situation through their eyes, through empathic eyes discovering that inclusive, meaning everyone, the new people and the old people was what they were missing with the idea of just diversity. This is how she understood the term Inclusive Diversity to be the guiding empathic light to progressing forward toward a level ground of empathy, hope, and understanding.
Psychologist Jamil Zaki, in his Ted talk titled Building Empathy, reveals from his research that men, in general, have a lower sense of empathy. This could be why throughout the years that empathy has not been a widely used Leadership tool as men have been predominately seen as the leaders. Zaki brings attention to the common notion that empathy was thought of as a trait, that inherently cannot be changed. His research promotes the idea that it is actually a skill that can grow through practice and attention.