And breakthrough catalysts Volans, who were commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission to explore business models, challenges us to step up and take that call.
As per the introduction on the Commission’s website, “global business leaders need to see the Sustainable Development Goals for what they are: the opportunity to adopt new business models for exponential and inclusive growth”. John Elkington, co-author of the paper [Breakthrough Business Models], argues that business leaders first need to develop an "exponential mindset" that shuns slow progress and contributes to accelerating systemic change.
You cannot help but be stirred by this work of love. It is rich in resource and stimulus, combining depth and breadth with succinctness. It provides clear arguments for the way forward and tangible examples and sources of inspiration of organizations already breaking through the mould. However, despite the reference to leadership, there are only a few recommendations for top teams.
To use an expression of Lane4 Management Consultancy, 'leaders create the environment in which people perform'. Going deeper into what leaders did in the organizations showcased and getting more nuanced about leadership and people development, will be a valuable further addition to this work. Perhaps this will happen on the complementary website Project Breakthrough, which showcases where and how transformational change is happening right now.
For if the Sustainability Industry (as the term used) is to "reboot", it must invest in and develop its people in order to unleash potential and drive breakthrough change. As a start, from my perspective as a leadership coach and consultant, such development would benefit from considering, at least, these four interrelated factors:
A redefinition of leadership: We need to liberate ourselves from the still pervasive ‘great man theory’ that leadership is solely the domain of ‘global leaders’ or the ‘top team’ or someone else. As Impact International advocate, leadership is not about a special person but a special action. Similarly, Kevin Roberts wrote in his recently released 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World, “we must all be Creative Leaders. We all can be, because ideas come from everywhere, because ideas come any time, and because ideas take flight like never before”.
Coaching: Despite demonstrable benefits, coaching is still widely misunderstood, under-utilised or non-existent, in organizations. The dominant leadership style, born of our education, organisational and societal tendencies and that of our tender egos, is still one which is more inclined to tell, advocate, direct and close down, rather than to ask, inquire, explore and open up. In my experience, coaching is key to transformation. As a mindset and activity, it raises consciousness, helps people reclaim their own authority and encourages them to dig deeper into their own wisdom and release their gifts in a way teaching, never can. To quote Peter Drucker, 'the leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask'. We need to start asking now.
And that experiential learning has to include our experience in nature. I like this story...
Activist and author Naomi Klein tells about the time she travelled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.
Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink."
After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business?
"Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."
Nature is worth saving for its own sake. If we as humans want to co-exist, we need to realize our connectivity with it.
Which leads me to..
Thinking and.. going beyond thinking: The central argument of the Volans paper is about thinking differently. We need to Think Sustainably. Think Exponential. Think Social. Think Lean. Think Integrated. Think Circular. And paradoxically part of doing that, will be to train ourselves to also go beyond thought. To draw on Brendel and Bennett’s (2016) research on embodied leadership through mindfulness and somatics, as we are fundamentally integrated whole or embodied beings, to rely purely on cognitive-behavioural processes to develop leadership or create breakthrough will be insufficient. For optimal performance and sustainable change, we need to look holistically at our development, one which nurtures the mind-body connection, to tap into a greater intelligence. We must, as Osho wrote “get out of our heads into our hearts”. Or in the words of my own haiku
Be yourself fully
In the thousand and thousand
Variants you are
Perhaps if we did that, we would have breakthrough.
Sources (not with hyperlinks):
Brendel, W and Bennett, C (2016) “Learning to Embody Leadership Through Mindfulness and Somatics Practice”, Advances in Human Resources 1-17
Naomi Klein story (tinyurl.com/5q84zh) as told in R. Brezny (2009) Pronoia is the Antitode of Paranoia, North Atlantic Books, page 76
Osho ( 2001), Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic, Osho International Federation, NY (quote from page 172)
Roberts, K (2016) 64 Shots: Leadership in a crazy world, PowerHouse Books, NY