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Regenerative Leadership – A New Kind of Leading for a New Kind of World

September 3, 2019

There is something in the air!

What a time to be alive, when so much is ripe for transformation, so much pregnant potential being born.

It would seem that we are living through a supreme moment; a moment between epochs, with old ways crumbling amid the new birthing through.  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moo refers to this as the Great Transition, a time in which we have no time to lose. A transitional stage of simultaneous breakdown and breakthrough ruptures our status-quo worldview as wicked systemic problems can no longer be addressed with an out-dated linear and mechanistic mind-set. The well-versed insight from Albert Einstein rings in our ears, and in our hearts, as we all know that today’s problems cannot be solved with the same level of consciousness that created them.

Leaders across all shapes and sizes of organizations are feeling a push-pull dynamic.

The ‘push’ is the VUCA local and global context now upon us, multi-dimensional change upon change. Unceasing transformation is the ‘new norm’. In wishing for our organizations to more than merely survive but thrive in the volatile climes ahead, we feel the urgent push into a new way of leading and operating.

The ‘pull’ is an unfolding evolutionary dynamic innate within us compelling us to wake-up and sense into this systemic and holistic nature of life we live within. We are wising-up to a deeper sense of place and purpose in this world beyond superficial consumerism, materialism and individualism.

Leaders of every generation and region are being simultaneously beckoned and cajoled into a new way, a new mind-set, a new operating model, one that is essentially life-affirming rather than singularly at odds with the social and ecological grammar of life.

This seems like a rather tall order when so many of us are struggling just to survive in these trying times. And yet it is nothing more, nor nothing less, than us waking up to, and taking responsibility for, what it really means to be human; to live up to our name as Homo sapiens – wise beings.

We call this new way of operating Regenerative Business.

The word ‘regenerative’ means creating the conditions conducive for life to continuously renew itself and flourish. This primary principle underpins future-fit regenerative leadership and organizational development, where our organizations help rather than hinder the evolutionary dynamic of life. This goes beyond traditional CSR initiatives as it is not primarily aimed at reducing negative impacts or ‘externalities’ created by the current mind-set; rather, it is a move in to an entirely new mind-set, a ‘new way’ of being and doing in business and beyond.

It applies the regenerative logic of living systems, the logic of nature – after all, we are nature.

With this regenerative logic: externalities become opportunities for additional value creation; waste of one output becomes food for another; stakeholders become partners to engage with through authentic communications and reciprocating relations; linear-thinking is replaced with systems-thinking and circular economics; resources are not simply managed and controlled for short-term gain but perceived holistically in the wider context of the inter-relational matrix of life.

We re-train ourselves to think ‘out-of-the-box’, transcending the rigid framing of yesterday’s linear reductive logic that underpins so much of our dominate ways of leading, managing and operating today. Linear mechanistic thinking is superseded by a far richer and deeper way of being-and-doing, where we sense into the interconnecting patterns of relations, where differing stakeholder perspectives and shifting contexts are appreciated for the diverse perspectives they provide, where collaborative abundance eats dog-eat-dog competition for breakfast, and where work is longer seen as soul-less enslaving drudgery undertaken so we can pay the bills, but become cultures of co-creativity, authenticity, mutual respect, passion and purpose, and where our organizational intent is not to profiteer and exploit with scant regard for the consequences, but to explore richer ways of creating and delivering holistic value that enhances life for each and all.

This is not a pipe-dream. It’s quietly going mainstream.

We believe there is no other viable way, quite frankly.

It is a fallacy to assume that entrepreneurialism, development and growth, value-creation and operational excellence inherently come at a cost to life. This fallacy is a bi-product of yesterday’s thinking based on an essentially flawed understanding about how the world works.

We can and must do things different, not just for ourselves, not just for our children, not just for those less fortunate than ourselves, but for the wider fabric of life, for the evolutionary potential of our kith and kin, human and non-human, me-we-world.

To make regenerative business a reality we need regenerative leaders – people willing to take responsibility for creating and delivering value in life-affirming ways.  Here we touch on some of the key qualities of being a regenerative leader.  This is not a cook-book off-the-shelf tick-box approach, it’s a journey of personal, organizational and societal development that each of us will embark upon in myriad unique ways. It is hoped these qualities act as sign-posts and nudges as we each journey individually and together.

Welcome aboard:

  • Living systems thinking: This forms the foundation of the new mind-set we need to bring into how we think and do, and also how we ‘show up’ and create space for others to more fully ‘show up’. If we so choose to see, life within and all around us is showing us the living systems logic we need to be life-affirming. Alas, most of us have been brought up and steep in a culture, educational system and socio-economic narrative that tries to bash this living-systems consciousness out of us and replace it with linear, siloed, reductive and mechanistic ways of leading and operating. Scientific Management Theory and Taylorism still underpins much of what we teach in our business schools today. It has its place and has led to some interesting developments in operational excellent such as Lean, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, and the like. Yet, it has not been adequately integrated with a richer understanding of how life really is – systemic, inter-dependent, co-creative and holistic in nature. This living systems logic is what enables our organizations to thrive in times of volatility and uncertainty. Rather than perceiving our organizations as machines with assets to be sweated for short-term return, we are opening our minds to the realisation that our organizations are living systems intimately inter-related with the living systems of the stakeholder community they serve and the wider society and environment they are nested within. As well as a focus on the parts, we need to be able to sense into the whole.  We can cultivate this way of thinking within ourselves by sensing into the inter-relational dynamics of life – we can take inspiration from nature’s 3.8bn year’s worth of R&D about what works and what doesn’t, and the way ecosystems develop resilience and vibrancy amid unceasing transformation. The shift to living systems thinking brings a more open, relational and expansive mind-set to the fore, where we sense into the inter-dependent nature of reality, and we sense into how best to show-up as sensing-and-responding co-creators immersed within this ever-unfolding emergent pattern that connects. Rather than a dog-eat-dog world, we tune-in to the dynamic participatory nature of life.

 

  • Receptive responsiveness: It has been said many times before that the key to effective leadership is to ‘Know Thy Self’. So often we get caught up in the busyness of the day, so much to do, so little time. Yet, primary to regenerative leadership is the ability to deeply connect: connect with our inner-self, to see beyond our ego-machinations and monkey-mind masturbations, and be able to tap in to the deeper wisdom we find within the eye of the storm. The capacity to stay present, to tune-in to what is really happening, to see beyond the superficial noise and sense into the system, is a vital capacity to master.  This is about cultivating our receptivity. We are naturally receptive as human beings, and yet we have acculturated ourselves to get caught up in a noisy world of distractions, too easily tossed this way and that by egotistic whims, fads and habitual reactions.  By disciplining ourselves to create space in our daily schedules for reflective time, time to breathe deep, to pause, renew, refresh and connect deeply within ourselves, we become more regenerative. We can better discern when we are not acting in regenerative ways; catch ourselves, regroup and relearn. The more we allow ourselves the space to sense into our inner goings-on the more we are able to open up to and integrate shadow aspects within our psyche, both personal and collective/archetypal. Repressed guilt, anxiety, fear and trauma that we carry within us can be touched gently and receptively.  Mindful meditation, body work (Tai Chi and yoga, for instance), holotropic breath-work or chanting, prayer, journaling, walking in nature, jogging mindfully, etc. can all form part of a balanced day with adequate space for self-inquiring  and self-renewal. From this more integrated sense of self, we are able to become more responsive to what is really going on in the system, to sense into subtle shifts, to discern the wheat from the chaff, to tune-in to the essence of the debate or decision, to reach beyond reactivity into receptive-responsiveness.  This also brings the added benefit of humbling us. As we begin to open up to the slings and arrows of the world within us, it encourages us to be more empathic towards ourselves and others, as we see the deeper richer nature of life beyond ego-eyed projections and superficial judgements. This also helps us sense into our authentic self along with the deeper passion and purpose so vital to fuelling us on this unfolding journey – a journey of a lifetime which Carl Jung referred to as ‘individuation’, a re-connection with our deeper truer nature and our dharma (our life-purpose).

 

  • Synchronicity: As we deepen and integrate our sense of self while simultaneously opening ourselves up to life, we become more sensitised to the hidden connections, local and non-local patterns, the eddies and undercurrents, and the feelings of flow inherent in this awesome adventure we call Life. Flow is an optimal human experience, where our relationship with the present moment deepens. Subtly lit synchronistic signs and numinous events light up our path. These are vital for our navigation amid complexity.  The complexities of our wicked problems have an elegant simplicity to them when we give ourselves the chance to connect into the synchronistic realm, what the brilliant scientist David Bohm referred to as the Implicate Order and what the social ecologist Gregory Bateson called ‘the pattern that connects’. Here, in this presencing of life, we permeate our daily conscious mind with the what Carl Jung called ‘the unconscious’. Again our aids are humility, vulnerability and authenticity, as without this radical openness or surrendering to the now, we get in our own way, caught up in our ego-clutter; closing-down or tuning-out what could have been sensed, and the potential pathways in to our emerging future dissipate. All the ancient wisdom traditions the world over say the same message for those with ears to hear – it is only through our full-bodied surrendering into the moment that we open up to the deeper wisdom of life.

 

  • Hold space: The wise old saying, that it is the space between the notes that gives the music its rhythm, is a perfect insight for regenerative leadership. It is through stillness and space that we cultivate our self-awareness while also allowing natural creativity, discernment and authenticity to emanate from deep within us into our thoughts, words and deeds. As leaders, we have to create space for ourselves to tune-in, AND also hold space for our teams within our organizations and wider inter-related network of stakeholders. Then we allow our organizational living system to sense-and-respond more effectively in times of unceasing transformation while rekindling our humanity. The first step to holding space is connecting within and presencing-the-moment; the second step is to cultivate a space of trust and safety for others to tap into a deeper way of being-and-knowing; the third step is to provide the right environment for tensions, vulnerable sharing, emotive airings, and conflict to be worked through in a non-judgemental and open-hearted way. These tensions reveal important insights for the unfolding journey. This also helps deepen the collective trust which is so essential for self-organizing and co-creative ways of working to take root.  Holding space like this requires vulnerability, humility and courage for the leader (and the group) to let-go of needing to know the objective or outcome of a discussion, and enter into a space of not-knowing with an open heart.  In a world full of noisy notes it requires courage to hold this kind of gentle yet provocative space. And yet without it the rhythm of regenerative business remains elusive. This is a step beyond tried-and tools and control-based managerial techniques into space where a wilder wisdom spawns within the nakedness of not-knowing.

 

  • Collaborative Abundance: For ourselves, our teams, our organizations and stakeholder ecosystems to become vibrant, adaptive, thriving, purposeful living systems amid these times of unceasing transformation, we need to embrace the aliveness within us, and cultivate the connection and coherence that enables this aliveness to flourish through our relationships. In other words, our ‘being’ needs to underpin and infuse our ‘doing’. This is not some wishy-washy soft-and-fluffy new-age vibe, it is simply the only way to take ourselves outside-the-box and transform our thinking beyond that which created the problems in the first place. The shift in mind-set from scarcity to abundance is a shift in our way of being, a shift in our attentiveness, a shift in our relational dynamic, in terms of how we open ourselves up internally to more of our authentic humanity within us, and also externally in our way of relate to others. Scarcity mind-set separates self from other, and us from them. It also separates our own sense of self (our ego-self) from our deeper more integrated truer nature (what Carl Jung called the ‘Self’, and Abraham Maslow called the ‘soul’). For instance, an example of scarcity mind-set is envy and jealousy: finding it difficult when someone else is sharing their success or reliving a happy moment or sharing their good work to the team. A colleague receiving praise, or sharing something about themselves, invokes a pang of jealousy in us.  This reaction is a natural part of our humanity. What creates the ‘scarcity mind-set’ is not this reactive pang of jealously, but how we then choose (consciously or unconsciously) to engage with this pang – do we let it drive a reaction and change in the way we are showing-up, or do we become aware of the pang, perhaps make a mental note-to-self (as these pangs insightfully inform us about something within ourselves, perhaps some lack of confidence or self-worth, and so the pang can provide useful insight in our journey of ‘knowing thy self’ if we so choose). If the pang wells up into how we are listening or engaging with the other, our relationality is in some way undermined and the potential for a co-creative emergence in our conversation, exchange or group dynamic is reduced slightly. The co-creative evolutionary dynamic of life is in our hands. In this fraction of a moment we either contribute to a co-creative dynamic of deeper sharing and unfolding exploration, or we reduce that potential, stifling the exchange and ourselves in the process. Another example of scarcity mind-set is short-termism and over-excited intensity (or the reverse, apathy). Overly focusing on the immediacy of getting the job done without taking into account the wider circumspect, the wider holistic inter-relations one is participating in (or the reverse, overly-criticising the situation we are in, blaming others and being a victim) reduces down the co-creative potential of life. It is interesting to note that many passionate and driven activists working for noble causes sometimes struggle to come from an abundant mind-set, instead they are overly-fuelled by anger, polarisation, us-versus-them blame, and so can often embark on intense activities that actually undermine their own authenticity, presence and grace while also undermining their inter-relations with others. We unwittingly become part of the problem. Immediacy, reactivity, intensity, projection and short-termism can violate our integrity and the integrity of those we are attempting to influence. This is a different dynamic to being fully present in the immediacy of the moment, as presence comes with trust, openness, receptivity and responsiveness – and this welcomes in the inherent co-creative nature of life. Scarcity comes with a sense of lack, fearful vigilance, impatience, not enough time, and the need to grasp – and this then starves the co-creative dynamic. Stressed-out schedules full of back-to-back catch-ups, texts, twitters, phone calls, skypes, emails and meetings  do little to help us tune-in to the logic of life.  It is presencing in the moment that opens up our attentiveness to the inter-relationalities, synchronicities, wider repercussions, and subtle perturbations that each evolving moment reveals – the present of being present is revealed to us. This abundance mind-set is inherently collaborative, it is an inviting-in, listening-to and sharing with, co-creating and co-developing, exploring together, learning together, working across boundaries, celebrating diverse perspectives, and surfing the tensions for deeper insight.

 

  • Gratitude and Awe: As we allow ourselves to open up more of our daily consciousness to the living systems dynamic within and all around us, we begin to see the world more fully, with its resplendent awe and magnificence. In part, it is this beauty that we sense within every cell and sinew of our body which helps nourish and rejuvenate us on the journey of transforming ourselves, our teams and our organizations towards brighter futures. A regular reminder of this gratitude and awe of life through a morning meditation, sunrise walk, or after lunch stroll in the park, can help re-connect us to this rapture of life and re-centre our passion and purpose.

 

  • Creativity, curiosity and conviviality: Regenerative business is about celebrating life, about creating the future we know in our hearts is possible. This requires us to be creative, to think outside-the-box, to reach beyond boundaries of what we perceive cannot be done into a space of curiosity and possibility. This curious mind-set is a way of attending to questions, conversations, tensions and challenges with an open non-judgemental mind that seeks to explore. Rather than getting overly caught up in current conditions, we explore the art of the possible.  All of this exploration, questing and creativity needs to be blended with a convivial enjoyable atmosphere within the organizational culture.  Humour and laughter are sure-fired ways to break status-quo thinking and move us outside-the-box. Let’s lighten up and not take ourselves and other so seriously. After all, we are trying to manifest a better world, so let’s have fun in the process, let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.  Humour is a powerful way to dis-arm the grasping ego-mind. It liberates us to open up, explore and learn together in a light, refreshing and enjoyable way. Creating the conditions for creativity, curiosity and conviviality means dismantling the bureaucracies and power-based hierarchies that dominate today’s machine-mentality. The good news is, our innate human nature and the logic of life is on our side. But the ego-self, the scarcity mind-set, and the self-aggrandising power-playing political, narcissistic and Machiavellian monkey-mind are present within us all.  We need to tame this part of ourselves and be more attentive to what lies beyond this superficiality, hence the importance of courage.

 

  • Courage – The word ‘courage’ finds its root meaning in the Latin-French ‘cour’ meaning heart. Courage means to lead with heart, to vulnerably open up to more of ourselves while creating space for others to become more of themselves. The front-line of transforming our teams and organizations into regenerative businesses is our practical application through our everyday living and leading. And as we are creatures of cultural habit with collective behavioral patterns, institutionalized education systems, and mainstream socio-economic pathways all steeped in yesterday’s logic, it is not an easy undertaking, and certainly not a viable path for the faint-hearted. Learning through failing, dogged experimentation and exploration, underpinned with courage is the only way. Brene Brown the researcher and author aptly puts it, ‘vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.’  Courage is our opening up to each moment with our hearts open. Much of the time we are too much in our heads and barely sense the whispers of our heart.  We need our head-logic but this head logic should be in service of the deeper wisdom of the heart. Einstein knew this when he said, ‘the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind itself faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.’ So true. The genius puts his finger right on it. By allowing the intuitive wisdom of the heart to gain a more central place in our being-and-knowing, we may begin to let go of codes of conduct, pre-determined outcomes and metrics of success, and surrender our ‘need to know’ while making space for a wiser, deeper knowing to emerge through us, our relations and our systems.  This is not for the faint-hearted, as it goes against everything we have been trained to think is sensible, and yet it goes to the heart of the matter by welcoming in a radically different level of consciousness into our solution-space than what created our problems in the first place.

 

Old Logic                                             New Logic

Mechanistic                                       Living

Separateness                                    Inter-connectedness

Competitive self-agency                  Collaborative inter-relationality

Hierarchic management                  Locally-attuned emergence

Individualism                                    Individuality within community

Homogenisation                               Diversity within unity

Profit first                                          Profit follows purpose

Analytic-head logic                         Head-heart-hand intuitive-emotional-sensorial-rational logic

Exploitative                                       Regenerative

 

As the well-respected business futurist John Naisbett notes,

‘the greatest breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology. They will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’

Regenerative leadership goes to the heart of this expanding concept of what it means to be human in this tumultuous time we are living through.

 

To purchase the latest book on Regenerative Leadership co-authored by Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm visit http://www.regenerativeleadership.co

 

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

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