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A Guide to Regenerative Leadership in Practice

January 28, 2020

Since the military acronym VUCA was first coined in the late 1980’s, leaders and organisations have been waking up to a growing appreciation of the unpredictability and complexity of highly interconnected problems as the ‘new norm’. Yet whilst this is creating a growing appreciation of the nature of ‘wicked’ problems, and contexts of change that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, our observation is that the levels of thinking and behaviours required to address them has remained fairly unchanged. The dominant narratives shaping change management, human resources, business transformation, leadership development, process improvement, cultural change and organisational development are still largely rooted in a 18th/19th/20th century mechanistic logic. This logic is no longer suitable for dealing with the turbulent and complex challenges 21st century leaders and organisations now face.

The requirement to embrace complexity is shaped by numerous inter-dependent factors. Prof. Peter Hawkins’ of Henley Business School’s 2017 global research study identified key drivers requiring a shift in leadership and organisational development as:

  1. the increasing rate of change
  2. the technological and digital revolution
  3. the hollowing out of organisations and the growing complexity of the stakeholder world
  4. globalisation
  5. climate change
  6. the need to learn and adapt faster

When Deloitte recently surveyed over 14,000 CEOs across 23 industries, they found a clear complexity gap in leadership consciousness, with leaders lacking the necessary cognitions and skills to deal with rising complexity. To engage effectively with the multiple change-factors our organisations now face, and to bridge the complexity gap in our leadership consciousness, there is a clear need to face the future with a new logic fundamentally different from the mechanistic logic that created our systemic problems in the first place. In Peter Drucker’s words, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil itself, but in facing it with yesterday’s logic’.

There is emerging evidence that a new set of logics is already starting to emerge from a range of thought leaders. In 2018 the world’s largest strategy consultancy McKinsey & Co launched a report, The 5 Trademarks of Agile Organizations, which stressed the importance of moving away from the mindset of ‘organisations as machines’ and towards organisations as living systems. In Reinventing Organizations, former McKinsey consultant Frederick Laloux identified specific examples of next-stage living organisations as operating to the principles of self-organisation, authenticity, and actively engaged in living out evolutionary purpose. MIT professor Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute’s awareness-based systemic change framework Theory U emphasises a shift from ego-driven change to ecosystem sensing into emergent possibilities of the living field. Business philosopher Nassim Talib’s Anti-Fragile is another important contribution that explores the need to embrace the interdependent and emergent logic of living systems. And the recent work of Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm on Regenerative Leadership articulates and applies this living-systems logic to leadership and organisational development. These are just some way-markers on the unfolding journey from machine-mentality towards living-systems approaches enlivening the organisation as a complex adaptive and emergent system in ongoing relationship with its environment. This living organisation is not only agile enough to cope with the systemic challenges but is life-affirming in its culture and purpose.

To summarise this shift in logic is a shift from ‘mechanistic’ to ‘living systems’, and can be contrasted as follows:

Mechanistic Logic                                                            Living Systems Logic



CONTROLLING                                                   DEVELOPMENTAL & SELF-ORGANISING

POWER OVER                                                     POWER WITH

TRADE-OFFS                                                       SYNERGIES

SHORT-TERMISM                                               INTER-GENERATIONAL

SEPARATE                                                           INTERCONNECTED


It is worth emphasizing here that the organisation has always been ‘living’ rather than ‘machine-like’ in the sense that it has always been made up of unpredictable, interdependent, emergent human relationships. The organisation has always been a complex, dynamic and evolutionary ‘living’ system, in this regard.  By shifting our leadership consciousness, we are merely starting to sense into the organisation as it really is.

The above is an extract from the paper A Guide to Regenerative Leadership in Practice co-authored by regenerative leadership practitioners Giles Hutchins & Katherine Long – to read the full paper go to The Future Fit Leadership Academy’s blog, or download the PDF here


If you wish to engage in this work at a practical level, to become trained and equipped in the action-logics and tools required for next-stage future-fit regenerative leadership there is a 2020 programme Giles Hutchins & Katherine Long are co-facilitating, with limited spaces available – for more details on this programme you and read this article, and contact Katherine Long on

To join the LinkedIn group dedicated to Leadership Immersions, visit:

To join the Facebook group on next-stage leadership, visit:

For more on the unique 7 mth programme Regenerative Leadership In Action, visit:


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