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Re-booting the system won’t work

June 5, 2020

Who would be a CEO today? Put yourself in the shoes of the CEO of a Financial Services organisation facing the increasingly toxic cocktail of spiralling bureaucracy, increasing regulations, rising mental health issues, and a growing demand for ESG related investments from clients, all amidst the COVID-19 crisis where planning for a second-spike and beyond is open to so many unpredictable variables.  Yet instead of locking-down with a command-and-control response, he opens-up and crosses a threshold, stimulating a culture of collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking. Creativity starts to bubble, and innovation percolates throughout the hierarchy. The organisation gains a deeper sense of purpose, attracts and retains talent, growing while others contract.

In another sector, the CEO of a Housing Association also faces a toxic cocktail, this time of spiralling social challenges for its client base coupled with ever-changing government regulation and funding challenges, all amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of reacting with command-and-control mechanistic levers she opens-up and crosses a threshold, creating a coaching culture where people start to thrive and the organisation comes alive. Soon the organisation wins awards not just for its culture but also for its best-in-class client services. It grows while others contract.

These anecdotes are drawn from real situations to illustrate an approach that my co-author Laura Storm and I have dubbed Regenerative Leadership. This is the future our organisations can achieve by unlocking brilliance from the inside-out.

Re-booting the system won’t work

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to create pandemonium worldwide. No doubt the after-shock will be felt for some time across our interconnected global economy. This is clearly front-of-mind for leaders across all sectors and sizes, no one is spared. Yet it is but one of a broad range of systemic challenges today’s business leaders now face in this ‘new norm’ of radical uncertainty.  Just as Covid 19 interlinks with rapidly changing environmental and social conditions, dis-ease in our organisations interlinks with an increasing need for purpose and meaning, health and wellbeing, authenticity and creativity, diversity and inclusion, resilience and regeneration.

The science, economics and ethics all align on one thing: we can’t continue with business-as-usual.  Its business-as-usual that is contributing to the systemic challenges we now face. Re-booting the existing system post-pandemic is not an option for the future vitality of capitalism. It just kicks the can down the road; a can that has already been severely dented by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

The leaders I liaise with want healthy organisations which employees are proud to work in; resilient organisations that provide richer futures for ourselves and our children; regenerative organisations that add real value rather than undermining the social and ecological fabric upon which we all depend. I think we all want this.

In the Thick of it

How do we create this new reality while keeping the wheels-on-the-road amid increasing uncertainty and volatility? How do we prevent a retrenchment to old-style capitalism amid pandemic-pandemonium when wisdom says capitalism needs to evolve towards life-affirming futures? Exemplifying this is the B-Corp movement and also Inclusive Capitalism – global movements gathering momentum with leaders across business, government and civic sectors.

Back in 2010, I was busy making the ‘business case for sustainability’ as Global Head of Sustainability for a major corporation. Now, in 2020, as leadership coach, I find the agenda around sustainable business has matured somewhat, along with that of organisational purpose and agility.  Recently, one leader shared with me how corporate responsibility now reaches well beyond the sustainability department, joining forces with strategy, culture, purpose and future-fitness.  Another leader acknowledges how competitive-advantage is gained by baking sustainability into the strategy.  Another leader recognises good progress being made on the top-down ‘technical stuff’ of supply chain and operational metrics, mission-statements and decision-making methods, with the challenge now being how to live it from the inside-out. Inclusive Capitalism is far more than a mission-statement, management report and metrics-pack. It’s something to be embodied in the day-to-day thick-of-it.

Busting out of silos to lead in toxic times

As we face into the Exponential Decade ahead, organisations need to work seamlessly across until-now separate silos of strategy, sustainability, culture and personal resilience.  Transcending these 4 silos calls upon a new kind of leadership – Regenerative Leadership – which draws from a different kind of logic than many of us are used to applying in business: a living-systems logic rather than a machine-logic.

Yesterday’s machine logic seeks to control the organisation through top-down power-based hierarchies, push-pull cause-effect levers and linear metrics. Yet this disempowers and undermines the future-fitness of the organisation. It encourages siloed thinking and reduces down the responsiveness of the organisation to change.  It triggers leaders to retract and react in times of volatility rather than open-up and respond.

Today’s business context requires organisations to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive.  Embracing a living-systems logic opens up our perceptual horizon to see the organisation as a relational adaptive system that is governed by the same laws that govern all of life.  This is a profound shift in our perspective; one that will take us from solely optimizing the machine for efficiency through command-and-control and hierarchic power structures to also optimising relationships through empowerment, connection and co-creativity.

This is not some utopian dream, it’s quietly going mainstream, and the business examples packed into the book Regenerative Leadership is testament to that.

“This book invites leaders to lead the world into the 21st Century” – Christiana Figueres

“This is the must-read book of the year. I couldn’t put it down. The clarity, inspiration, synergy and wisdom of this book is breath-taking.” – Dr Lynne Sedgemore CBE

To summarise, we are in the midst of a metamorphosis. Profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations.  The more conscious leaders are of silo-busting through living-systems thinking, the more organisations become future-fit in these volatile times.  The future of business, and the future of capitalism, demands Regenerative Leadership.

You can download the first chapter of the book Regenerative Leadership for free here.


Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organisational and leadership consciousness. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organisational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy, cofounder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries).

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