Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion COP26, joins Lindsay Levin, CEO and Founder of Leaders’ Quest, to chat about the top 5 ways in which businesses can accelerate their action on climate, in the build up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), happening this November in Glasgow, Scotland.
At Leaders’ Quest, we’re very well placed to offer advice and guidance in this crucial year.
One year ago, almost exactly, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Just like that, our lives changed. Lockdowns, isolation, collapsing global markets, overburdened health systems, and uncertainty like nothing we’ve faced before.
For many of us, life as we knew it seemed to stop. Time moved both fast and slow. There was palpable urgency and profound stillness at the same time. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, we saw heroes rise. So-called “invisible giants” working on the frontlines to serve the most vulnerable communities, demonstrated the power of compassion, innovation and collaboration.
The Leaders’ Quest global community is made up of many such giants. The following are the stories of how some of our global partners have stepped up during the global pandemic. Their work has protected the dignity of the many women who have fallen victims of increased domestic abuse, the homeless facing even more precarity, the casual workers who have lost their only source of income, and the many communities risking segregation in the face of lacking communication infrastructure.
Their wise leadership is proof that, especially in the most challenging times, when we act from the core of our values, we’re able to pave the way for healing and, eventually, thriving.
Patient Ambition: Grassroots Innovation in India
For three decades, CORO has worked with India’s most marginalized, politically and socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Taking a bottom-up approach, their programs and campaigns empower India’s “unseen” communities to articulate and voice their rights, to a government who otherwise treat them with neglect. CORO focuses on community involvement and sustained engagement, equipping these populations with the tools and leadership skills they need to enable social movement in the long run.
CORO has built a robust grassroots infrastructure of more than 1,268 community leaders and 250 CBOs/NGOs. Through various times of crisis in India – from the Bombay Riots in 1992-1993 to the coronavirus pandemic today – CORO collaborative networks have developed a deep capacity for rapid, nuanced and impactful action.
When the pandemic first struck India, the strategy conceived by municipal and national governments failed to consider the country’s most vulnerable – daily wage and migrant workers, single women, victims of domestic violence, the urban poor, small vendors, the undocumented, Dalits (who belong to the lowest caste in India), and Tribal communities in rural areas. CORO moved into rapid action, providing aid packages of food, sanitary products and essential goods to more than 10,168 families, in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. But as the lockdown continued, it became clear that the consequences were nuanced, multifaceted, and called for multiple, simultaneous initiatives.
With the money raised through online campaigns, generous donations from philanthropic partners and collaborations with several vendors, charities and NPOs, CORO were able to work on five interventions to alleviate hunger and livelihood insecurity, reduce exposure to coronavirus, assess and mitigate levels of gender-based violence and increase access to clean public toilets.
To date, CORO has equipped 6,500 frontline workers with PPE they would otherwise have had no access to. Direct beneficiaries from this effort include sanitation workers, and those manning public toilets – whom a huge proportion of India’s population relies on.
One of CORO’s most inspiring efforts was in response to the uptick in domestic violence, afflicting women in India’s most vulnerable communities. In the urgent requirement for PPE, the organization saw an opportunity for these women to revive their livelihoods and have economic autonomy. In partnership with local grassroots, they employed groups of women to manufacture reusable cotton masks at home, which have been sold locally at affordable prices to those in need. Through this initiative, which has expansion plans, over 7,000 masks have been manufactured, and a vast network of vulnerable women are seeing the financial and mental rewards of occupying themselves with mask masking.
CORO’s connectedness and relationships with India’s local communities has been key in the distribution of aid and emergency services through the pandemic. Working closely with their grassroots network has enabled them to access communities that, particularly given the challenges posed by lockdown, they would otherwise have struggled to reach. Importantly, CORO’s unparalleled approach to collaborative work has helped India’s most vulnerable populations to organise their own relief systems and become self-sufficient.
Learn more about CORO’s initiatives here and, if you wish to donate, you can do so here.
Relentless Generosity: Safeguarding Dignity in Detroit
Detroit is an incredibly diverse city, buzzing with innovation, an exploding startup scene, and local communities injecting a strong sense of collaboration into its growth and development. All the while, its population is one of unique vulnerability. With a third of its inhabitants living in poverty, and an estimated 14,000 individuals being homeless, Detroit has become a fertile breeding ground for COVID-19 – and one of the cities worst hit by the pandemic in America.
But whilst the majority of charities and support centres have closed their doors to the pandemic, the team at The Pope Francis Center (TPFC) has been working harder than ever to support and protect Detroit’s homeless community.
30 years ago, the pastors of Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church opened their doors to those in need of refuge from a harsh winter storm. This spontaneous act of kindness gradually evolved into TPFC – a day centre providing nutritious meals, showers, laundry, hygiene, clothing, food, medical help and essential services, six days a week, to those in need. TPFC is committed to eradicating chronic homelessness in Detroit by 2030, and is seen as a real “beacon of help and hope” for the city.
“When we come together in aspirit of compassion and generosity, we can defy expectations and find innovative solutions to complicated problems.”
– Fr. Tim McCabe SJ, Executive Director
With the pandemic rendering more of Detroit’s population homeless, and sparking widespread food insecurity, TPFC saw a great surge in the demand for support. Seemingly overnight, they adapted and modified their services. They shifted all of their operations outdoors, installing heated tents, portable bathrooms, mobile showers and hand-washing facilities, they also continued to provide hot meals, but did so in take-away containers – with the number of meals served per day rising from 200 to over 500 as a result of the crisis.
In March 2020, they launched a drop-in COVID screening clinic, allowing individuals to be checked for signs of infection and, if necessary, transporting them to a location for testing and quarantining – all free of charge. Meanwhile, with most of the city’s other clinics remaining shut or inaccessible, TPFC offer a general medical clinic, where guests can receive treatment for other ailments and guidance on how to stay safe around the virus – helping reduce the probability of outbreak within homeless communities.
To help fund their invaluable work, TPFC launched the campaign ‘Sanctuary For The Season’, which raised $250,000. They have also been receiving support from local businesses such as Buddy’s Pizza, who donated 400 meals to the centre, and clothing label Carhartt, who donated 400 coats and pairs of gloves.
Whilst all of us are at risk of the virus, TPFC recognise that the lack of access to hygiene facilities, medical care, good nutrition and shelter, and the predisposition to poor health, put homeless people at an unquestionable disadvantage. But, the compassion, dedication and resourcefulness of this team of less than 10, has driven an army of volunteers and generous local businesses to make sure that this is not the case.
To make a donation for The Pope Francis Centre, follow this link.
Diverse Communities are Resilient Communities: Building Bridges in Bradford
The city of Bradford, in the UK, is a district of real ethnic and cultural diversity – a third of its population is of non-white origins. Amid post-industrial decline, social unrest has simmered, exacerbating issues around prejudice and discrimination. But, with characteristic Bradfordian grit, the communities that form this cultural melting pot are driving regeneration.
The Bradford Council is determined to push these efforts. Instead of being defeated by the physical isolation brought about by the pandemic, the Council has identified the opportunity to define and address the needs of the people of Bradford. Bradford Council’s vision has come to fruition in a wealth of initiatives to help cultivate compassion and build stronger relationships between the city’s various communities.
Citizen Coin is an innovative mobile app, unique to Bradford, which recognizes and rewards people for acts of social-good. It is a virtual monetary system which “inspires acts of kindness”. The app grants users “digital coins”, earned from time volunteering in the local community, which can then be exchanged for discounted products and services in the area.
Whilst encouraging voluntary work and creating opportunities for individuals to learn new skills, the scheme also drives flow to small businesses. With local trade and retail feeling the pressures of the pandemic, the Citizen Coin has been a real source of support.
Bradford have also got involved with the nationwide project Creative People & Places (CPP) (supported by Arts Council England), establishing their own, local strand of the initiative called THE LEAP. The mission of CPP is to cultivate creative experiences “for, by and with” local communities, in areas where there is lack of engagement with arts and culture. THE LEAP is focussed on inspiring young people between the ages of 16-25 to use art and creativity to tackle prominent social issues in the Bradford district.
Over a 12-month span, it offers successful applicants financial support, one-to-one mentoring, training and access to a wide range of tools and resources to help bring young creatives’ ideas to reality. From documentary film-making to activist theatre, THE LEAP is helping carve the futures of Bradford’s promising artists, whilst advocating the influence and impact that art can have on society.
So far, through the Bradford For Everyone initiative, Bradford Council has developed and commissioned over 40 projects – providing a range of meeting places for people of all different religious, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Through these opportunities for community engagement and involvement, they hope to slowly unite Bradford’s various social divisions and sculpt a brighter future for the city.
Radical Collaboration: Collective Action to Combat Food Insecurity in New York
West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH)’s work is founded on their three principles of ‘Dignity. Community. Choice’. They work in partnership with their customers, with many volunteering their services or acting on the board of directors. This model provides direct insight into the communities that they cater to, and ensures people’s needs are heard. Striving to challenge the perceptions around hungry people, the WSCAH community is built on foundations of respect and autonomy, providing “access with dignity”. The organization places a strong emphasis on healthy food, with fresh produce constituting 47% of the food distributed in 2020.
For over forty years, WSCAH has worked to alleviate hunger across New York City. A true pioneer in the field, it was the first ‘customer-choice supermarket style pantry’ in the US, developing a unique model that promotes empowerment and self-sufficiency within the communities it serves.
The organization operates across all five boroughs of New York, giving low-income residents access to healthy food, support services, culinary training, nutrition workshops and cooking demonstrations.
Before the pandemic, WSCAH operated several open pantries across the city where residents were given points to spend on their own selection of groceries, allowing customers to shop to their preferences and specific requirements. But, with the mobility restrictions brought about by the pandemic, the model needed adapting. The organization responded to this by developing its ‘Mobile Market Program’, which serves the needs of those unable to reach the other locations. The ultimate purpose: to ensure no-one in New York is left unaccounted for.
Last year, as coronavirus cases in New York rose exponentially, so did the levels of food insecurity. April saw a threefold increase in WSCAH customers, compared to their usual average rate. It became clear that their help, throughout the pandemic, would be more crucial than ever.
Since the onset of the virus, WSCAH has been joined by over 1,300 new volunteers. The teams delivered food directly to New York’s most vulnerable citizens, moving their pantry locations outdoors and distributing healthy food parcels to recovering COVID-19 patients upon their discharge from hospital.
Over the winter of 2020, they collaborated with 32 different organizations across the 5 boroughs of New York, such as Uber and Lyft – who helped with distribution and delivery of food boxes to peoples’ homes. Meanwhile, they have been working virtually to connect customers to over $1.3 million worth of food stamps (SNAP benefits), ensuring that they have the additional resources necessary to provide food for themselves and their families.
As the pressure on WSCAH has increased, they have responded by expanding and adapting their services, reaching staggering new numbers. In 2020 alone, they reached 12,727 new families and distributed 2.2 million pounds of food; the number of individuals they served increased by 178% and the number of household visits by 93%.
WSCAH have used this crisis as an opportunity to grow and consolidate their services, proving they are a truly reliable resource for the residents of New York. They have worked tirelessly to remove any shame or obstacles around seeking help, making sure nobody has to face the pandemic malnourished or on an empty stomach.
Having spent two decades working in conflict resolution, I have learned that feeling deep discomfort is a sign that I am heading in the right direction. So, while it has taken a moment to formulate my words, they have been weighed with care about how to use my rage, sadness and resolve constructively. My discomfort lies in acknowledging and owning that, despite my best intentions, I am part of the very system that I wish to change.
The words below will not assuage the guilt those of us with privilege experience. They will not offer enlightened wisdom about how to make this all ok. These words are my commitment to do more and bring others with me.
At a time when so many of us have felt intense helplessness – whether it stems from the depth of the systemic inequality before us, the fear caused by the pandemic and its economic fallout, or the crisis afflicting our planet – we are all searching for meaningful ways to make a difference.
The first question many of us ask is What can I do? – often asked with doubt and even despair…
In my years doing reconciliation work, I’ve learned that the first question we should be asking is How am I part of the system? That is how we can uncover the locus of our power and influence.
I realized recently that many of us have naively, possibly conveniently, socialized ourselves to think that racism is something that only impacts black people or people of color in America. The truth is that racism impacts all of us. As someone who most of the time passes as white, racism gives me privilege, access to opportunity, and a sense of safety for me and my family. Meanwhile, arbitrarily, for black and brown Americans, it is a suffocating reality, forming visible and invisible barriers, justifying inhumane physical and structural violence.
It is ever-present in our society – it’s in the way cities are designed, the way we learn, the way our judicial system is built, what we watch on TV, and in the way businesses are run.
Most recently, as I looked around, and took note of all the ways racism is woven into the fabric of my society, I became deeply uncomfortable – acutely aware that I inadvertently enable – and unconsciously perpetuate – systems of inequality. I’ve been reminded just how important it is to pay attention to the world…uncomfortable as it may be.
There seems little doubt that this third decade of our century will be marked by a great unravelling. It’s painful and, at times, paralyzing to witness the world as we know it coming undone. But some things need to be dismantled. Inequality and racism are fault lines upon which America has been built. If we have any hope of building our world back better, we must reset the foundation and address issues of equity and justice across all facets of our world.
Those of us with privilege need to be willing to hold the deeply uncomfortable truth that for our actions to have meaning and impact, we must pay attention to how we are part of the problem. I am part of the problem. Only then can we begin to be part of the solution.
Deconstructing racism and systemic inequality doesn’t need to be about assigning blame or finding ways to absolve ourselves of guilt. What it does mean is recognizing that our privilege and our agency are two sides of the same coin.
So, take a moment to tune into where you fit into the system. What are the uncomfortable, inconvenient truths you must face? Ask yourself: Where do I have influence? What more can I do?
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy
You and I can and must breathe meaning into this moment with our actions, not just our words.
I do it for my children. For the generation of young people who are taking to the streets to demand a better future. And the generations before that marched for the very same issues that continue to plague our society today. I do it for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and for the countless others whose breaths have been tragically and unjustly taken away.
Darya is a Leaders’ Quest Partner. She leads LQ’s work on community engagement and the LQ Foundation.
Leading through uncertainty: Bending towards wholeness
Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep! The sound of the kitchen smoke alarm pierces through the house. I sit bolt upright in my bed. It’s 12.15 am. The lights are on in the hallway. I hear mumbling, “It’s bad, it’s really bad.” I venture into the kitchen and find one of the kids standing in front of the oven. Smoke is pouring out, toxic fumes billowing through the air and out of the window. I carefully open the oven door. Through the smoke I can see a half-baked pizza on a melting chopping board, a growing pool of molten plastic on the oven floor. I cough as the stench fills my lungs. I shut the door quickly.
California’s shelter-in-place order means our two college kids have returned to complete their semester from home and our high schooler has shifted to distance learning. We’re back to being a full, noisy household. The dining table is a shared office/learning environment during the day, and returns to its usual function in the evening. The fridge is stocked to the brim with food to feed three hungry teenagers, appliances are working overtime, and there’s a stream of family members in and out of the kitchen, all day, seven days a week. Together, we are re-experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly of family life. From lively conversation around the dinner table, to a midnight feast on a melted chopping board – and everything in between.
It’s only 12 months since I was preparing for our second child to head off to college, following in her brother’s footsteps (he’d left the previous year). Our family was dwindling, an empty nest on the horizon. After 20 years of a house bursting with energy, I was dreading the shift to a different kind of reality. I wasn’t sure that I was ready for this new phase and I could see it was going to happen whether I liked it or not. Change is hard; anticipating it is even harder.
But when the day came to drop our daughter at college, I discovered the emotional work of separation had already been done. I felt at peace. I was happy for her and had a sense of ease about letting go, letting her go off to build a future. Our family was transitioning to a new chapter, a new way of being in a relationship, a new way of being – individually and collectively.
My husband and I settled into a newly configured life at home with our youngest son. We enjoyed the quieter house and simpler day-to-day routine. I challenged myself to take up a new hobby – ballroom dancing – to tame the inner gremlin that has always told me I don’t know how to dance. I delighted in the rediscovery of things forgotten and the discovery of things I never knew.
It’s now just six months later, and we have reversed gear. The house is full again. Some of our family dysfunction has returned.The kids have grown up in so many ways, but old behaviors show up in moments of stress. Deep-seated father-son dynamics resurface. There are arguments over nothing. The kitchen is on fire. I fall back into my default role: imperfect mediator. Yet new bonds form. The boys exercise together. Big sister tutors younger brother in trigonometry. Our main outing of the week is to the supermarket. We try out new recipes; cook dinner together. Make banana bread. Dust off the board games.
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Perhaps it also bends towards wholeness. These past weeks have reminded me that life is not linear; it is complex and unpredictable, full of stops and starts. It is utterly imperfect, and still it moves towards wholeness. Our role is to focus on what we can influence, and nudge things in the right direction.
Coronavirus has brought about a change to our existence that we didn’t anticipate. It arrived suddenly and forced us to adjust in unimaginable ways. Collectively, we’ve had to do an about-turn. It is easy to feel anxious and disempowered when so much is beyond our control. Yet we are more empowered than we sometimes think. Each of us has the chance to make even small changes, so that we emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
Take a moment to consider your sphere of influence. Are there pockets of dissonance, or places where you feel stuck? What might you do to nudge towards wholeness? Are there conversations you’ve been putting off? People you’ve been avoiding? Is it time to re-envision your leadership? Reimagine your future? Pause for a moment to reflect.
I mean really pause.
Beep-beep-beep! Beep-beep-beep! The alarm awakens us and we respond to an urgent family situation. A spontaneous reaction, subconscious and immediate. Comforting in its familiarity. By contrast, our global predicament feels uncertain, alarming and at times painful. It’s hard going through this, not knowing our direction, or even what awaits us on the other side. Yet just as we have shown willing to adapt over the last few weeks, so can we emerge from this crisis with new ways of living and leading. And, most importantly, with a deeper understanding of what it means to inhabit – humanely and sustainably – this place we call home. Our collective future depends on it.
Leaders’ Quest offer a wide range of leadership workshops to help leaders and companies navigate uncertainty. To learn more, get in touch with us at email@example.com.
This blog is part of a series on leading through uncertainty.
We researched the most up-to-date work on purpose and interviewed more than 50 business experts and C-suite/executive leaders.
We learned how they define the fundamentals of purpose-driven business, and how much progress has been made. We explored what they see as the key levers to accelerate action and impact (using the Global Goals and planetary boundaries as a metric of success).
It’s crunch time for humanity. We’re living beyond our planetary boundaries, and the growing sense of mistrust in political leadership is undermining our ability to collaborate – at a time when joint action is imperative.
Yet there’s good news too. We’re seeing increasing momentum – from a broad range of stakeholders – for business to focus on people, planet and profit. And more importantly, business and investors are responding to the coalition of voices urging action.
From CEO roundtable announcements, to corporate coalitions on health, fashion and food. From public mobilisation efforts to employee campaigns and radical political policies that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. The mood is turning.
And this puts business in the spotlight to make a wider contribution.
Purpose is top of mind for many CEOs, but there’s no unified view on how to articulate it, let alone embed it. There’s a face-off between a free-markets mentality and an anti-business mentality – and an ill-defined midway course, where responsibility is viewed as a key element of the license to operate.
But private sector business leaders – especially – face trade-offs if they want to embrace sustainability. Cost pressures today versus long-term strategy; profit-only objectives versus ethical innovation.
Current regulatory frameworks hinder progress, while benchmarking standards and metrics need consolidating and reshaping. Capitalism’s iOS, if you like, needs adapting.
The good news
There’s growing realisation that purpose-driven business helps leaders innovate, manage risks, attract (and keep) top talent and benefit from consumer/market opportunities on the horizon.
What can change?
A purpose ‘north star’ can set the course for operational plans underpinned by ESG metrics (eg Science Based Targets), to benefit multiple-stakeholders (not just shareholders).
There’s scope for relationships between business and state to be reinvented. A government can set standards, apply them to companies and offer a sense of stability. Known as ‘ambition loops’, these can operate at national or city level, reinforcing regulation which enables business to pursue long-term targets, rather than competitive races to the bottom.
Simplified, widely acknowledged public measurement metrics (scorecards, league tables) will incentivise companies to act.
A critical role can be played by institutional investors. For example, by applying higher risk discounts to regenerative projects (renewables etc) and encouraging strategies that align with the Global Goals, Science Based Targets and high ESG scores.
Progress will come from a combination of public campaigns, government regulation, updated benchmarks and metrics, and a rethink by investors. Above all, it will start with courageous individual leadership, at CEO, staff and Board levels.
Our report offers practical suggestions for action and invites you to join.
Leading through uncertainty: Making conscious choices
I love to wake before dawn. With a cup of warm tea in my hand, I sit and watch the night turn into day. I relish these quiet moments before my family rises, when the world outside is still silent. My phone too is silent and out of reach, invisible to me though it is bursting with content and desperate for my attention. I choose a slower start that allows me to step consciously and softly into the new day without being swept away by events that can sometimes feel out of my control. In this time of coronavirus, it’s especially true.
A few days ago, my husband entered the room, phone in hand, as the sun was rising. He read the notification: “Stock market plunges. Gun sales surge.” My stomach lurched as his words collided with the stillness of my morning. My mind shifted into high gear, as my thoughts churned: People are terrified; they are buying guns to protect themselves. People will turn on each other in this crisis; they will resort to violence to defend their families. There will be mass panic. We are doomed.
In the face of fear and uncertainty, how easily I latched onto that narrative. I was hijacked – body, mind and spirit. How did that happen? The stress of the current moment took me down a path I would not have chosen.
The situation we find ourselves in today is steeped in uncertainty. We have had to implement sudden changes to our lives, and we have no clear sense of when — or even, if — life will return to normal. And what will the new normal look like?
It’s natural to feel anxious at a time like this. What matters is how we process the situation, and the decisions we make. Does our anxiety take us down a path where we believe we need guns to protect our loved ones from a world that’s out of control? Or can we make a more conscious choice?
At this moment of crisis, we have an opportunity to create the kind of community we want to be part of. For example, we could respond by reaching out to family members or picking up groceries for neighbors. In our work lives, we could talk to our team members, listen and support them, or have those career conversations that we’ve been putting off for so long. Maybe you always wanted to try yoga or improve your mile time, read a book or even write one. This could be the time!
In any given moment, we can choose what is important and where to invest our attention and energy, knowing that our choices, combined, will have real impact.
I am reminded of the Cherokee legend about the two wolves:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
We are far from powerless. We may not have chosen the coronavirus, but there are so many things we can choose. They could be small things like how we structure our day, how often we check our phones or read the news. They could be bigger things, like the kind of leader we want to be, our values, how we think about the purpose of our organisations, how we connect and listen to people around us.
All of these choices will determine the quality of our lives on the other side of this crisis. We can be stronger and more connected as individuals, families, communities, teams and societies, or we can keep our heads down and let the days go by until this is over.
Take a moment now to reflect. What are you feeling? How can you use this time to make conscious changes? Have you latched on to a narrative that is keeping you stuck or disempowered? Are you perhaps acting defensively, feeling frustrated or disillusioned? Can you be better served by openness, hope and kindness?
In any moment we can choose how we respond and how we show up to lead. We all have the chance to shape a better tomorrow.
In this difficult period, running ever faster is no longer enough. Leaders’ Quest equips leaders with the capabilities to thrive in uncertain and disrupted times.
Best Self Leadership in-person and online workshops equip leaders and teams to:
Hone their values and mindset to steer themselves and their organisation effectively.
Learn how to show up differently and unlock potential in others.
Harvest empathy and trust – break silos, work collaboratively and effectively navigate complexity.
To find out more, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is part of a series on leading through uncertainty.
These are truly unprecedented circumstances. In so many ways, the disruption caused by coronavirus is a microcosm of our times: uncertain, full of leadership voids, lacking a clear path ahead, threatening our sense of control and personal freedom, and instilling feelings of mistrust and fear.
Many of us have been impacted in some way by this virus. We may not have fallen ill ourselves, but it’s possible we know people in our community who have. Ill or not, we have had to change our routines, cancel trips, postpone events, stay at home, and experience an onslaught of media coverage that challenges us to discern what we can trust. Safe to say, this is uncharted territory for most of us, a problem with no straightforward solution, no end in sight, which is creating uncertainty, unease – and paranoia – at a global scale.
It is easy to become unnerved, anxious, frustrated and even panicked. I am tempted to keep checking the news, knowing I will find more of the same. Another plane load of people quarantined. Another school closure. Another cruise ship denied entry to the port. The number of infected persons is skyrocketing globally. When, if ever, will this end? Has the interconnectedness of our world created a dynamic that is spinning out of control?
Anxiety begets anxiety; it’s contagious and creates a downward spiral. As leaders, we need to be able to counter the chaos and confusion with clarity and calm. We need to adopt practices that help us remain grounded and centered in the face of fear and uncertainty.
One of my tried and tested practices is to take time off and drive to the coast, my go-to place when the world around me seems to be falling apart. This week I took a long walk on the beach. I soaked in the gentle warmth of the late winter sun. I felt the damp sand between my toes and the cool breeze in my hair. I allowed the sound of the waves crashing on the shore to wash over me. I let go of all that I cannot predict, understand or control – and I re-connected with what I know. The sun that rises, the waves that break, the wind that blows. From this place, the virus no longer felt so scary and the uncertainty became easier to bear. I regained my clarity and calm.
What is your go-to practice for regaining clarity and calm? How do you integrate it in your life under normal circumstances? It could be a walk in the forest, a run or a swim. Or maybe a creative pursuit such as painting, dancing, journaling or sculpting. It might be having a conversation with someone you trust, a regular meditation practice, or simple breathing exercises.
To lead through uncertainty, we must have our own way to center ourselves, become clear and calm. In this period of extreme uncertainty, how are you using it and how is it impacting your wellbeing – and the wellbeing of those you lead?
The key for us, as leaders, is knowing how to shift ourselves out of fear and confusion into a place of knowing we can handle the challenges in front of us. The quality of our inner state has a direct impact on those around us who are looking for direction. Just as our fear engenders fear in others, so does our feeling of calm and safety. If we enjoy inner balance and a clear vision of the world, we’ll have a better capacity to enable others to feel calm, confident and safe.
Today, when the world seems to be falling apart under the infamous C-word, take a moment to reflect on your grounding practice. If you don’t yet have one, notice what helps you come back to yourself. And then use the extra time (perhaps freed up by this crisis) to experiment. Find what helps you to lead with greater calm and clarity through these difficult times.
Leaders’ Quest equips leaders with the capabilities to thrive in uncertain and disrupted times. Our leadership workshops can be adapted to your context and needs.
To help you tune in with your energy sources – and keep your spirits up to show up at your best – Leaders’ Quest will be runs virtual and in-person personal energy management workshops.
These sessions are an ideal way to connect with others and build your energy collectively. To learn more, get in touch with us at email@example.com
This represents a significant departure from the past 50 years – during which shareholders and profit were the primary (if not only) concern for business.
Yet there is widespread scepticism about whether this announcement is just rhetoric. Do these companies truly intend to evolve their businesses to be of service to all stakeholders?
A new zeitgeist
Their announcement speaks to a changing zeitgeist. Businesses feel a need to – at the very least –pay lip service to the fact that they are thoughtful about their role in society. This demand comes from:
Consumers – who are increasingly putting their money towards brands and companies that represent their values.
Investors – who are increasingly evaluating their investments by environmental, social and governance criteria.
Employees who are demanding more of their employers.
A majority of leaders want to build more purposeful companies
Whatever the rationale, I applaud the decision and the announcement. My personal experience – after a decade spent working with senior leaders of some of the world’s largest companies – is that a significant majority wants to build more purposeful organisations. But what does this really mean and – in the words of the Business Roundtable – how does a company go about “serving all stakeholders”?
In 2016, Leaders’ Quest collaborated with Meteos to ask this question of the UK’s financial system. This joint project – called BankingFutures – explored how to build a healthier, more resilient, and inclusive financial sector. To do this, we created a multi-stakeholder group to bring diverse perspectives into the conversation. This group included leading bankers, investors, regulators and civil society, who came together for a multi-year conversation about the nature of the change required.
This is what I learned.
Serving stakeholders starts with listening
To serve all stakeholders, you need to really hear what they are saying. As part of the BankingFutures project, we listened hard to all stakeholders of the UK’s financial system.
We heard employees tell us what it meant to them, to work in a sector that they believe adds real value to society (and whose impact could be even greater). We spoke to investors who were exploring ways to navigate the changing nature of risk. We spoke to regulators grappling with the question of encouraging investment while still safeguarding consumers. We listened to individuals who’d been made homeless by the financial crisis.
At the end of it, we came away better informed about these perspectives and better equipped to make sensible recommendations about building a healthier and more resilient financial sector.
Embracing complexity and navigating through dilemmas
For companies exploring how to become more purposeful, there are some simple, quick wins (such as paying and treating employees and suppliers fairly). But often the questions and solutions are more nuanced. For example, evidence tells us that we need to take urgent action on the environment and that business has a huge role to play. Yet who speaks on behalf of the environment and society?
To become a purposeful organisation that’s taking action on the environment, a business may decide to double down on its recycling policy or encourage its employees to cycle to work. This is important. But all the evidence shows that businesses should align their environmental action or policy with science-based targets (carbon emissions targets aligned with a 1.5-degree pathway.)
Without this, their strategy, while important symbolically, may not be particularly meaningful. Ongoing conversations – with stakeholders and experts – are crucial to ensure clarity on what it means to serve a variety of audiences. It’s also vital to be part of a dynamic network or coalition – such as We Mean Business – who can help businesses understand what consequential action on climate change really looks like.
Recognise that purpose is a journey, not a destination
Just as business models need to evolve to reflect changing consumer demand, so purpose must evolve to reflect changing business models, and evolving social and environmental needs. Joining up with a network of experts can help business focus on immediate action – and figure out when a longer lead time ensures a dynamic, thoughtful approach can be developed.
Bold action requires courageous leadership and systemic change
Today, when public and governmental scrutiny is intense, it’s not easy for business leaders to take action. Getting investors and boards on-side isn’t always easy. Bold action requires courageous leadership that is willing to be ambitious, to listen, to welcome feedback, and adapt as society changes.
Business as usual? Or collective progress?
Companies, consumers, investors, employees and industry groups are all part of an entrenched system of ‘business as usual’. This means companies often have little incentive to make relevant changes to their approach or business. In short, there’s a significant risk with little guarantee of reward. By comparison, coalitions that include businesses, investors and consumers – all intent on making collective progress – can trigger a race to the top.
This blog post originally appeared on blog.thedoschool.com (18 September 2019). Photos: Viktor Forgacs and Anastasia Zhenin
Towards a Regenerative Economy – the Seven Domains of Transformation
Globalised industrial capitalism has been a powerful system for generating and distributing wealth. It has supported massive population growth, lifted billions out of poverty, and brought countless labour-saving devices to people around the world.
At the same time, we face the unintended consequences of this success – an economy operating beyond our planetary boundaries, and systemic levels of inequality that generate social instability.
Many people are working to innovate the ‘rules of the game’ so that business and our global economy can use their influence to address these unintended consequences. Below we sketch seven ‘domains of transformation’: areas where existing initiatives can deliver solutions that will deliver a Regenerative Economy.
These domains are offered to inspire hope, and provoke inquiry, partnerships and further innovation. This kind of complex landscape is inevitably flawed – so please feel free to offer suggestions for further domains, and fresh examples of promising initiatives.
1. The madness and wisdom of crowds
We often miss the power of crowds to form social movements – for good or ill – but they may trigger faster political change.
A few to consider:
The move to a sharing economy: eg millennials not wanting to own a car.
Rapid dietary shifts towards veganism (or flexitarianism!), fuelling early-stage investment in the Great Protein Transition. (Why intensively farm cows when you can make burgers with less animal cruelty and environmental damage?)
Greta Thunberg-inspired school strikes: over 1.5 million schoolchildren (and growing) taking to the streets.
2. Fourfold fiscal asymmetry
Current tax regimes tilt the economic playing field in at least four unhelpful ways:
Is it acceptable to society that the world’s biggest tech companies pay so little tax, while SMEs – the creators of most innovation and jobs – pay full corporation tax? How can society pay for roads and schools when the wealthiest corporate citizens don’t play their part? Recent attempts at transfer-pricing reform have been inadequate. Perhaps Tax Inspectors Without Borders or the OECD work to implement a Global Minimum Tax will make a difference?
Subsidies for fossil fuels and taxes on jobs and profits! Shouldn’t we use the tax system to incentivise desirable outcomes, and discourage damaging ones? See the work of Ex-Tax on this.
Two insights are key. Firstly, that freedom doesn’t drive entrepreneurs; limits do. Innovation is driven by constraints. Ask an engineer to make something smaller, lighter, faster, and watch the creativity fly!
Secondly, Earth systems scientists have defined the biophysical limits within which our global economy must operate (the 9 Planetary Boundaries.) We are already breaking three: GHG emissions, biodiversity loss, and nutrient flows (nitrogen and phosphorous).
The standard economic response is: “Just implement a global Pigouvian price.” (A tax on any market activity that generates costs not included in the market price, such as emitting carbon dioxide). This might work, but we have a poor track record of negotiating global fiscal instruments.
An alternative has emerged: Science Based Targets for business. To date, over 540 major companies have committed to reducing carbon emissions, in line with climate change science. This year the initiative will be extended to cover the eight other planetary boundaries.
Investors are already demanding evidence that companies are aligning their plans with such targets. Governments, such as Japan, are encouraging their take-up, and the G20 Financial Stability Board has issued guidance recommending all major companies and finance sector players ensure their business strategies are compatible with this limit. (The Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure was chaired by Mike Bloomberg).
Given growing awareness of the catastrophic destruction of biodiversity, it’s possible that progress on climate will soon extend to other aspects of our economic impact on nature.
4. Stewards of the future
Governance matters. Who sits at the table determines which conversations do/don’t take place, and which trade-offs are deemed acceptable. The German economy has thrived despite – or because of – the inclusion of works council representatives on supervisory boards. But decision-making is often short-term, and rarely considers the environment or future generations.
What if representatives of nature (and the future), sat on each board? Hydrogen car company River Simple is experimenting with this form of radical governance.
Entrepreneurs tend to follow certain forms of behaviour, but there are alternative corporate forms. Perhaps the best known is the B-Corp, a movement comprising over 2,700 businesses worldwide (example: publicly listed Danone is working to full B-Corp certification).
5. Beware WGMGM!
It’s a managerial truism: what gets measured gets managed. But what if we are measuring the wrong thing? Politicians and economists have long pursued an obsessive goal of growing GDP per capital. Yet ever since its inception as a crude measure of economic scale (in the 1930s), economists have known it’s a flawed metric.
It includes all sorts of economic activity – eg the cost of policing and incarcerating criminals – that don’t necessarily equate to quality of life. And it fails to capture others which do contribute to a better society – such as home care and volunteering. And of course, GDP does not measure the economic damage caused as we destroy natural capital.
But fixing our definition of P+L targets – remember, in the business world there’s EBIT, EBITDA etc, and the choice does matter – still leaves a gaping hole. We have no effective balance sheets for national accounts. Consider that the USA currently has an economic liability of overdue maintenance on its bridges of over $70 billion. There’s some real work for economists here.
6. Earthmoney makes the world go around?
The value of money has always been tied to something of physical value. Many believe the gold standard, the latest manifestation, was relegated to history in 1944, when the Bretton Woods Agreement linked international currencies to the dollar (rather than gold).
But the dollar was still tied to gold (the USA held 75% of global gold reserves at the time) and this linkage lasted until 1971. We are less than 50 years into an experiment that has severed all ties between the value of money and something physical.
Some might argue that this led to the financialization of the global economy, and the supremacy of Wall Street over Main Street. Money is created in two ways: approximately 3% is issued by governments, which print money; the remaining 97% is created by banks issuing loans.
New technology could change this. Blockchain has created a slew of new, decentralised currencies (Bitcoin is the prime example). But each Bitcoin is issued when someone solves an increasingly difficult computation puzzle, so it isn’t backed by anything physical. Recent cryptocurrencies are backed by sustainable economic transactions. For example, SolarCoin creates a currency unit whenever a registered power generator creates 1 kwh of electricity from solar panels.
As remote sensing capabilities combine with secure decentralised blockchain platforms, we may be on the verge of the creation of a ‘GaiaCoin’. It would be issued on the back of sustainable economic transactions (eg the procurement of a unit of sustainable palm oil).
This would be constrained by the total value of global ecosystems, usable by all in further transactions, and fully democratic (ie not controlled by any government). Perhaps one day the GaiaCoin will form part of the international basket of currencies?
7. The new laws of nature
The law is a component of capitalism infrastructure. The protection of property is the prime example, but the very notion of a company is an invented abstraction. It treats a company as a fictitious person in the eyes of the law. This is odd when you come to think of it!
So, the nature of our laws, and their application, will be central to the evolution of our economic system. Three trends stand out:
The enhanced application of existing laws, exemplified by the work of Client Earth. This legal NGO works on cases against national/city governments, compelling them to comply with existing environmental law. Recent wins include forcing the Dutch government to increase the scope of its climate law, and inducing several major cities to address illegal levels of air pollution.
The concept of Ecocide – written into the original articles of the UN, but deleted during negotiations. Recently deceased lawyer Polly Higgins made good progress in championing the idea that this should be recognised as a crime – allowing citizens to take companies and governments to court for actions deemed to have destroyed whole ecosystems.
The idea of legal rights for nature is gaining traction. Already written into the constitutions of New Zealand, Columbia and Ecuador, there are calls for this change to go mainstream.