Author: Julian

We mean everyone: Bringing adversaries into the climate action conversation

We mean everyone: Bringing adversaries into the climate action conversation

Lindsay Clinton

New York Climate Week is upon us and it’s hitting like a stack of bricks (which, incidentally, is what my schedule looks like this week).  

Everyone is buzzing about Apple’s new sustainability video, and kudos to Apple — the production quality, Octavia as Mother Nature, Tim Cook front and center on this topic — so much of it is brilliant (what’s not so brilliant is a business model based on planned obsolescence).

There’s also buzz — or is there a word for a bunch of simultaneous sighs? — about the Global Stocktake, one focus of this year’s COP, which is an effort to evaluate the progress that each country has made since the Paris Agreement. Adam Elman at Google assembled helpful summaries for you to review. TLDR: We’re not meeting the emissions goals set and there is a fast-closing window to avert the humanitarian crisis.

And then there’s COP28 itself — who’s going, who’s boycotting, whether it’s been co-opted, whether there’s any value for civil society to attend anymore, etc.

So, lots of buzzing and hemming and hawing. And, yet I also hear crickets. Pause, quiet. Do you hear them too?

That tinnitus is the sound, or lack thereof, of all the people who could care less about Climate Week, who don’t even know it’s happening, who are probably busy making deals to advance the continued use of fossil fuels, while we sit and talk about the intricacies of regenerative agriculture.

Breaking through to the other side

Can we reach those on the outside? Is there any chance of converting them? Admittedly, I liked Apple’s video because it was (finally) something I could share with friends in media and tech who would never read a sustainability report, but who saw Octavia Spencer+Apple and were intrigued to watch something sleek and smart. These folks are starting to wake up to the sustainability opportunity. They are ripe for full-scale conversion. They are ready to be persuaded that working on climate, and creating new solutions is the right thing to do — and it can be fun and shiny and beautiful too.

What we’re not doing well enough yet is engaging on the margins. Which people hold the power but aren’t “awakened” to the cause? Lately I hear frustration from some of the veterans in the climate sphere — who are so fed up that they are refusing to engage at COP, refusing to engage with oil and gas.

I get it. But I’m not sure it’s the right way.  

Two months ago we partnered with TED to deliver TED Countdown, a 750-person invite-only summit in Detroit focused on solutions and opportunities in climate. The convening was part of a continuing effort by Leaders’ Quest to bring in new voices and different actors who can and are contributing to progress on climate. We had some of the usual suspects, like Al Gore, who continues to impress me with his emotion and stamina on this topic, but many more unusual suspects from the world of art and oceanography, biology and shipping.

But I’m talking about going ever FARTHER out on the margins and engaging with people who REALLY aren’t there yet. Who am I talking about? The CEO who appears in the sustainability report alongside his signed statement of how important this work is — who, I come to learn, isn’t really on board when I talk to the CSO. The energy company leaders who have an occasional crisis of conscience but love a robust paycheck and want their kids to be well-set up. The folks who believe that technology will save us.

I don’t think we can give up on engaging these nodes in the system, yet.

Climate action conversations in focus

I had a prickly conversation with a peer over dinner about a month ago. This individual works as an investment banker at a major financial institution, and when the conversation shifted to climate and my work, my peer had a visceral reaction. In a group of 5-6 professionals, I spoke in a straightforward way, without drama, about the need for investments in clean energy and the phase out of fossil fuels as soon as possible. 

This person then countered, with, paraphrasing here: “That’s just unrealistic. We need oil and gas more than you know. The economy would come to a halt without it. And wind turbines aren’t recyclable anyway, and solar panels have to be changed out every two years.” 

I agree on  the need to shepherd an energy transition, but the rest of this rationale is just excuses. The climate crisis is the greatest opportunity of our time to innovate. Despite an ongoing economic reliance on fossil fuels, many companies are having their own reckonings and changing their entire product suite and business models. Governments around the world have committed to net zero, no internal combustion vehicles and no plastics within the next decade or two. We can get there. But not if we sit around saying we can’t. 

My finance friend’s paychecks come from pushing through more and more mainstream energy and chemical deals. And I doubt that anyone has ever incentivized my peer to do otherwise. 

Insights from New York Climate Week

I attended one of the first sessions at New York Climate Week, which featured the former president of Colombia, and Nobel Prize recipient, Juan Manuel Santos, speaking about his own climate  “enlightenment” moment when he had the opportunity to engage with one of the indigenous tribes in Central America. Engaging with the group inspired him to learn more, and the more he learned, the more passionate he became. 

We have to equip people to change their perspective. And I think this friend will with time. Just like we have to believe that we can win the climate challenge, we also have to continue to try to shift hearts and minds, and we can do so by holding space for complex, thoughtful and non-confrontational conversations. For enlightenment, for awakening, and for learning. 

We have been hosting these complex conversations for several years, and will continue to do so next week and at COP. If you’d like to talk about hosting a complex conversation, please reach out directly.

Who wants to be a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Who wants to be a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Lindsay Clinton

My husband asked me if I planned to take our girls to see the Barbie movie. My kids have never had Barbie fever, so honestly, I don’t even think they’re aware of the movie. And yet, I’m curious. Barbie and her manifestations are a symbol of how our society thinks about women, femininity, and even leadership.

Full disclosure, our family didn’t own a single Barbie until late last year, when Mattel debuted a new set of four environmentally-themed dolls. Given my background in sustainability, I was intrigued. What is Mattel up to? 

In Barbie’s long life, she has been many things, but I think it’s not a reach to say that most of us tend to think of her as an unrealistically proportioned woman whose feet seem like they might cramp up at any moment.  Yet, she’s transformed into an astronaut, a dentist, a fashion designer, a floral designer, a rapper, and more. 

Well, did you know that now, she can even be a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)?

CSO Barbie is one of a set of four Eco-Leadership Team dolls that Mattel released last last year: “Do you like collaborating and working with a team to help the environment? You Can Be a Chief Sustainability Officer!” Says the recycled cardboard packaging. 

Yes, you can! 👏 It’s a hugely positive aspiration, and one is incredible to see, not just because these skills are in-demand from employers, but because they’re highlighting career fields where women can come into their own power.  

In my role at Leaders’ Quest I frequently work with CSOs and their CEOs, and so Eco-Leadership Barbie and the Barbie movie have me thinking about the responsibilities of quickly evolving roles like the CSO, and those of the other dolls that Mattel has marketed recently: a conservation scientist with binoculars and a notebook; a renewable energy engineer with hard hat, safety vest, solar panel, and tablet; and an environmental advocate with camera and sign.  

Whichever you are, or aspire to be, these valuable roles are full of paradoxes–just like Barbie! 

Taking the CSO as an example, the common challenges I see in my work with Leaders’ Quest include: 

Five paradoxes of the CSO 

  1. Making the business case when success isn’t always measurable in conventional terms. This is a common challenge for CSOs who are looking long-term and holistically, but being measured on quarterly or annual results.   
  2. Balancing great stories with hard work. I often work with CSOs who are able to garner support for highly visible activity that is good for PR and for the brand, but not for the hard work that happens in the background that makes an incremental but meaningful difference.  
  3. Aligning the priorities of shareholders and consumers. While this isn’t a direct responsibility of the CSO, they keenly feel the pressure that the CEO is getting from the Board, shareholders, and consumers.  
  4. Running too fast or too slow. It’s a balancing act for the CSO to make enough change that stakeholders see and value, but not to go so fast that they lose buy-in from key figures like the Board and CEO. 
  5. Beating the drum, but not too loudly. Because of the economic importance of corporate environmental and social governance (ESG), the agenda has become politicized and risks distracting people from the mission of the CSO.

What strikes me about all of these paradoxes is that they are not about whether a business can become sustainable or regenerative. They are about mindset change:

Are the CEO and Board bought into the benefits of sustainable business and are they prepared to buy-in for a length of time sufficient for a CSO to start making a difference? 

Is the leadership team open to new language, new timeframes and new ways of measuring success?  

Is the leadership team willing to balance highly visible activity like tree planting, with the hard work of measuring and reducing carbon emissions in the background?

Often, the answer is muddled. 

Business leaders understand the rationale, but they’re in what we call the ‘messy middle’ where they’re still figuring out why and how to change. At Leaders’ Quest, this is where our work excels. As one of our recent clients said, our programming offered insights into the ‘inner game of leadership: “It gave me the tools, motivation, and energy to work with nuance within contested spaces in an increasingly polarized world, with far-reaching benefits beyond my professional life.”    

We focus on the internal aspects of change. We help leaders make the inner journey where new insights, mindsets, behaviors, and awareness can grow. This brings a whole new dimension to how we direct our energies towards regenerative business leadership. If you want to hear more, please feel free to reach out to me.

And how about Barbie? Can she also evolve? 

One of the organizations I worked for in the early aughts aimed to put a woman in the White House. The organization, The White House Project, worked closely with Mattel for several years to get a “Barbie for President” into toy stores. Culture change was just as important as training women to run for political office. When any of our young feminist colleagues asked why we were collaborating with Mattel, our co-founder reminded us, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

In the copy that Mattel uses to describe the Eco-leadership Team Barbies, they state, “When kids play with Barbie, they imagine everything they can become.

As she launches her own corporate sustainability career, maybe Barbie offers something meaningful to women and girls after all. 

What’s that smell? (And other questions about the future of work)

What’s that smell? (And other questions about the future of work)

Beth McNamee

It’s estimated that 800,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled in the US alone, and experts say that the gap could rise to 2.1M by 2030. The manufacturing industry is also grappling with its emissions and waste footprint – and the irreversible effects of climate change we are already seeing as a result.

The imperative to change how we make things has never been greater. 

Last week, as part of #tedcountdown I had the privilege of leading a Quest to see firsthand the future of manufacturing in Detroit with LIFT and SiemensIt was an immersive masterclass in change management and leadership at the intersection of people and technology.

Here’s what I learned:

A stronger workforce starts with inclusive skills development

Walking through Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood, a juxtaposition of trendy new developments and long abandoned properties, you might be surprised to stumble upon $50 million of leading edge manufacturing research and development equipment. 

In Corktown, Detroit public-private partnership LIFT operates a 100,000 square foot facility where they are shaping new ways to accelerate technology, develop talent and convene collaborators in service of smarter manufacturing. 

Our Quest began with a visit to LIFT’s Learning Lab, a place for local high school students to gain immersive training and certification in high-demand manufacturing skills, such as robotics. They let us try out virtual welding (much harder than it looks!) — which uses VR to teach and practice welding skills and is one of many tracks offered to gain career credentials. LIFT also hosts Operation Next, a program supporting military personnel to transition into manufacturing careers. One veteran spoke candidly with us about the challenge of building a civilian career after 20 years of active duty, emphasizing the importance not just of building skills but also being given chances to apply them. 

LIFT creates career opportunities but it’s up to industry to give chances to a new, highly trained workforce by expanding hiring practices. 

The Industrial Metaverse and Digital Twins are the tech you didn’t know you need to know about

We then moved to a vast production floor to see how Siemens, a leading global technology company focused on industry, infrastructure, transport, and healthcare and one of LIFT’s industry partners, is applying emerging technologies to develop and commercialize products more sustainably, and faster. Drew Whitney showed us how the Industrial Metaverse (or IMV for those in the know) and Digital Twins allow engineers to build and test in the virtual world before any production begins. Imagine testing a car in all kinds of weather conditions but without…the car. They do that here. The reduction of waste — in materials, byproducts, and time — opens up a world of possibilities for the entire manufacturing sector, and offers a path to drastically reduce emissions from manufacturing.  

The Industrial Metaverse is critical to building a more sustainable future – and we need more passionate people who know how to work in it.

Software and robots are not replacing us (just one example)

While technology can do more and more (including teaching itself), people are driving tech’s use. Drew and his team, including mentors who have decades of experience in industry, showed us how expertise is being passed down not just through word of mouth but meticulous documentation in tech systems, supplemented by AI which updates learnings at scale. 

Highly skilled work requires mentorship and apprenticeship. New tech is enhancing, not replacing these activities. 

This work takes a whole lotta love

We rounded out the day in conversation with Christine Longroy, Senior Director of Ecosystem at LIFT and Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA… which brings me back to my title: what’s that smell? 

The smell of the production floor is almost an absence of smell — fresh, not sterile, and too subtle to be familiar. Only half jokingly, a participant asked what gave the floor its ‘I can’t put my finger on it’ scent. Likely, it’s simply the result of a clean space and clean production processes. But some of our participants observed the beauty of the production floor, describing what they saw as processes that mimicked nature — so maybe new American industry looks and smells a lot more like the natural world than we’d expect. 

Of course, the questions for Christine and Barbara went much deeper. We discussed the complexity of managing a vast global value chain, the importance of glocalization and frameworks for decision making, and how investment in communities accelerates innovation. Knowing stakeholders where they live and work, knowing what you value as an organization, and learning from experience are essential. 

We need more leaders like Barbara and Christine, who despite the challenges of the world see possibility and hope, who believe in people and innovation, who create opportunities and inspire others to do the same. 

(On that note, I highly recommend listening to Barbara’s podcast, The Optimistic Outlook.)


On the surface, this Quest visit was about infrastructure and technology – but it ended up really being about love, abundance, and optimism. A fun example: At one point, Cathe Reams, Siemens’ Communications Director, generously shared the shoes off her feet so a participant could explore the production floor (talk about walking the talk!).

To anyone serious about change, I leave you with this: You have to see it to understand it. You have to meet the people driving it and ask good questions to adapt yourself. And you have to put people in the center to solve the challenges we collectively face — in industry and beyond.

I’m grateful to LIFT and Siemens for inviting us to step into their world, the future. I hope their work inspires you too. 

Serious about systems change

Serious about systems change

Anne Wade

When I invite friends and colleagues to join me at the TED Countdown summit, I always tell them the same thing: That I find it an invaluable use of time because the three days are highly energizing and I leave optimistic that we actually have the tools to decarbonize our economies. 

This year was no exception. More than 800 people from across the globe came to talk about challenges that are alarmingly real, but where the palpable energy around solutions is also real.

What struck me the most this year was the seriousness with which people are trying to move outside their own individual lanes to understand how entire systems fit together. As we all know, one of gordion knots of tackling climate change is the need to impact all parts of systems simultaneously. My specific lane or lens in this knot is investment and climate finance.

This year at the summit we offered three breakthrough sessions— small group interactive dialogues — on finance. And to our surprise – the finance sessions filled first. A session called “Climate Finance 101” was so in demand that we ran it again. The demand came not from finance folks — but from everyone else: business leaders, NGOs, climate scientists.

Some folks confessed to finding climate finance like a black box — something they know is important but where the jargon and acronyms make it hard to access.

So we talked about finance as tools: What net zero means for the finance sector; how carbon markets fit in; what green bonds are and whether they work. What exactly is transition finance?

We talked about the successes being seen — the number of clean industries that are now profitable and at scale where money is moving easily. And we talked about the challenges — the harder to abate sectors, and in particular the urgent need to shift financing to the global south — why that’s hard and why we must do better.

That so many people showed up looking for better understanding on how money fits into the need for systems change says to me that we are all trying hard to understand parts of the system that aren’t our lane. The we increasingly collectively get that that all sorts of levers need to be pulled at the same time — and that as a part of each of our individual strategy to effect change, we all need to get more comfortable with more levers. That we need to demystify any black boxes out there so business leaders, policy makers, civil society leaders can draw on as many tools as possible as they try and drive us towards a less carbon intensive future.

So, as I promised the folks I invited, the summit was hugely energizing. And I personally left with evidence that we are getting better and better at amassing the technologies and tools that we need — and that we are looking systemically to pull multiple levers at the same time which is key. The tougher, lingering question is whether we collectively will take the tough decisions and use those tools now.

Is climate action on the path to exponential change?

Is climate action on the path to exponential change?

Melanie Jamieson

Large scale systems change is what we aspire to enable at Leaders’ Quest – and that’s no easy task. The LQ community in London came together recently to spend time with Nigel Topping, a leading light in mobilizing deep systems transformation. We were privileged to have Nigel join us The Conduit to talk about how he has realized huge ambition in his many roles, including that of UN Climate Change High-Level Champion at COP26.   

Aside from co-founding Race to Zero and Race to Resilience, Nigel has also joined several of our Quests – as a participant, a host and facilitator! We had a rich discussion, followed by some great questions.

Here are three takeaways which particularly resonated with me:

The path of exponential growth 

“We need to stop telling each other how bad a job we’ve done of something in the past, and start believing how brilliant we can be. Act accordingly and set targets for exponential growth.”

While we might feel we have already let down the next generation, we cannot resign ourselves to panic, fear, anger or apathy. Despite the slow pace of change, we can still get on the path of exponential growth so long as we keep going. Exponential growth (change that happens very slowly then very quickly, rather than in a straight line) is well documented. Think of the adoption of electric vehicles or the development of computing power for example. This change happens not because it’s inevitable. It happens because people are working every day to create disruptive businesses, make policy changes, invest in innovative enterprises, raise awareness and campaign for change. We need to keep doing the work because, if we do, we can generate the kind of exponential change which tackling global warming requires.

We need belief in our genius 

“Moore’s law is not a law of physics, it’s a law of collective belief in our ability to solve problems.”

The nature of exponential change is that we don’t get to rest! Even when change happens, you need to keep solving problems or else your period of being a leader is very brief. If we believe in our own genius, our collective ability to create change, then facing the biggest challenges of today becomes an exciting agenda full of agency and ingenuity and engineers, policy makers, activists solving one problem after another. We may not be able to solve everything immediately but belief in our genius, that collective belief that we can solve problems, means that we will keep going rather than stop in despair.  

Leaning in and letting go 

“[Leaning into change] is deeply personal. It’s about identity. People don’t want to be seen as cowardly or stupid. Business people have brands, products, technology, of which they are proud. They don’t want to be told they’re taking it in the wrong direction.”

To lean into individual and collective change, we need to recognise when the signs of exponential change are all around us. Nigel told the story of an automotive manufacturing group that he met on a Quest, and that he’s since worked with to support their journey towards electrification and to being carbon-neutral by 2030. This change has been deeply personal, requiring a mindset change at the individual, organisational and industry levels. Change can be very difficult because it requires letting go of so much: what we know, what we’ve invested in, what has shaped us, what defines us and what we feel comfortable with. However, with the right support this kind of change is possible, and it’s something I’ve witnessed on the Quests we’ve run and in the work LQ’s done with leaders and their teams.

Lastly, on a personal note, I asked Nigel about what he’s leaning into and letting go of. He shared that he’s reflecting on what it means to be a good elder – and how to empower others to lead the change that’s needed.

Why we should spend less time with people like us

Why we should spend less time with people like us

It’s often said that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. In our globally connected world, there is almost endless scope for choosing whom we want to shape our worldview. 

Who is shaping yours?

I’ve found that since the pandemic, the circle of people that I spend time with has shrunk. I expect this may be true for you too. Despite the globalisation of work and the benefits of technology, our bubbles have actually become smaller.

In fact, the five people we spend our time with might be more homogenous than ever! This has consequences because diverse thinking is vital to working through the global challenges that CEOs are facing. By limiting perspectives to those very like our own, I believe that we lose out on some of the most special and unique parts of being human. Conversely, by expanding our worldview, we can become more rounded and more successful in all that we do.

The magic of Questing

What if you could expand your worldview in a safe space with time and guidance to make the most of it? If you could be immersed with a diverse group of people, what unexpected perspectives this might bring to your business and your own leadership?

Imagine spending time in an incredible place with fellow CEOs, plus artists, activists, indigenous people, policy makers, environmentalists, refugees, ex-offenders, and community leaders. This is the magic of a Quest (my colleague, Kim Coupounas, shares additional insights on what Quests can achieve).

What is a Quest?

When I joined Leaders’ Quest 15 years ago, I had little awareness of what Quests could achieve. I knew that Leaders’ Quest ran what sounded like leadership development events, some of them taking place in emerging markets. That sounded pretty interesting to me and so I took up the role without many expectations. It was only after I became immersed in the LQ approach that I witnessed the fundamental ‘rewiring’ that participants experience when they have the opportunity to touch and feel the world in a new and interesting way.

Fifteen years later I still get great joy from witnessing the change and catalyzing these moments. It is incredibly rewarding to be part of a project that offers up the conditions for change and enables people to tap into perspectives that they would simply not get in any other area of their life.

Changing the status quo

There is no doubt that we are hugely influenced by those with whom we spend most time. This feels comfortable for us as our natural confirmation biases are rewarded when we hear or see things that validate what we already suspected to be true. But in many spheres of our lives, including at work, our cognitive biases are keeping us trapped in the status quo and, since we are attracted unconsciously to people who think like us, we lose out on the power of diverse thinking.

Our perspective can be expanded in many ways whether it be through hobbies, travel, volunteering or being intentional about who we spend time with in our organisations. But for senior business leaders who have very little free time, these opportunities can feel few and far between. This is why Questing is such a rich experience. 

We know that many senior leaders no longer commute. They no longer travel as much. They no longer come across the diversity of people that they did in the past. So, cocooned in an ever-shrinking bubble of CEO forums, business travel and time with like-minded peers, the perspective of these global leaders risks being not very global at all.

If we can break this habit, we have the opportunity to live a much richer life. When we take intentional steps towards more diversity in our lives, we broaden our horizons, find common ground and create meaningful interactions. A worldview that is informed by diverse perspectives, such as those we enable during our Quests, brings personal enrichment, better communication skills, more capacity for empathy, and career advantages. In a world where we seem to be ever more global, yet ever more isolated, I believe taking time out to expand our worldview is invaluable. 

We need wise leaders for the 1.5-degree world

We need wise leaders for the 1.5-degree world

Sayo Ayodele

How did you react when you heard the news from the IPCC that scientists now believe with 98% certainty that we will cross the 1.5-degree threshold sometime between now and 2027?

Speaking for myself, I felt two conflicting emotions:

Firstly, I tried to switch off from the overwhelming news. Secondly, I felt numbness. nothingness. I’ve seen so much of it that it feels normalized, even though it’s anything but normal.  

As I paused and really paid attention to this piece of news, tears began to stream down my face. Tears for the injustice that those who will suffer the impact of this have contributed least to the cause.  

Citizens of Earth

I’m a proud ‘third culture’ kid. Born in Japan, Nigerian by origin, and with very deep roots. I maintain a close relationship with my mom who is from a village in South Western Nigeria called Igbojaye. In her village some of the wealthier homes just got running water – sporadically — about five years ago. So, most people still walk several miles to the river to get water for daily use.

I was fortunate to move to the US on a scholarship for high school and then to the UK on a Master’s degree scholarship. I’m now a proud Londoner and mother to a two-year old Londoner who only knows life in London so far.

I share this to articulate that I am a ‘citizen of nowhere’, and proudly so, because I consider myself a citizen of Earth. Earth is my home because I’m fortunate to have had several places on Earth I’ve called home — some in the global north, some in the global South. And I hope — along with my son — to have many more.

As a citizen of Earth, I felt a deep sadness when the UN declared the damning news that the 1.5-degree world is coming and even a bit fearful. I have friends who have chosen not to have children because of the climate emergency. I’m confident in the motherhood path I chose but I do sometimes look at my son and wonder what the world will be like when he’s my age?

And because of that question, the much bigger feeling I have — stronger than my sadness and fear — is one of urgency. Of a fire in my belly to accelerate the transformation that I believe is already underway to change the global economy into a vehicle that delivers positive outcomes for people and nature.

What does a 1.5-degree world mean for you? For your home, your country, this world you are a part of?

I will be a Hummingbird

When I think about what is required of me and of each of us working on this challenge, I’m reminded of the story of the hummingbird; told so beautifully by Wangari Maathai — the first African woman Nobel laureate.

She and several women put their lives on the line to protect and restore Kenya’s nature. Those of you who have been to Nairobi know that there’s a beautiful urban forest called Karura right in the heart of the city. This forest exists thanks of the efforts of Wangari who suffered police brutality and death threats to protect it.

Asked how she found the courage to persevere, she tells the parable of a hummingbird in an African forest

There is a huge forest fire, threatening to clear the whole forest. All the animals are standing by in fear and shock, and watching the forest burn. The elephant with its huge trunk. The cheetah with its fast legs. All standing by, panicked, watching. Except one little hummingbird.

The hummingbird is flying back and forth, from a local stream where it collects water in its tiny beak to the roaring fire where it drops the water. Back and forth, back and forth over and over — seemingly making no difference at all.

A lion asked the hummingbird, “what are you doing? You’re only a tiny hummingbird. What difference can you make?” And the hummingbird replied “I am simply doing the best I can”.  

Do the best you can

Wangari says “I chose to be the hummingbird. We must all be the hummingbird. We cannot just stand by, no matter how overwhelming the challenge”. I agree, one hummingbird does not make a movement, but if we all — those with small beaks, and huge trunks — do what we can, I have NO doubt in my mind that change is not only possible but is already coming.

Why am I so convinced about that? Because we as human beings have made similarly difficult large-scale changes to the way we live in the past.

If you think our task is impossible, remember that 200 years ago, slavery was the basis of our global economy.

If you think our task is impossible, remember there was a time, merely 100 years ago, when I, a woman, would not have had the right to vote in most countries around the world.

Changing those systems seemed impossible. It was too lucrative, too baked into our economic models and too embedded in societal norms. It seemed unimaginable. And yet, here we are. And what seems unimaginable now is that these systems ever existed.

The second reason I believe change is coming is because I can see examples of the positive future that’s coming, everywhere. Let me give you some examples:

  • For the first time ever in the UK, in Q1 of this year, wind turbines generated more electricity than gas. 42% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable energy and 33% came from fossil fuels.
  • Amazonian deforestation is down 61% year on year.
  • Kenya now generates 93% of its electricity from renewable sources, and is building the potential to power the world with clean energy, which could provide jobs and sustainable development for millions of people.

These statistics, plus economic signals, political signals and polls that represent what people want, are pointing in the right direction. Change is happening. The question is how we can make it happen faster? How can we make it happen fairly? And what is our role as leaders in accelerating that shift?

We need wise leaders

I’m a Partner at Leaders’ Quest, an organization dedicated to growing wise leaders for a regenerative future. I use the word ‘wise’ very deliberately.

As human beings, we have grown in what we can call our ‘cleverness’ at a remarkable rate. That is – our technical abilities. We’ve put a man on the moon. We’re on the cusp of the next wave of artificial intelligence that will transform the way we live.

But as our cleverness has increased exponentially, you can see a similar exponential increase in many of the world’s problems. Global temperature rise. Loneliness. Obesity. Deforestation. Inequality.

So, while we have grown in cleverness exponentially, our growth in what we might call “wisdom” has been much slower. It has flatlined.

What I have learned in 10 years of working on systemic global challenges, is that technical solutions are only part of the picture. As leaders, part of our task is to grow our ability to see this bigger picture. To develop our wisdom alongside our cleverness.

This starts with deepening our self-awareness and understanding how to see the world from multiple points of view. Understanding that our mindset really shapes how we see the world, can shape how we then choose to act as a result.

A 1.5-degree world is coming. We are failing our fellow human beings on that front. But it’s not too late to create the movement of clever and wise leaders that can change the trajectory of our future. And that movement begins with each and every one of us.

What happens on a Quest?

What happens on a Quest?

Kim Coupounas

“You’ve changed my life,” he said.

He then proceeded to share the kind of radical shifts that happened in the months and years following his experience on a “Quest” led by Leaders’ Quest.

I’ve heard this same personal transformation story at least 10 times from LQ alumni these past six months since joining this company, each story with its own twists, personal epiphanies, and subsequent life changes.

Some individuals found the courage to radically change the direction of their companies.

Some quit their jobs and changed careers.

Some shifted their gaze and work to figure out how they can make a difference in the world.

I’ve heard it from global multinational CEOs, climate change agents, everyday citizens, nomadic adventurers, and everything in between.

When I decided to join LQ in 2022, I’d been drawn into LQ’s orbit by the brilliance they lent to the co-founding of TED Countdown. I got to know LQ a bit and its luminous founder, Lindsay Levin, leading up to TED Countdown’s launch in 2020. The genius, passion, and commitment of the people behind that launch – including both TED and LQ – were evident and stunning in every aspect of the event. 

And I committed to finding ways to collaborate with them again in the future. Little did I know that I’d be joining LQ full-time as a Partner in 2022! 

When I joined LQ, my knowledge of their work was colored primarily by TED Countdown. I didn’t really have a sense yet of what LQ is most known for: its signature Quests.

What is a Quest?

Quests are powerful learning experiences designed to inspire and equip leaders to tackle complex global challenges by taking them into unfamiliar environments to be immersed in the forces shaping our future.

I had my first real taste of Questing when I led visits for a group of rising Partners at a major global consultancy in London this past November.

During one Quest, we visited Shashi Verma, the Chief Technology Officer at Transport for London who was also the creative genius behind the Oyster card, the largest smartcard-based ticketing system in the world.

The conversation between Shashi and the Partner was dynamic and inspiring. The Partners were wide-eyed and fully immersed in the experience. It was a delight to witness and be a part of. My love affair with LQ-style Questing was born that day.

A Quest can change your life via:

Active engagement: It emphasizes hands-on experiences and active participation, allowing you to engage directly with the learning material, enhancing retention and understanding as compared to passive learning methods.

Real-world application: It provides you with opportunities to apply both theoretical concepts and practical skills learned in real-world contexts, such as leadership, decision-making, adaptability, and problem-solving, which are transferable to different settings, including educational, professional, and personal contexts.

Emotional connection: It often involves emotionally engaging activities that elicit strong responses. By experiencing a wide range of emotions, you are more likely to remember the associated lessons and develop a personal connection to the learning process.

Reflection & sense-making: It emphasizes reflection where you analyze your experiences, draw insights, and connect them to broader concepts or principles. This reflection process deepens understanding and helps you extract valuable lessons from their experiences.

Collaboration & communication: It involves group activities that require collaboration and effective communication among participants. These experiences promote teamwork, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills, which are valuable in many aspects of your life.

Personal growth: They challenge you to step out of your comfort zone, confront fears, and push your limits, building self-confidence and developing resilience as you realize your capabilities and learn to overcome obstacles.

Long-lasting impact: It creates memorable and transformative experiences. The immersive nature of these programs can have a lasting impact on your attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives, leading to continued growth and development even after the program ends. When experienced at an organizational level involving multiple participants, it can drive culture change at scale. Many of the LQ “alumni” I’ve met these past months talk about their transformational LQ Quest experience as if it happened yesterday.

Who is Leaders’ Quest?

Leaders' Quest team photo

I’ve never shied away from ambitious, world-changing organizations, and Leaders’ Quest is no exception. LQ’s mission is “to develop wise leaders to build a regenerative future.”

One of the key ways LQ achieves this is through Quests. They’ve been leading Quests for over 20 years, delivering 500+ transformative learning programs around the world. And they’re not just good at it, they’re GREAT at it, by which I mean they deliver a world-class level of facilitative genius applied to humans and organizations in ways I’ve never seen before.

This is no ordinary c-suite advisory and consulting firm. Given my short time at LQ, I can brazenly say and with zero concern about it coming across as a sales pitch:

Leaders’ Quest changes lives. And it’s changing the future.

As a result of LQ’s genius, we’re been hired by some of the smartest, most successful and purposeful leaders and companies in the world, including Google, PwC, Bain & Co., Lord Abbett, PepsiCo, S&P, Daimler, Vodafone, CEMEX, HSBC, P&G, and many others.

Coming full circle in my career

I’ve recently realized how my professional life has come “full circle” in joining LQ. I spent several pivotal years early in my career in senior leadership roles at organizations that drove personal growth through experiential learning.

I was drawn to those roles because my most powerful personal learnings in life have come through real-world experiences – especially travel and outdoor adventure. I believed so much in this style of learning that I even became an Outward Bound instructor in my spare time because I wanted others to have the kind of life-changing wilderness journeys I’d had the privilege of experiencing.

Now and then, I tell my husband that I’ve got “itchy feet,” and he knows he’d better start packing for another crazy boundary-pushing expedition into the unknown. Every odyssey deepens me, changes me in fundamental ways. To realize that I’m once again having the privilege of supporting individuals on similar transformational journeys is almost too good to be true.

Every day I discover more and more powerful ways that this small-but-mighty consultancy is forging leaders who have the courage and perspective to tackle today’s most complex global social and environmental challenges.

Every leader I know deserves an LQ Quest experience.

To learn more about why I believe that every company I know NEEDS this experience for their team to help them meet the challenges of our day, take a look at a more in-depth piece on Medium here

60 years and counting: The climate drumbeat goes on

60 years and counting: The climate drumbeat goes on

Lindsay Clinton

My first awareness of our changing climate dates back to Ms. Norton’s class at Mathews Elementary in Austin, Texas. I was in 3rd grade and it was a roller coaster year, as I recall. It was the year that the Challenger Shuttle exploded in front of our eyes, on live TV. Our teachers had been silent and emotional that day. So were we.

A few months later, on April 22, the vibe was more joyous. Earth Day involved tree planting and felt very Kum Ba Yah. I remember green posters in the hallways, construction paper cut-outs of children holding hands circling the round orb of planet Earth.

Perhaps the Earth-y joy was warranted back then. We were winning a major behavior change campaign around the elimination of CFCs—chlorofluorocarbons. To cut down on CFCs, my dad needed to stop using spray-on deodorant, and my mom needed to find another hairspray delivery mechanism. Doing this— and removing CFCs from refrigerators, freezers and air conditioning systems — would stop the degradation of the ozone layer.

Saving the planet in the 80s seemed pretty easy. Simple consumer choices helped us change course. By 1987, when I was in Ms. Primmer’s 4th grade class, the Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to protect the ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances, had been agreed to. Big hair had had its heyday and the ozone began to repair itself. 

Climate awakening moments

April 22, 1986 was the first day I remember being aware of the environment and the need to protect it. Perhaps you had your own climate awakening moment?

A nature walk. A beach clean-up. A documentary. A trip to a faraway place.

Whatever it was that brought your awareness to our environment, I’ve no doubt you felt a sense of concern at some point: we must act now to protect our planet. So, when did climate action begin?

It feels very much in living memory for many of us. But there has been a steady drumbeat of climate crises, research reports, policy moves, and climate action since way before I was born, and probably before many of you were born. Yes, really that long ago!

Early alarms

Silent Spring, written by Rachel Carson in 1962, was a call to action against the use of pesticides, highlighting the devastating impact they have on the natural world. Carson’s book was controversial and the chemical industry criticized her work; however it had a significant impact on public opinion and policy, and led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 due to heavy pollution from industrial waste and sewage that had been dumped into the river for decades. This wasn’t the first time the river had caught fire but this time it received national attention and helped to spur the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The Chipko movement was established in India in 1973, sparked by concerns over deforestation, soil erosion, and water scarcity in the region. The movement was led by local women who were concerned about the impact of deforestation on their families’ livelihoods and the environment. Peaceful protests and literal tree-hugging campaigns helped to raise awareness and led to policies aimed at protecting forests and promoting sustainable development.

These canary in the coal mine moments happened more than 50 years ago. There are many more examples, and in a workshop that I run with Leaders’ Quest, I chart the timeline of momentum building from the 1960s to today.

Playing our part now

Still the climate emergencies keep coming. The Pakistan monsoons in 2022 affected 33 million people. The ongoing megadrought in the US is causing drinking water shortages and raising debate about how we share natural resources. The heatwave in Europe in 2022 led to the worst drought the continent has suffered since the Middle Ages.

It feels daunting as we listen to the mounting drumbeat, and particularly as we read this week’s headlines about the ticking clock with the IPCC’s warning of the need for serious and immediate action if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. How is it that Rachel Carson knew that we needed to do more to guide industry in 1963 and here we are in 2023 with scientists again sounding the alarm?

What’s it going to take?

Perhaps we thought it would be easier than it is. Did repairing the ozone layer give us a false impression of the ease of repairing our environment? The ozone issue responded to behavior change and a coordinating shift in national policy.

Our current situation is not as isolated or as simple. Changes in consumer habits just aren’t enough. This is the year, the decade even, of “everything, everywhere all at once”: consumer behavior change, business model innovation, turning our energy system upside down, and policy that actually means something.

Working in the climate sphere can be a slog. But one of my core beliefs about climate action is that we have to do the work as if it is going to save us – and then it will. Those early activists sounded the alarm, and it’s helped to build the drumbeat that we’re hearing today.

We need to keep plugging away. As the proverb goes, ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.’ It feels messy and people can start to feel conflicted or despondent, but at Leaders’ Quest we’re happy working in this ‘messy middle’ where people are finding their way, many years after their first memories of climate change.

How about you?

What is your first memory of being aware of the environment or climate change? Did it catalyze a change in your life or even shape your career as it has done mine?

Climate action needs us all – from non profits to big business

Climate action needs us all – from non profits to big business

Sayo Ayodele

When we see, feel, and experience our beliefs in action, it’s an energizing experience.

I recently returned from a trip to Colombia where I had the privilege of meeting people and organizations leading positive change in the face of extraordinary challenges.

They included:


Run by amazing visionary leader Maria Adelaida Lopez and a passionate team, aeioTU‘s early childhood learning centers have provided millions of children with quality education, regardless of their socio-economic status. In the process they’ve created entrepreneurship opportunities for women, who can run aeioTU approved childcare services from their homes.

Cacao Hunters

Cacao Hunters develops high quality cacao plants in indigenous and post-conflict regions of Colombia. It is the first Colombian company to locally source and produce premium chocolate in the region, thereby generating greater income for local small-scale farmers.

Gaia Amazonas

Gaia Amazonas collaborates with and supports indigenous peoples to protect their land. This matters for several reasons – including the fact that deforestation rates in Resguardos Indígenas (indigenous managed area) were ten times lower than in other areas of the Colombian Amazon between 2000 and 2012.

These are small organizations making an outsized impact on giant problems. At the other end of the spectrum, Countdown – a Leaders’ Quest/TED partnership – recently launched the TED Future Forum, which convenes large multinational organizations with a mission to transform the global economy and create a healthy prosperous future for all.

TED Future Forum will tell stories about the successes and challenges that global companies face in stepping up to tackle climate change. The goal is to use these stories to inspire more businesses across the economy, and of all shapes and sizes, to take action.

Each of the companies involved and their leaders know that they are part of the problem, and are working on advancing climate solutions, often at scale. But ultimately no one person or company can solve this alone, no matter their size. It can often feel like an uphill battle.

Brave and humble leadership

What unites the organizations I met in Colombia and those involved in the TED Future Forum is that they are working on complex, multigenerational challenges to which there are no easy solutions: access to quality childcare, post conflict economic development, indigenous rights, and climate change. They require brave leaders to see a wicked problem and try to tackle it knowing that they alone cannot fix it.  

We all often feel small and insignificant relative to the challenges we face – I certainly do. These small examples of progress make me believe that change is not only possible, but happening. And they inspire me to ask the question – how do we make more positive change happen, faster?