Category: Systemic Stories

The head and the heart of radical leadership

The head and the heart of radical leadership

Leaders’ Quest Founder and CEO, Lindsay Levin, was the guest speaker at the acclaimed podcast series: Outrage!+Optimism

Featured alongside alongside South African activist Kumi Naidoo, Lindsay discusses the kind of leadership needed to make a difference in the world.

Leading through uncertainty: Making conscious choices

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 info@leadersquest.org

This blog is part of a series on leading through uncertainty.

Part I: Leading self

How can companies serve all of their stakeholders?  Four key takeaways…

How can companies serve all of their stakeholders? Four key takeaways…

Sayo Ayodele, a Leaders’ Quest Partner, has learned some key lessons about serving all stakeholders. It’s all about listening, strong values and joining forces with like-minded leaders.

In August 2019, the Business Roundtable – a business lobby group that represents some of the world’s most influential companies – put out a public statement declaring that the purpose of business is to create value for all stakeholders.

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.

Data shows that younger generations want to work in organisations that represent their values. Businesses also know that they aren’t isolated from the global challenges that we face. Some recognise that issues like climate change represent a threat to their supply chain. Some have acted to pre-empt regulatory action that might ensue, as political tides shift in light of social and economic problems.

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