Good leadership is preparing yesterday to win tomorrow’s battles. Especially when tomorrow’s battle is an existential threat.
Poor leadership is squandering the past 20 years, failing to do what was needed (getting to peak emissions before 2020; yes, you read that right, 2 years ago), and instead of leading us deeper into biosphere collapse and the climate catastrophe.
Good leaders are those who have long invested themselves and their money into fighting biosphere collapse and the climate catastrophe, know that we have less than 90 months left to stay below 2C, and are focussed on the next target, reducing emissions by at least 43% in the next 8 years, as well as regenerating all we have degenerated.
And we are all leaders at some level. You are at least leading yourself and what you do with your time and skills.
Why has leadership fallen so far short? And what can you do about it?
Here are my thoughts on the leadership we need to steer us through the catastrophe we’ve constructed and to construct a future world that we can all live well in.
Clue: It’s not just about the leader, no matter how much positional power you have to lead.
It’s equally about the systems and pre-existing relationships the leader is embedded in.
Leadership qualities and activities
Good leaders embrace the Nuremberg Principles, in particular, that you are responsible for any inhuman act, even if you acted according to orders from your government or superiors, or were complicit in the inhuman actions of others.
Regardless of how high you were as a leader.
For example, this means, in a company’s shareholder meeting, that resolutions from investors (in essence, the superiors of the executives, as most companies are currently built) ought to be ignored if they lead to inhuman acts.
Anything decreasing the capacity of our biosphere and human society to support life for present and future generations is an inhuman act.
Good leadership is a consequence of the interplay between the leader and the structures and pre-existing relationships they are embedded in. These are larger and older than any individual leader, and determine what actions are easy to do and what actions require extraordinary strength and moral courage.
As Peter Drucker so often pointed out, you have a fatally flawed design if it requires extraordinary individuals to work well.
We have just such a fatally flawed design in business and politics, and it has created the existential threats we face.
To have the good leadership we need, in the numbers we need, at all levels of our organisations, requires organisations, including leadership development programmes, designed to enable good leadership. It’s time to eliminate the flaws.
- Capacity to steer and transform the unknowable. Good leaders recognise organisations as living beings, like themselves, which therefore have large unknowable aspects. And which, because they are unknowable, can never be captured in policies or the code of a DAO.
- Self-developmental capacity. Have developed inner processes driving continuous development of their fluidity in thought forms, in their stage of development, in their subtlety in working with their hardwired nature.
- Diverse ways of being and doing are actively embraced and enabled to perform.
- Focus on what matters, on what is right, on what is needed. Today this means the climate catastrophe and biosphere collapse is centre stage in all they do.
- Choose hope as a strategy, and project grounds for hope. This does not mean believing in magic, or in some other power-saving them; rather, regardless of how they feel, they know that there are always possibilities ahead that they cannot yet see.
- Multistakeholder governance. Decisions, e.g. on hiring, firing, rewarding, and promoting leaders must be taken by all stakeholders who will be affected by that leader’s actions; using a process including the perspectives and needs of all stakeholders in an equitable balance. Investors/board members (for executives), or the line managers within a company (for internal leaders), disable good leadership if they alone take such decisions.
- Free or Commons companies. The company as a whole is, at least, never treated as the property of investors, or any other stakeholder; and is enabled to act in the best interests of current and future life thriving. Any company that is treated as property, especially as the property of investors, disables good leadership.
- Development as a purpose, including common practices. The company as a whole has development as a purpose, on the same footing as any other purpose, and robust, evidence-based common practices that everyone uses to grow their inner capacity. A company lacking common developmental practices disables good leadership.
- Autopoietic organisation design. The organisation as a whole, and individual organs within it, have the ability to die when they are no longer needed, or to create offspring when more is needed. A company unable to take such decisions disables the good leadership we need.
Trust is the key. After all, the original design intent of the incorporated entity was to externalise trust, so that investors who were not part of the same family could invest in a risky endeavour. Now we need net positive, regenerative, circular economies, where all stakeholders, including the other companies in the economy, can trust each other for longer than at least 5 cycles through the circle. Only if all these external enablers are fully true can we hope to have such systemic trust. (More in this podcast.)
How we build individual leadership capacity, and the enabling systems and interactions, is described in the book Rebuild: the Economy, Leadership, and You, and implemented in our startup creation and business transformation programmes in Evolutesix.