I am very pleased to introduce this article by Giles Hutchins, a friend of Schumacher College who I met while I was studying for my masters degree there. Giles is global director for sustainability solutions at Atos, and co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation. He is the author of the book The Nature of Business, and his personal blog is The Nature of Business, which covers organisational redesign for resilience. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com here.
Leadership for the future: diversity, creativity and co-creation
Values-led leaders help create emotionally and mentally healthy organisations, where business goals are met without sacrificing personal values
Organisations need to continuously adapt if they are to survive and thrive in an increasingly volatile business environment.
Ensuring successful adaptation against a backdrop of increasing uncertainty and complexity means leadership becomes less about directive structured approaches seeking predictable outcomes and more about empowering others to make effective and timely decisions.
The ‘new norm’ of dynamic non-equilibrium in business requires a shift in conventional management thinking from over-reliance on top-down, hierarchical, risk-based approaches to managing within complexity. This style of management juggles and combines varying styles and techniques. It encourages bottom-up ideas and thinking to flourish; establishing an all-pervasive values-led work ethic whilst guiding and coaching.
Complex, adaptive, resilient businesses of the future recognise that change emerges unpredictably, and that over-arching bureaucratic mechanisms no longer assist emergent organisational evolution. The role of leadership is to actively participate in enabling and facilitating local change, by encouraging effective communications with clarity of understanding of how to act and interact. Each and every one of us plays our part in leadership of the future by helping others to co-create towards positive outcomes.
Leaders of the future unleash human potential by instilling trust through authenticity, clarity of purpose and openness to continual learning. Leaders are the learners, the ones who seek ‘personal mastery’ (as Peter Senge puts it) whilst remaining interconnected to the collective whole. Leaders are people who understand who they really are, aspire towards greatness and inspire greatness in others (not egoic greatness but soulful greatness). Leaders become teachers, taking time to assist and empower others to lead themselves. The quest for optimal leadership is about encouraging a creative tension — balancing personal mastery with openness and a deep sense of belonging amongst a diverse community of stakeholders.
This collective-individual harmony may challenge the current prevailing view of individualism, yet it is a natural evolution to it. While it is imperative to have a wholesome, ambitious view of oneself, this self-improvement strategy goes hand-in-hand with a sense of interconnectedness, belonging and sharing that comes with community. If an organisation’s vision and culture encourages inspiration, empowerment and interconnectedness the need to manage, monitor and control falls away; the cumbersome governance mechanism of hierarchical management being replaced by governance through values enabling people become the change they wish to see.
We may need leadership to inspire us and give us courage especially in volatile times, yet we each have a unique blend of talents and a special dynamic within the diverse community we serve. It is up to us to unlock our creative potential, to evolve and utilise our talents, and it is also up to us to help others to unlock their creative potential in their time of need, and in so doing helping them help themselves and others. The more we open up to our environment, the more we tune in to the interconnected nature of business life, sensing and responding in the most optimal way. Each day challenges us to ‘walk-the-talk’, each day offers us opportunities to learn, grow and evolve.
Andy Wood, CEO of Adnams, puts it well when he says: ‘The job of a leader is to sprinkle water on to talent and allow it to grow’.
Create the conditions conducive for co-creation and it will naturally flourish. Self-empowerment and collective orientation overcome challenges by perceiving them as opportunities. It is the role of leaders to refocus their attention from management to empowerment – encouragement through coaching, rather than management through fear.
Emergent leadership (as referred to by Fritjof Capra) encourages an environment of continual questioning and new approaches to problems. This culture needs to spread beyond the organisation to the stakeholder community, to improve resilience of the whole and the parts.
Diversity is a measure of health in a natural ecosystem. Increased diversity within the ecosystem improves the ability for that ecosystem to adapt and survive disturbance and unpredictability.
Leadership approaches that encourage diversity, by fostering the right balance of co-operation and competition find the harmonic of creativity and productivity, ensuring the organisation (and its wider business ecosystem) is best able to adapt in volatile times.
A key aspect of effective leadership is establishing the right organisational culture; a culture that fosters diversity, and encourages creativity, while ensuring the diverse stakeholder group live and breathe the values inherent in that culture. The culture is the psyche of the organisation. This psyche constantly senses and responds in ways much like a conscious person constantly improves through self-reflection and personal mastery.
For an organisation to have a healthy, harmonious culture it needs a mission that unifies its diverse stakeholder community. That mission needs to be one that deeply resonates with the individual and collective psyche.
To maximise shareholder returns, or to become number one in a specified market, or to grow revenue by x% are not heart-filling business missions from which strong cultures are born. They may be measures of success, but not missions. If solely financial goals are held up as the mission with nothing deeper, then the culture will not have the depth needed for the journey ahead. The psyche of the organisation will only resonate with its stakeholders in a shallow way and the values and behaviours that flow from that may not be strong enough to bond diverse stakeholders in turbulent times. Put simply, once business puts ‘maximisation of shareholder returns’ as its core mission it becomes incomplete and corrupted, sowing the seeds of its own demise whilst seeking superficial, short-term highs.
As organisations become values-led the working environment becomes more emotionally and mentally healthy, where business goals are met without sacrificing personal values and integrity – in fact quite the contrary, work acts to reinforce personal integrity by providing a rich experience for individual and collective learning. The more working environments become values-led and life-enhancing the more alive the organisation and the more aligned we become to the true nature within and around us. This helps unlock the creative potential within us, enabling us to individually and collectively re-connect with our authentic selves and so perceive business challenges as opportunities for life enhancement. The challenging business environment becomes a sea of opportunities.
Leadership of the future is less about the theory of an idealised leadership model and more about the practical ability to navigate a journey of authenticity and inspiration; energising and equipping oneself and others to make the right choices for the situation at hand.
This article was first published in The Guardian, 26th June 2012.
Giles’s book, The Business of Nature, can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com here.