Five Essential Regenerative Leadership Capabilities
Understand five critical skills for leaders and people managers to unlock to embrace really regenerative leadership... and so be able to lead a team or organization to become a regenerative business or brand.
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- Five Essential Regenerative Leadership Capabilities
Regenerative leadership—the final module in our pioneering Self-to-System™ curriculum to develop transformational leaders—is the crowning achievement of leadership development. Regenerative leaders may not be sustainability experts or technical professionals. Yet, they can steward their businesses and shepherd their people to more life-affirming and nature-positive ways of working and doing.
That said, we believe that regenerative leadership can only emerge when the other developmental areas—conscious and resilient leadership, purposeful and wise leadership, collaborative and relational leadership, and creative and influential leadership—are in place because it requires all of these to be present for it regenerative leadership to emerge.
Otherwise, we get the unfortunate situation—regretfully common today—with leaders promoting and selling themselves as regenerative thinkers, pioneers, and practitioners with major stumbling blocks around less rarefied but utterly essential “simple” leadership capabilities. This not only sabotages their potential to lead regenerative change but also devalues the power of regenerative thinking and undermines the possibilities of unlocking a Regenerative Renaissance in our lifetime.
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We have identified 100 transformational leadership capabilities for leaders to develop from self-mastery to systemic change. Four of them focus specifically on regenerative thinking and regenerative leadership. I have added one extra yet crucial capability from another area of our curriculum focused on personal leadership and resilience.
Remember, everyone can cultivate these leadership skills and qualities within themselves. They are not the technical skills a sustainability professional or regenerative design practitioner needs to develop and demonstrate. They are human skills for human-centric leaders.
1. Encourage and include nature-positive, circular, and life-affirming insights and ideas.
This is about understanding what business ideas and insights align with healthy and sustainable living systems—people, animals, plants—and promoting them in your organization. It means inspiring others to design products, processes, business models, and operating models to be more circular, with no or minimal waste and pollution. It means being a leader who is informed by nature-based solutions and encourages teams to do things in ways that build the capacity of the ecological and social systems we touch to support more life.
At the simplest, this means becoming fascinated with how nature has managed to support itself and cultivate the conditions for such raucous life over vast stretches of geological time. We can develop this capability by reflecting on how quickly and efficiently we moderns have polluted our ecologies and disrupted our communities with extractive and exploitative models.
2. Build reciprocal and interdependent relationships with nature and all living things.
This is about understanding that all successful species alive on our planet live in entangled webs of life where there is give and take, competition and cooperation, death and life. It means being a leader who is inspired by one of the most essential values of indigenous cultures: to ensure that the tribe is in a balanced relationship with the nature it relies on for all life, always remembering not to take too much from a plant or herd and, at the same time, tending to the plant or herd.
This capability is about remembering that all gifts and blessings co-arise with duties and what we call “cares.” Our rights to be alive and to have healthy organizations depend on us taking care of our responsibilities to each other and nature. Therefore we are leaders that work on existing in interdependent relationships with other leaders, other business units, and other people in our system—as well as the ecologies that support economies.
At the simplest, this means ensuring that we are never too aloof, distant, and independent. We know that our success and happiness rely on others, and we show that vulnerability and interconnection. At the same time, we also ensure we are not people-pleasing, fawning, and co-dependent. We know we do not need anyone to do anything to “make” us happy or upset. We own our own experience and our sovereignty.
From reciprocity and interdependence flow trust, the lubricant of all lasting and positive change and transformation, and co-creation, the unique capability human beings have to solve new and intense challenges with collaborative creativity.
3. Align with natural cycles of expansion/growth and contraction/decay.
This capability is about remembering that nothing lasts forever in nature, including exponential growth in profits and productivity. There are inherent patterns of expansion and contraction in all life. Death comes to all living things. This is the prerequisite for creativity, (re)birth, and long-term sustainability.
The modern business world has tried to generate a “perpetual summer” with no autumn or winter. We want profits to grow each quarter. We want people to work harder each week. Yet no living system can be driven this hard without “side effects.” We are seeing those show up in feedback mechanisms like global warming, flooding/drought, and the rise of addictions, depression, and suicide.
At the simplest, this capability can be cultivated by becoming more and more aware of the natural cycles of expansion/growth and contraction/decay in our bodies and minds. These show up in our breath (exhale, inhale), our bodies (stress, relaxation), our minds (creativity, restoration), and our day (alertness, sleep). The more we will live and lead in alignment with our cycles—and do not override our need to rest and restore with dopamine and cortisol addictions—the more we can help our enterprise and systems to find their optimal rhythms.
4. Balance ‘responsive’ qualities (e.g., control, achievement) with ‘receptive’ qualities (e.g., care, connection)
This is not about gender, identity, or biological sex. This is about understanding that in all people, and all organizations, there are qualities that we can classify as rational, piercing, and linear, so give the label “responsive.” And there are qualities we can classify as relational, connective, and holistic, so we label them “receptive.”
Psychologists like Carl G Jung and wisdom traditions like Zen Buddhism and Taoism teach that the fully developed leader has harmonized the two principles within them. This is the marriage of opposites: balancing ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ polarities within us and our business models; otherwise, we undermine and sabotage our futures.
This is about being a leader who sees that the business world is calibrated far into the masculine polarity, with ambition, achievement, control, and growth valued much higher than quietness, kindness, close relationships, and caring.
This is why CEOs are paid considerably (1000x?) more than nurses, teachers, and carers and why caring for sick relatives or children does not get counted in GDP, and so is seen as not valuable to the economy.
This is about recalibrating work/life balance, company cultures, and business models to recognize, honor, and cultivate care and connection as much as achievement and ambition.
At the simplest, this is about recalibrating what we value in our lives and our leadership role, ensuring we give more time to building strong relationships with colleagues—sharing and caring—as much as we focus on transacting with them to get what we need.
5. Sense fragmentation and schism and move towards more wholeness and integrity.
This is actually a leadership capability from our conscious leadership curriculum, but it is so crucial for regenerative thinking that I have included it here. It is fractal, or scala-agnostic. It is as important in managing our inner integrity and wholeness so we can lead with less ego, fear, and edge as it is in leading systems to find more whole and integral states in complex environments.
This is about being able to spot cognitively and sense interoceptively/intuitively when a person, group, or process is causing fragmentation, discord, and schism or is being caused by it. It is about understanding why fragmentation exists and how one might move to ‘heal’ it so the system becomes more whole. Whole and healing come from the same root word/concept, so healing is the process by which systems become more whole.
This healing—or ‘wholing’ as I prefer to call it to be free of prejudices—is about holding space for a group of people or living organisms and the systems they constitute to release shock, trauma, and stress, which is a precursor to repair, restitution, and restoration.
Shock in the nervous system and an economic or social system can only be released when organisms feel safe enough to stop protecting themselves, become vulnerable, and grieve. We have to be able to hold preciously safe and brave spaces for this to occur in human systems (a capability from our systemic change work).
This means being a leader that fearlessly supports the injection of radical truth and transparency into a system (a capability from our purposeful and wise leadership module) and the apologies, forgiveness, and compassion that are often required once the truth is present in a space. This can be a restorative justice program (such as the Truth & Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa) or a restorative ecological program (such as post-colonial regenerative programs in the Amazon).
Once we have become aware of these capabilities—and begun the earnest work of developing them within through committed leadership development—we will be more effective at designing regenerative businesses and brands, regenerative business and operating models, and regenerative technologies.
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