Building Sustainable Legacies


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Personal Change Challenges Leaders

I have been in the change agent business for many years. As an organizational psychologist, I have assisted companies in identifying and addressing obstacles to their organizational success. Recently my work has turned towards companies that wish to redefine and broaden their definitions of success. These companies are examining their purpose beyond profits. They have not abandoned the desire to make a profit and they are certainly still committed to delivering financial returns to their shareholders. However, they are looking for ways to succeed financially by pursuing solutions to societal challenges – the wicked problems that I discussed in my April blog. The question that I would ask the formal leaders of these companies is whether they are ready for the personal changes that this journey will require.

This quest for purpose really picked up steam after Larry Fink, the CEO of the global investment management corporation Blackrock, said the following in his annual letter to CEOs: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” While his proclamation has been controversial, many have heeded his warning by examining their own companies’ purpose beyond profits. By and large I consider this to be very good news indeed. Our societal challenges necessitate looking for solutions from all corners of our world. However, I fear many in formal positions of leadership are unaware of how the pursuit of purpose beyond profits will affect them personally. As Katrin Muff pointed out in her May blog, only exceptional individuals are able and willing to embrace their own roles as global citizens.

Katrin and I agree that the term “leader” should not be limited to those who are in formal positions of authority. Still, successful company transformations do compel those who fill these roles to undergo personal changes. In my role as an advisor to companies undergoing change, I have observed a remarkable lack of awareness of how the desired transformations will necessitate personal changes in those at the top. My educated guess is that many are completely unaware of the need for personal change and others are unwilling to live with the inevitable discomfort that change always brings.

Change is hard. Indeed, global consultancy Bain and Company reports that only 12% of corporate transformation programs succeed in reaching or exceeding the goals. Furthermore, only 2% achieve their goals when the transformation is focused on sustainability. This low level of success can be attributed to many factors including resistant cultures, shifting priorities and lack of a vision that inspires and engages employees. However, my own experiences, both personal and professional, have led me to conclude that leaders’ resistance to personal change is a major stumbling block to successful organizational transformation. Often leaders of our client companies take the position that everyone and everything can and should change as long as they, themselves, are not affected.

Many powerful individuals come to believe in their own infallibility. They assume, sometimes unconsciously, that they rose to these levels of power because of their superiority. These assumptions concerning how they got where they are may be accurate. Nevertheless, as the game changes, so do the rules for how to play it.

When leaders commit to moving their organizations towards purpose beyond profits, they are very likely to find that to succeed, they must give up some of the power that they have enjoyed. Wicked problems require collaborative solutions. Likewise, leaders are likely to be confronted with world views different from their own cherished beliefs. And all must live with ambiguity that may be foreign to them in roles where they have had complete power to make unilateral judgments and act decisively.

These personal challenges are not easy to confront. Some leaders will be up to the tests while others won’t even try. Katrin wrote about the difficulty of overcoming defense mechanisms that blind us to the need for personal change and cushion us from its discomfort. To illustrate this point, a friend and colleague reminded me a few years ago that a person who wants to quit smoking may still be unwilling to give up cigarettes. So too, leaders who want their organizations to transform may not be willing to take on the personal challenges that will lead to success.

I have experienced this resistance myself when I have slammed into my own defenses. As I have worked collaboratively with colleagues from across the globe, I have become very aware of my own limitations when my world views and power are challenged. I work diligently to push through my discomfort as I realize that I must change personally if I am to become a global citizen. Some days I am up to the challenge and other times I dig in and refuse to budge. Nevertheless, I know that my personal journey to overcome my own defenses is worth the effort. I truly want to contribute to addressing our collective global challenges. And to do so requires me to seek awareness of ways that I must change. I must learn to live with the discomfort that I experience as a result. I take one step at a time. Sometimes I fall back a few steps but overall, I keep moving forward. Gradually I am making progress in my own change journey.

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Stop making sense!

A special message to the 100 change makers of the Diploma of Sustainable Business of Business School Lausanne and the University of St Gallen IWÖ at the occasion of the first Alumni event in Zurich on April 28-29, 2018. #DASTeamRocks

By Katrin Muff, Co-Director of the Program

 

The early adapters are onboard and solid best practice examples are emerging. We have accomplished much in the past decade on bringing business and its leaders onboard to embrace the challenge to create a sustainable and just world, and to make it their business.

The Rio+20 Conference in July 2012 can be seen as a tipping point for the early adapters in business. More than 5’000 top executives gathered to envision how to scale their efforts towards sustainable development. Failing governments in the previous decade had led to shift the hope to business. With its innovation power and easy access to funding, business became the prime driver for a world “where 9 billion people live well on one planet”, as expressed by one of the business conveners, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, founded 20 years earlier around the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

What might be the tipping point so that the large crowd of followers will jump on the bandwagon? That is the one billion dollar question we have to address today. And for this, we – the convinced – need to change our attitude and our tone. Our voices were important to wake up, or shake up, the business community. And those who could hear us, did. But now, our voices need to reach those who weren’t buying into our arguments and who still remain skeptical or maybe also preoccupied by other significant other mega trends that shape the world.

The climate debate in the United States has clearly illustrated to what degree it is pointless to try and change somebody’s mind by providing seemingly convincing facts. The strong bi-partisan polarity experienced in the United States as a result of the election of the current President further confirms to what degree the only result of a well-considered argument is a counter-argument. We are challenged to let go of the polarity perspective of “I am right” and “you are wrong”. If anything, such attitudes – which both sides hold – simply amplify the gap to be bridged.

In some ways, we – the converted and convinced – need to acknowledge that we unintentionally do onto those we are trying to convert what we blame them to do to us. To ignore and reject a given point of view as invalid or worse ridiculous. Ever attempt we make to say “listen to this and you will finally understand” is an opportunity lost to create a true dialogue by first establishing a common ground. A common ground that includes both points of view, and doesn’t presume one is righter than the other. Only once we have established this common ground can we then engage in a dialogue where together both parties take the immense risk of exploring new grounds together. The risk is huge as it involves that we may end up in a place that is not the same from where we started, requiring us to enlarge our existing understanding and integrate further perspectives. Hence, broadening our worldview.

Integral theory call this neutral, higher or detached, space an “integrated state”. Such a state implies the ability to hold both one’s own and somebody else’s perspective with equal appreciation and respect. And this is no small challenge and not for the weak hearted. Try it at home or try it at work and you will see, how quickly you will step down from that “integrated state” back into the polarity of arguing that the way you see the world is right.

I challenge you, dear fellow converted change maker, to practice this new muscle in your mind and in your heart: adopt this higher neutral state more and more often, and every time a bit longer and with a bit more ease. It is the single best thing you can do if you want to create a positive impact in this world and contribute towards a better world. I know that you can do it, you have that capacity already built in, you simply need to remember it and train it again. I think that the deteriorating state of the world has thrown us into a polarity state where we could do no better than “knowing better” and preaching, pointing fingers, raising hands, highlighting, raising awareness and alerting others. They heard us, those we could reach we have reached. Now, we need to develop new pathways together with those preoccupied with other priorities on their radar to collaborate towards solutions that make greater sense to more people and institutions and that embrace more perspectives. By including opposing thoughts and ideas, better ideas and solutions will emerge. Collaborative processes have long demonstrated that – now let’s go the extra mind and embrace a new mindset, that of the integrator.

 

 

Picture credit: https://innovationleadershipforum.org/our-wisdom/mindset-shift/


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En route to Rio

As I stand in the long line before for the security check it hits me: the moment has finally come and nothing but a 12 hour flight separates me from actually being in Rio! 12 hours is a long time and I wonder if we can really justify the negative environmental impact we cause with our travels to go to a sustainability conference. I ask my travel companion if he chose the carbon offset option that was offered when we registered for the conference. He tries to remember. Well, I didn’t offset and suddenly feel kind of guilty about it. My president, who is also coming to Rio, chose to pay for the $40 carbon offset charge. I remember how surprised I was and how stupid I felt. Part of the reason why I declined the charge was my insecurity about how my institution would feel if I chose to incur such a voluntary expense. While the environment is personally important to me, I was not sure I could actually impose this sensitivity on my work. My colleague sheepishly admits that he also did not choose to offset. We wonder why!? If we, two environmentally conscious, comfortably employed academics specialized in Responsibility and Sustainability wont do the carbon offset, who will? When booking Easyjet, we have a choice to pay more for the offset, so far I never clicked on the option. Making a “donation” which is how offsetting carbon feels like right now is contrary to the  spirit I am in when booking a low-cost airfare. My money-saving mode prevents me from doing what is right.

When we dig deeper, we identify another disruptive emotion that perverts us: when paying an indecently low amount for a flight (Easyjet and co.) we somehow refuse to donate money without knowing what is going to happen to it. My colleague ventures that there are questions like “where is the money going?” and “will it be used in a sensible way?” suddenly come up. Not that such questions aren’t justified, but would we ask them before making a carbon-offset contribution while we don’t ask them for other expenditures. Not really consistent! I, for one, don’t consistently ask where some of the clothes I buy are made and under what conditions.

We further explore, what would change if we could choose where our money ended up?If, for example, we could select between investments to ensure biodiversity, reforestation, revamping production in the Northern hemisphere or social enterprises in emerging countries. What bothers me in particular is the idea that such donations at least partially end up in contributing to expand our already out-of-hand consumption pattern. I don’t want to support new innovations of even more stuff that I don’t need, even if it has a significantly improved carbon-footprint compared to the previous year’s gadgets I already didn’t really need. I realize that I don’t really know what projects can get funding from these offsets. I should read up on this on “my climate”. While it is critical to significantly reduce our footprint, we can’t fool ourselves by believing that investing in green growth will get us there. We in the wealthy West or North must fundamentally rethink how we want to live, what is important to our quality of life and as a result how we want to spend our personal resources (time, energy, money, and share of mind and heart) to live well and within the limits of our planet.

I recognize very humbly that I have a long way to go before I will be the kind of role model I would like to be. But, let us start talking about what we can do in every aspect of our life’s. And now that I am en route to Rio, my determination to make the best out of it increases by the hour. Two year’s ago we promised the U.N. a scandal and today we are ready to deliver it. Back in November 2010, I made that promise to the U.N. division in charge of the business sector (UNGC), namely to help save the RIO+20 conference with a significant, important contribution. With a scandal. What I had meant with it was that we would work on a radically new vision of how management education would contribute in all possible ways to a world worth living in. Already in 2010, it was rumoured that the 20th anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit may well become another Copenhagen. A large scale disappointment. It became apparent that governments would not be able to agree on the kind of break-through agreements needed to assure the future of our planet. The private sector and namely business would have to make the difference.


Excellent view on sustainability in b-schools

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/sustainability-with-john-elkington/sustainability-business-school-education?intcmp=122&CMP=


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A new vision for Management Education For The World – Business School 4.0

Get an understanding of the key elements of a radically new vision for business schools and management educations by the driving forces and stakeholders involved in project 50+20 (www.50plus20.org).


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The need for new leaders

We are many things: children, parents, neighbours, lovers, students and teachers, employees, employers or both, citizens, experts in some domains and novices in others, consumers, stakeholders, care takers and care givers. As human beings, we are the most advanced race on earth.

We owe this distinction to the frontal lobe of our brain, the Neo Cortex. It represents the centre for reflection, analysis and perspective. It is our most potent weapon to overcome and tame the reptilian brain located right next to the brain stem: this deeply en-rooted “fight or flight” instinct that has enabled our ancestors to survive and prevail. Yet, no other species has destroyed our planet more than we have[1].  Our ancestors have brought all large animal species to extinction in a few 10’000 of years; we have transformed fertile land into desserts, and rivers[2], lakes and oceans into bio-hazards. Today, we use more resources than our planet can regenerate and despite the fact that we know this, we are unable to turn around the trend. The reptilian brain causes more harm than good and reactions triggered by conscious and unconscious fears often bear consequences that limit not only the well-being and happiness of a person, but may well endanger the well-being of communities, nations and the world. Connecting ourselves with our full potential, overcoming the reptilian instinct with more careful consideration and reflection, thus raising not only our awareness but our consciousness, is critical to fully explore the magnificent potential of our species and to preserve the world as our home.

Brain sketch

The journey of developing the full potential of a human being is a personal as well as a collective adventure. It starts with a personal choice, a desire to look inside, to connect to what drives and motivates us. It requires us to dig deep down to render subconscious reaction conscious, to reflect to what degree what we feel, think and do are triggers of deeply instilled automated fear-based mechanisms. The path requires courage, patience, persistence, humility and compassion – first and foremost with ourselves. Increasingly, this path will lead us to become more reflected, conscious and truly human beings, able to treat others with this same compassion, patience and humility. At some point, when we are able to truly embrace that we are part of one – all of us, humans, plants, animals, all living beings on earth – when we feel this in every cell of our body, we have the potential to become truly enlightened leaders. This journey is what leadership training needs to put in motion and while no training can guarantee such an outcome, it is this end goal that represents the core of a truly relevant management education of the future.


[1]        Tim Flannery: “Here on Earth” (2010)
[2]        In 1969, the Cuyahoga River (Ohio, USA) was polluted with chemical
           toxics to such an extent that it took fire.
           This represented a turn-around moment for the environmental movement.