We are at a multi-layered, volatile crossroads of unprecedented pressure on all our global systems, with everything needing review, re-invention and renewal. Now, as never before, we are exhorted to create a liveable future based on new expressions of leadership and transformed paradigms to redesign and regenerate our populations, communities, ecosystems, economies, and the planet and all its species.
We are not in a position to wait: numerous safe planetary boundaries (biodiversity, biogeochemical flows, climate and land systems, as per Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Centre) have been critically breached, with other boundaries also approaching critical thresholds. Crises abound in environmental destruction, failing economies, food, poor health, civil unrest, covid19 fallout and more, via the accumulating and escalating failures of our current systems and conventional approaches to address or solve them.
Whilst “sustainability” is associated with maintaining and refraining from any more damage, “regeneration” means to restore or renew. This begins with how we use or abuse our inner resources and selves, first and foremost, and the striving then to have a positive, restorative impact on the systems in which we participate. As life, we have an inherent potential to align with the biotic community and cultivate patterns of enhancing the vitality of life as a planetary process.
Regenerative Leadership is an approach sourced in an holistic, living systems perspective that recognizes the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life, systems, communities, networks, people, ecosystems, species. A Regenerative Leader leads with an inside-out approach of heightened self-awareness, personal agency and responsibility, and conscious awareness of the whole.
Regenerative Leadership is a stepping away from the dominant paradigm’s more egocentrically-driven, compartmentalized, controlling approaches that are currently undermining the stability of the planet to support life. Decisions are made based upon seeing oneself as integral to one’s environment, the impact upon the whole, how resources are used and for what purpose in a symbiotic system. It’s a recognition that decisions don’t happen in a vacuum and, in fact, have complex, intersecting, unpredictable (rather than mechanical and predictable) consequences, both positive and negative.
The term “regenerative leadership” is increasingly used to describe the integration of the thinking, feeling and the being of living systems. It involves changing beliefs, attitudes and practices, but not necessarily abandoning what is working well within more traditional leadership paradigms. At present, however, we are both locally and globally experiencing the destructive consequences of encountering life through the more limited lens of the older paradigm.
In 2019, Laura and co-author Giles Hutchinson published Regenerative Leadership as a guide for business leaders seeking to build organizations that are more resilient and fit for the 21st century. Instead of focusing solely on material progress and technological breakthroughs, they argued, leaders must transform the DNA of themselves, their organizations and institutions.
In transforming the DNA (and particularly out of a separation-based, reductionist paradigm), regenerative leadership respects what people put into their work, recognises their needs to get the job done and meets those needs, and then starts to model a more sustainable way of achieving this goal. And because everyone is treated equally about their efforts, entire teams, departments, organizations and communities can thrive. In this way, regenerative leaders create the conditions for evolving and aligning with system holistically.
The flow-on is a way of encountering people, places, circumstances, decisions and resources and the future with honour and humility, and attuned to patterns at global, regional and local levels,
As such, the donut of planetary boundaries represents an empowered, conscious approach to encountering and solving the problems of limitless abuse and extractivism, and can serve as a compass for human progress as leaders and systems move from extractive to more regenerative processes with their heightened awareness of interconnected living systems.
Undoubtedly, adopting the regenerative approach will not happen overnight or bring critical planetary boundaries back into balance overnight. It is going to require enormous perseverance, education, patience, practice, and compassion for oneself and for others.
However, if we can also see that the destruction occurring at so many levels simultaneously is not just solely happening to us or because of us, but, rather, for us, we can approach our circumstances with less blame, guilt and finger-pointing, and give way to creating a renewed and regenerated story of both ourselves and the planet. A story not based upon separation and disconnection, but upon connection and for the evolution of all living things.
At this point, we can more clearly see and accept that we are living in a time when the next step is both necessary and inevitable. We can thus receive our courage, empowerment and direction from such inevitability, transform what does not work, adjust and recreate everything.
The awareness of the need to restore so many systems everywhere is growing with a momentum never before experienced, and with it we are also beginning to witness that regeneration means different things to different people, but it is underpinned by a growing respect and humility for the ecosystems of our planet, as well as the different paths or patterns available and already working to alter systems.
Regenerative leadership is a critical key that has emerged that tunes into the dynamics flowing through an organization, and that promotes sensitivity and consciously feeds the soil of all systems. It provides that diverse pathway to restoring connection, balance and abundance so that we can dance with the world of life, including the rhythm and flow of ourselves, others, organizations and the countless levels of living systems.
Photo credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015
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