Principle #6: Develop collaborations

Principle #6: Develop collaborations, partnerships and symbiotic relationships.

This principle, again, flows on from the previous principle, enabling you to scale up your regeneration by turning some of your life-giving encounters into more stable patterns of collaboration. In Nature, Life creates the conditions for more Life primarily through weaving complex patterns of symbiotic relationships, where interactions between two entities help both of them grow. Similarly, in the journey of growth as individuals, groups and organisations, it is through the creation of win-win relationships that it becomes possible to create a climate of trust that forms the basis for resilience. To achieve that, remember that intrinsic motivation is much more potent than extrinsic motivation, so move away from thinking primarily in terms of What each of you could gain, so that you can explore together Why it might make sense for you both to collaborate. To paraphrase Simon Sinek, this means exploring what will want to make you both work in this collaboration with blood, sweat and tears, rather than just for the money.

 

In practice, how can you do that?

 

  • Challenging one's own and one's partners' mindsets about the possible form that collaboration might take by allowing oneself to think "outside the box" with respect to classical business models;
  • Giving equal (if not more) importance to agreeing on the underlying principles and exploring the deep intentions of the partners, rather than agreeing on figures;
  • Make sure you regularly take time to review how things are going. For conversations on this topic to be truly life-giving, you can, for example, use such tools as Generative Dialogue to make explicit obstacles to the relationship.
  • Over time, ensure that relationships with the stakeholder ecosystem are built on mutualistic principles - this will help strengthen the regeneration and resilience of your organisation.

 


Principle #5: Increase your interactions with people

Principle #5: Increase your interactions with people, organisations, experiences that are life-giving in your environment.

Life, following principle #4, has begun to blossom, and from an individual and/or collective point of view you have moved from the prevalence of control, to trust in the process. Now is the time to connect with those people, organisations, or more generally experiences around you that can boost and nurture vitality.

It is the beginning of a virtuous cycle, energy attracts more energy, creativity attracts more creativity, motivation attracts more motivation. Interaction with vital people and organisations leads to accepting and welcoming more life, generating a sense of trust that pushes you out of your individual and organisational comfort zone.

 

Concrete examples of the application of this principle can be:

 

  • Be particularly careful to encourage breaks from routine and habits built up over time by seeking out and meeting new people, whether in similar businesses/roles or completely different ones.
  • Having divergent learning experiences in teams (e.g. visiting exhibitions, visiting unusual places, setting up a reading circle...).
  • Spend time in Nature, for example in a forest, with a guide, to get examples of how life blossoms there without a ‘gardener’;
  • Open your offices (not just the reception) to artists, becoming a temporary art gallery for them;
  • Collaborate with and sponsor start-ups;
  • Revisiting the whole supply chain to bring in diverse and life-giving suppliers - indeed, involving them in the creation of a ‘life-giving supply chain' capable of building symbiotic relationships between its members and with surrounding ecosystems.

 


Cycle 2 Structuring the emerging-life process

Principle #4: Encourage life where it is pushing to emerge. If the previous principles were organised around the dying process, the following set of principles is instead organised around the idea of vitality, fertility and blossoming.

After the first cycle, in which one has freed oneself from mental models, prejudices, stereotypes, cynicism and resistance to change, a phase of openness and readiness to see where life is trying to emerge opens up, where our role is to encourage it to flourish.

 

Here are some concrete examples of such actions:

 

  • Organise your workload so that you engage with where you feel the energy is for you at the moment, in alignment with both personal and organisational purpose
  • Develop ideas/projects that you feel passionate about, for which you feel energy flowing, towards which you feel a strong call and a clear alignment between what makes you feel alive and what makes life flow in the collective (groups, organisations, societies);
  • Facilitating/enabling collaboration and risk-taking within teams;
  • In groupwork, whether you are a team leader or team member, concentrate on clarifying meaning and intention (the Purpose, why these objectives, these impacts, why this project, what contribution to the corporate Purpose...) while letting the What/How evolve according to changing circumstances. In particular this means not getting stuck on procedures, rules, regulations, but rather clarifying the basic principles, and then letting people move with their own energy and creativity in order to embody that Purpose;
  • Prioritise, in your team or as an organisation, those products, services or actions that positively impact the company's bottom line and are also life-giving for the ecosystems and social systems around it - evolving the organisational strategy so that, within X number of years, the products and services created are life-giving for the ecosystems and social systems. The organisational transition to a regenerative economy is in fact not only regenerative for external ecosystems but can also bring enormous benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, well-being and happiness, staff retention, and other climate variables.

 

These articles are a bit like our "Advent Calendar". They will appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays on our blog, with the next one on 21 December.


Principle #3: Reduce attacks on life

The previous two principles focused on what must die; on the other hand, there are also situations that are potentially life-giving, but where the life that wants to emerge risks being thwarted by various forms of attacks. These attacks can take the form of resistance to change, cynicism, power games, desires for control, turf wars, rigid mental models, etc.

How can we reduce these attacks on life, to protect it until it becomes strong enough to emerge? A first step is to be aware of and honest with ourselves, identifying when these attacks come (often unconsciously) from us, even when we ourselves are initiators and promoters of transformation.

Once we have developped this awareness, rather than blaming ourselves, we can choose to welcome these parts of us that are struggling with trusting the life that wants to emerge, and reassure them that other parts of us will be there to help the process.

 

Some examples of reduction of attacks on life:

 

  • Increasing listening to ourselves and others, to nip those attacks in the bud;
  • Sharpening your attention in order to spot attacks on life coming from others around you, including those who might be waving their power and authority in the process – and build and reinforce boundaries in those relationships in order to protect the life that is emerging
  • Keeping personal, team and organisational focus on purpose and intention and make sure actions are aligned with them;
  • Promoting (re)generative listening and (re)generative speaking as the default mode of interaction in your team;
  • Encouraging creative thinking and challenging prejudices, stereotypes, mental models at work in the team and organisation, often embedded in the culture
  • Rewarding collaboration and coopetition in the team, whilst discouraging or even sanctioning competition for its own sake and narcissistic competition;
  • Promoting collective and participatory decision-making processes;
  • Evolving towards delegation and subsidiarity as fundamental operating principles for your organisation, and replacing control with transparency and accountability.

 

These articles are a bit like our "Advent Calendar". They will appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays on our blog, with the next one on 16 December.


The 6 principles of regeneration: Principle #2

Principle #2: Help what needs to die... to die and to "compost", with the aim of fertilising and nourishing the Life that is to emerge. What kind of material are we talking about? For example, it could be past successes or failures, hopes or fears, a project you helped to realise and lead, a role in your organisation, a client, the city you live in... It is about letting die all that comes from the past, but that no longer serves to nourish the new that needs to be born. The process of composting is a good metaphor here: it reminds us that it's not just about saying "it's over" (principle 1), or cutting ourselves off from the past and letting it go rationally - it's about engaging in a process of mourning that will eventually transform what is now dead, into resources for future life.

 

Examples for this second principle:

 

  • As a team, have debriefing sessions about the mistakes you have made - not to judge each other, but to learn collectively from them and not to let grudges or unspoken facts pollute team life;
  • Celebrating and honouring those products and services that brought great joy, pride and revenue in the past, but can no longer be part of the future;
  • If you have decided to go down a path of strong strategic reorientation, think of moments, rituals, symbols that honour and celebrate the past but also allow it to be left behind, rather than expecting people to understand and follow new ideas just because they make obvious business sense;
  • As a leader in your organisation, connect and share your emotions, (especially sadness and fear) about letting go of what you hold dear from this shared and collective past, even if you find the proposed future very attractive.

 

Principle #2 is at the service of Principle #1: it helps to process the letting go, the endings, that the latter will inevitably suggest.

 

These articles are a bit like our "Advent Calendar". They will appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays on our blog, with the next one on 14 December.


The model of the 6 principles of regeneration: Principle #1

The model we present to you should be understood as a kind of "Operating System": it consists of a set of principles that should guide every action, every initiative you want to undertake to bring regeneration into your organisation and your life; it provides a coherent framework, a map, that can help you navigate the road ahead and make choices that will boost your organisational vitality.

 

This model replicates the fundamental truth in all living system: life flows through inseparable cycles of death and birth, one feeding the other. Regenerating oneself, one's team, one's organisation and moving towards a regenerative economy is not only about birthing innovations and generating life, but also about letting go of what can no longer continue, what must die, in the world we have regenerated.

 

Thus, it is built around two different cycles. Both feed and regulate the flow of life: one works on structuring the 'dying' process of letting go; the other works on structuring the process of the new life asking to emerge.

 

So below are those 6 principles, the first three relating to the process of "letting go", or death, and the other three to the structuring of the emerging life.

 

Cycle 1

Structuring the dying process: naming and letting go of what must end

 

Principle #1: Divest from life-draining processes. What is really life-draining is not so much death itself, rather it is investing energy in keeping alive something that needs to die, to end, to be abandoned.

Here are some examples of processes that suck life and energy out of individual, group and organisations, and some ideas on what to do differently.

 

At individual level

  • Feeding one's "false self" instead of the authentic self: divesting from this type of process means letting go of dysfunctional relationships, unattainable and ungrounded goals that we chase, responding to expectations that have been instilled in us from outside but which do not (or no longer) correspond to what we really want and which do not help the construction of meaning for the organisation to which we belong;
  • A stereotyped management style, e.g. inspired by the "carrot and stick", through which we delude ourselves that we are "motivating" our employees, in a world where it is now known that motivation in the medium and long term is found in what people do, in the alignment between external and internal, and that it is not the manager who can inculcate it in any way, but at most can help people to find it;
  • Continuing to invest in projects and attend meetings that we know are life-draining (without making an effort to revive them); instead, try to look at reality and identify projects or activities that continue only because no one has the courage to say they should end, and be the one audacious enough to suggest they end

 

At team and organisational level

 

  • Within your own team and organisation, instead of living in opacity and role ambiguity, bring a culture of transparency, accountability and learning, so that you can spend your energy on tackling real problems, rather than covering up shortcomings;
  • Freeing oneself from the dynamics of compensation that lead one to take on someone else's role in order to compensate for their inability to take on that role; instead, learn to give open and respectful feedback, to help colleagues, co-workers and managers to take responsibility, to courageously explore the perimeter of one's own role, and to assume the consequences of one's own actions;
  • Stop supporting projects/products/services beyond the initial launch phase, despite evidence that they are not able to sustain themselves and despite clear signals from the target market that they are not aligned with needs;
  • In the transition to a regenerative economy, it is important to assess the impact of the various value chains at the heart of your business and to commit to a planned divestment from all activities that degrade ecosystems rather than regenerate them.

 

In our model, divestment from all those life-draining processes is the first principle: stopping, realising what no longer needs to continue, is the first step towards true transformation. Letting go allows you to free up time and energy that suddenly becomes available and can then be reinvested in life-enhancing processes. Divesting from degrading activities opens up possible spaces for creativity that can lead to inventing new components in your value chain, or even whole new value chains.

 

WARNING! If you turn up to work one morning and tell your boss, colleagues, suppliers, or clients: “Sorry guys, this is life-draining, I’m going to stop doing it”, chances are that your input will bring much toxicity to the system! So whilst it is important to be clear on the intention, on the direction, you need to adjust your approach so that it becomes, in itself, life-giving. Refrain at all cost from attributing faults to others for the situation you’re in – you will only irritate them and activate their resisting selves. Instead, acknowledge your part in the shared reality, your insights about what feels, to you, life-giving and life-draining, and invite them to share their own perspective in a non-judgemental atmosphere. Using Generative Listening, Generative Speaking, and other Non-Violent Communication tools will be key for the success of your endeavour.

 

These articles are a bit like our "Advent Calendar". They will appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays on our blog, with the next one on 9 December.


The Six Principles of Regeneration

"If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always got".

 

This phrase has never been truer than at this moment, when most of us, in Europe and worldwide, are trying to get out of isolation and face the challenge of restarting our economies post-COVID. Restarting the old industrial machine at full speed in an attempt to recover all the business that has disappeared in recent months is a tempting idea, but one that risks giving us a (false) sense of security, deluding us into thinking that we will soon recover and that everything will be as it was before.

The opening sentence contains a wise warning: continuing to do what we were doing will only produce more of what was already there, setting the stage for an even bigger crisis: environmental, social and economic.

 

From recovery to regeneration

 

Indeed, 'recovery' may not be the most useful term to help us think our way forward. 'Recovery' implies a return to a previous state, which was, in many ways, unhealthy and unsustainable. 'Recovery', again, creates the illusion that this last year and a half have been a parenthesis, and that the world may return, when we finally emerge from it, exactly where we left off.

The times call for us to make a bolder choice: a choice that will mobilise us to act with meaning, to regain confidence in ourselves and others, to harness our energy and creativity to build thriving economies that not only protect ecosystems but also help them to flourish. A choice that stimulates our imagination to reinvent the way we do business, a choice that can contemplate the fact that human beings are a part of Nature and not apart from Nature: a choice, therefore, that allows our thriving economies to enrich the ecosystems around us, rather than impoverish them.

This bold choice has a name: it is called Regeneration: of ourselves, our teams and organisations; it means being able to build a new world taking into account Nature, to bring about the regeneration of the ecosystems in which we live.

 

Nature is the most complex system; Nature is the most thriving system.

 

Regeneration is the fundamental thrust that drives life processes on Earth. For billions of years now, it has helped life create the conditions for more life, enabling the richness and diversification of the ecosystems that we inhabit. When embracing this historic opportunity of reinventing the way we work together to create and share value, the way we trade, the way we collaborate and compete, in a way that enriches everyone and our ecosystems rather than degrade them, we need to turn to Nature for inspiration, learn from observing Her what systemic patterns enable ecosystems to behave, spontaneously, in such a life-conducive way – and transfer those insights to the organisations we inhabit.

 

A couple of years ago, in another article, we described the 5 principles that we identified as being at the heart of life processes on Earth and some ideas on how, concretely, to apply them for the regeneration of our personal and organisational ecosystems, thus contributing to the transition to a regenerative economy.

 

Since then, we have tested these five principles with the organisations we work for. Our work as consultants and facilitators, accompanying numerous organisations, has helped us to discover a sixth principle and enabled us to complete the model for individual, group and organisational regeneration.

 

These articles are a bit like our "Advent Calendar". They will appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays on our blog, with the next one on 7 December.


Leading Transformation: From a visionary leadership to a leadership of Co-Creation

I was in Rome the other day to facilitate a Leadership Training for the General Government of a religious congregation – the equivalent, in the religious world, of a CEO and his/her executive team.

Their request sat within a broader intention: to lead the transformation of their organisation, made up of some 6000 priests missioned over 5 continents, living in several hundred communities (the basic organisational unit) spread over some 70 countries.

 

Two key questions structured their intention:

 

  1. How can we engage the whole organisation in this transformation?
  2. How can this transformation be more than a restructuration, i.e. more than just closing down some existing realities, merging Provinces (the equivalent to geographical managerial units), or “simply” reallocating human and financial resources ?

 

In order to help them, I initially introduced them briefly to Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, and in particular the lesser known use of the U figure, the one suggesting that in order to go beyond restructuring and a reengineering of processes, one has to engage in the transformation of mental models, i.e. the way in which, consciously but more often unconsciously, we construct in our mind our organisational reality: the purpose of the organisation, the various roles, and the key relationships and processes that enable the organisation to function.

 

As the figure shows, it is only when we have made explicit our current mental models, and connected to our own Intention (what is the new that we want to generate?) that we can develop new mental models, which will lead to new processes and structures for the organisation.

The 3 phases of the other, better known use of the U model would still apply: in order to engage in transformation, the organisation will need to Sense the emerging reality (both internal and external), imagine a new way of engaging with it (Presencing), and then engage in Realising it.

 

Whilst these two U frames were helpful to situate at what level the transformation should happen, and the key phases of the process likely to generate it, a core question remained: what kind of leadership was requested of them to fulfil their Intention?

 

To answer that question, I presented to them the Leadership matrix that I have developed through engaging with many organisations in consulting to their organisational transformations.

This matrix is structured by 2 axis:

 

  • The horizontal axis is linked to time, and defines whether the leadership is primarily turned towards the past, or the future
  • The vertical axis is linked to the level of engagement of the organisation, i.e. whether the process intends to engage parts of the organisation, or the whole organisation

 

 

In my experience, most organisations still engage with change through Traditional Leadership. They entrust a small part of the organisation (the CEO, an executive team, or special project team) to think about what doesn’t work in the current way of functioning, and then to come up with solutions. The assumption here is that a small group of smart people who takes the time to really look into it will understand what is not working, and know how to fix it.

Unfortunately, Traditional Leadership has shown time and again that it doesn’t work! Here are a few reasons why:

  • It remains focussed on the past. Traditional Leadership doesn’t question the model itself (key structures/processes/roles, products, markets, image, business model, etc.), and whether it is still fit for purpose, but rather tries to fix and repair the recurrent dysfunctions, seeing them as unavoidable rather than symptoms. It does not, therefore, check whether the current way of functioning is adapted to what the future is likely to become (given internal and external trends), and whether it might actually be the very model that needs to evolve.
  • It does not access collective intelligence. Assuming that a small group of smart people knows best is not only erroneous, it is risky! The broader you can extend your net to capture what is really going on in the business, the more chance you have to understand and therefore react appropriately. Limiting your access to real data to a small group increases the risk of missing out key information
  • It does not access your biggest resource: the collective will. How many more “change management programmes” will we need to integrate the evidence from the field that if you don’t engage people in being authors of the evolutions, you will only ever manage to get a minority on board; the rest will either disengage (i.e. passively resist) or actively resist.

 

Given the shortfalls of Traditional Leadership, some organisations have tried different approaches.

Amongst them, Participative Leadership has displayed some promising features, primarily in engaging a much greater part of the organisation in exploring what changes may be necessary. As people are being consulted, their knowledge of the issues at stake, and the proposed solutions, increase, which then feeds into a greater sense of and desire for engagement. However, Participative Leadership too is problematic:

 

  • It often remains turned towards the past, i.e. exploring possible changes to be made rather than the transformation that is required (as in Traditional Leadership)
  • The core analysis, and the core solutions-building, are often still left to a few, the participative dimension of the process being synonymous here of consultation, rather then co-creation.
  • As the responsibility and authority for analysis and solution finding is not distributed, commitment based on a sense of shared meaning and authorship tends to fade away relatively quickly, pointing to the low level of resilience of such processes

 

Another way of avoiding the pitfalls of Traditional Leadership is to engage in Visionary Leadership. In this approach, the focus is clearly on the Future: what is the future that we are likely to encounter? What is our current level of resources, and our mode of operating, and can we, as we are, really embrace the future or do we need to evolve? Are our products, or is our Mission, adapted for this emerging Future? Are they what this Future calls for?

In the 21st century, these are leadership questions every organisation needs to ask itself, and explore in truth: looking at what is, not just at what we wish to see.

In that way, a Visionary Leader, or a Visionary Leadership team, are clearly going in the right direction: looking at the future, and trying to prepare the organisation for it.

However, Visionary Leadership does display some major shortfalls too:

 

  • Too few involved: as in Traditional Leadership, handing the Visionary task to a few only limits access to data and creativity in solutions.
  • Resistance more than engagement: once the visionary person or team has identified what needs to evolve, it then has the task to engage the rest of the organisation into implementing the transformation. But most of the organisation has not had a chance to connect to what the Future may be, and therefore how we might need to evolve. Their sense-making of why we must change, and of what changes are needed, is therefore very limited. As a result, they will not be able to espouse the proposed changes just like that. A great amount of time and energy will therefore be needed to either convince them, or, if all fails, to coax them into implementing the changes. In either cases, even if the small group had come up with great ideas, their implementation may prove to be inefficient, and the process itself to have low positive impacts
  • Low organisational resilience: when only one person, or a small group, is engaged in exploring the future and proposing necessary evolutions, what happens to the organisation when they leave? Whilst Visionary Leadership may produce highly innovative ideas and strategies for the future, it fails in delivering one key elements needed to embrace this future: the capacity of the organisation as a whole to implement it quickly and efficiently, over time.

 

The fourth type of leadership in this matrix is the one that, at the beginning of this 21st century, holds most potential for organisations. Indeed, Leadership of Co-Creation holds on to both of the 2 key parameters:

 

  • It looks wholeheartedly at the future, anchoring the organisational conversations in an exploration of what the future may be, and therefore will require of the organisation
  • It engages the whole organisation in doing so. One of the key features of the leadership of Co-Creation is the transformation of the very perception of what the role of the leader is. Here, the central role of leadership is to provide and sustain the conditions in which the whole organisation can engage in a truthful exploration of what the future is likely to include, and take responsibility for proposing and implementing the solutions that seem most conducive to the organisation fulfilling its purpose in this emerging future.

 

Whilst the Leadership of Co-Creation manages to deliver a transformation that makes sense to all parties involved, and not just parts of the organisation, it does not equate to some kind of enlarged, referendum-based democratic process. Nor does it require the dissolution of traditional roles of authority and decision-making. To the contrary, existing roles are very often crucial to the success of a Co-Creation transformation process; what is transformed, however, is not the role, but the way it is taken; not the role itself, but the mental representation held so far in the psyche of the organisation of what the role is. For example:

 

  • At the heart of a process of co-creation, everyone is involved in making sense of the strengths and limits of the current model, from their own experience in their role, in their part of the organisation. Connecting to future trends in and around the business, everyone is then involved in imagining what transformation may prove vital for the organisation. Those in leadership roles bring their own perspectives, from their role, in order to contribute to the collective sense-making. Their decisions will then be based on the collective sense-making, not on the partial views they inevitably had at the beginning of the process
  • They are accountable for the decisions they will take; those are based on proposals generated by the collective, which the process invites to be responsible – and accountable – for the solutions it offers. This mutual accountability means that the main task of leadership is no longer to convince, or “sell” good solutions – but to ensure that the conditions are not only conducive for people to be co-authors, but also for them to feel responsible and accountable for its outcome
  • Co-Creation doesn’t mean putting everyone in a big room for huge collective discussions – even though such social technologies as World Café or Open Space can make this possible. It means, however, a constant transformation of how leaders engage with their teams; a change in disposition in which the leader’s task transforms into ensuring that others create solutions, rather than be recipients of them.

 

Once I presented this matrix to the General Government of that congregation, they were able to name the kind of process, and of leadership, that they wanted to engage in: Co-Creation.

 

All we needed to do then was to look in more details at how they could do this ...


Bernard Tapie, the collective imagination, and regeneration

In France, a remarkable man has just died. His name was Bernard Tapie. For decades, he marked the collective imagination of the French; loved or hated, he embodied for many of them the symbol of the 'self-made man', the living example of the businessman who fights, who has the rage to win, and who succeeds in some very nice moves.

Bernard Tapie is a bit like our local Steve Jobs or Elon Musk: a 'boss' who is held up as an example, the one through whom success comes. He is the embodiment of "where there is a will, there is a way", the example cited in leadership training courses because, according to fashionable theories, he has all the assets of a leader: charisma, determination, lack of scruples when it comes to making important decisions, etc.

 

Let's leave the man aside and look at what this image of Bernard Tapie - like that of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk - reveals about our collective imagination:

 

  1. That the archetype of the leader remains, above all, male. When we accompany our clients, or when we train the leaders of tomorrow at ESSEC Business School, we often introduce the following question at the beginning of the workshop: who are the 3 people who most embody what leadership means to you? More than 90% of the answers, given by women as well as men, are men's names...
  2. That this leader is alone. Alone against all, against all odds, overcoming adversity by himself. Alone in driving what will ultimately make the difference (an idea for new markets, new products, new conquests...). In our collective imagination, Tapie, like Jobs and Musk, have no team, no partner
  3. That to lead means to conquer
  4. And that it is this leader, a man, alone and conquering, who will shape our destiny - for good or bad

 

There are many ways of deconstructing all these fantasies about what a leader is, but precisely because they are fantasies, and therefore deeply rooted in an emotional, even visceral part of ourselves, it is not by reasoning that we will succeed.

 

Allow me therefore to propose another approach, better adapted to the times ahead. An approach based on an intuition, on a 'leap of faith' of sorts: if we want to avoid that a biospheric (i.e. climate AND biodiversity) change comes and puts an end to the viability of the human species on this planet, we will have to learn to function like Nature, and not against Nature.

 

And how does Nature work, in terms of leadership? Well, imagine yourself in a 100-year-old forest: there are trees, bushes, plants; a stream that feeds not only all these plants, but also the animals and insects that have come to live there. Each element has not just one, but several functions that are beneficial to the whole ecosystem: the tree captures CO2, regulates the temperature, structures the soil and retains water in it, nourishes the soil when it sheds leaves or branches or when it dies...

 

Where is the leader in the forest? There is none.

 

In the forest, one is never alone. You don't conquer anything, except perhaps the space in which you can flourish. We exist because of others, who themselves exist because of us, entangled as we are in a complex web that weaves our common destiny.

 

If there is any leadership in the forest, it is that of initiating my contribution to the ecosystem, the one that will allow others to do the same, and thus launch a series of virtuous circles that, as Janine Benyus so aptly puts it, will allow life to create the conditions for more life.

 

If we want to transform our impact on this earth, if we want to move from a predatory, extractive economy to a regenerative one, then the first step will be to regenerate our own mental models about the kind of leadership we need to get us there.


5 principles to regenerate: yourself, your team and your organisation

In many areas of organisational life, and beyond, we seem to be stuck, repeating patterns that do not produce situations that we desire. Yet many of us can feel inescapably caught in this pattern-repetition, helpless and powerless about the possibility of generating different experiences and outcomes.

 

These experiences become manifest in a fractal way:

 

  1. They can occur at individual level, for example when I feel caught in a job that is depleted of meaning; when I feel I am being told what to do and how to do it, without any room for me to take up my role in my own creative, generative way; or when I feel clear about taking up my role but find others around me not taking up theirs.

 

  1. They can happen at team level, when turnover is too high, leading to an absence of team identity; or because of a sense of ongoing change, which constantly reshuffles the perimeters of our role, tasks, activities, market, and even meaning; or because of short-term targets stifling any attempt at seeing, and working from, the broader, longer-term picture

 

  1. Despite all good intentions, we may also generate these kinds of experiences at the level of the organisation itself, through failing to bridge the gap between women and men (in terms of salaries, promotions to executive posts, etc.); adapting too slowly to the dire needs for different ways of working that the younger generations are symbolising; reducing performance (and often, with it, meaning) to a set of quarterly figures; embracing computer-led checks-and-controls and banning human intuition

 

  1. And of course, as societies, we are becoming increasingly aware of the cheer unacceptability of continuing business as usual, given its clear causality links with climate and biosphere change, yet are recurrently demonstrating our incapacity, so far, to bring about the necessary changes

 

Change management in the 80s and 90s, and transformation programmes since, have mostly failed to address the above. If anything, they may have ended up contributing to them. My hypothesis is that they have failed to see and address what is present at all these different fractal levels, one and the same phenomenon that should in fact be the primary target of our efforts: We are living-systems, and the main issue is that Life is leaking out of a hitherto living system.

 

If that diagnosis holds some truth, then restorative actions aimed at redressing the situation need to address the issue head on. If life is leaking out, we need to reduce the leakage, and help more life come back.

 

This may not be so difficult – providing we trade our arrogance and presumptuousness of thinking we can be in control of these phenomenon, for a good dose of humility coming from a new awareness that we are only a part of a bigger systemic web: the living world.

 

It may indeed not be so difficult because bringing life back into a system, creating the conditions conducing to more life, helping the growth and development of vibrant, thriving, living systems: this already has a name – regeneration. And it has been happening for a long long time (millions of years) in the living world; in fact this is why the world is ... living.

 

When we look at how Life has blossomed on this planet, we can see 5 operating principles:

 

  1. Increased interactions between living organisms, and with non-living organisms (light, minerals, etc.)
  2. Freedom for life to expand where it is asking to blossom
  3. Reduced attacks on living-systems until they are established
  4. Death of what is no longer viable, with composting in order to make it available as nutrients for the next cycle
  5. No external help/input in order to keep something alive; if something is not viable, it won’t grow – only what is viable will grow

 

So how about trying to seek inspiration from the living ecosystems to bring more life into our psycho-systems and socio-systems? What might regeneration look like if we applied it to ourselves and to our organisations?

 

Well, the 5 operating principles might now look like this:

 

  1. Increase interactions with life-giving people, organisations, and experiences in your environment. This might mean going out of the routine and habits that we have built over time, meeting new people from our industry or, indeed, from completely different walks of life; going on learning journeys as a team, or spend time in a forest, with a skilled guide, to understand how life blossoms here without any gardener; open our offices (not just Reception) to artists, becoming a temporary gallery for them; partner and sponsor innovative organisations; revisit our whole supply chain to bring in more life-giving suppliers and customers – indeed, engage them in creating a “life-giving supply chain”, etc.

 

  1. Encourage life where it is asking to blossom. Organise your workload so that you engage with where you feel the energy is for you at the moment; develop those ideas/projects that resonate/ring true for you, where you feel passion, energy, and a sense of calling; facilitate/enable collaboration and risk-taking within the team; as a team, be clear on purpose/intention, and leave the what/how to achieve it, to evolve according to ever-changing circumstances – i.e. don’t get stuck on procedures, rules, regulations, but rather clarify underlying principles; give priority, in your team or as an organisation, to those products, services or actions that can both help your business thrive and be life-giving for the eco and socio-systems around you – in fact, evolve your organisation’s strategy so that, within x number of years, you will only create products, services and actions that both help business and are life-giving for eco and socio-systems (moving, as an organisation, towards being a core element of a regenerative economy is not just regenerative for those eco and socio systems; it is very beneficial in terms of employee satisfaction, well-being, retention, etc.)

 

  1. Reduce attacks on life. These can take the form of resistances, cynicism, power games, controlling behaviour, war over territories, fixed mental models, etc. Be true to yourself, and spot when you are engaging in any of those – then rather than beat yourself up about it, welcome those parts of you that are struggling with trusting life to take over, and do what can help you open up to it a bit more; befriend the idea that life is an emerging process, hardly predictable and certainly uncontrollable; keep your focus on purpose and intention, and ensure your actions are aligned with it; promote (re)generative listening and (re)generative speaking as default modes of interactions in your team; encourage creative thinking and well-meaning reciprocal challenges to assumptions and mental models operating in your team; reward collaboration and coope-tition, but discourage or even sanction rivalry; promote collective decision-making processes; evolve towards delegation and subsidiarity as core functioning principles for your organisation, and substitute control with transparency and accountability, etc.

 

  1. Help what needs to die … to die and to compost, in order to nourish the emerging Life. This could be your past achievements or failures, your hopes or your fears, a project you helped set up and lead, a role in your organization, a client, the town in which you live… whatever is no longer serving the emerging life that is pushing through in you. Composting is a good metaphor here: it reminds us that this is not about just saying ‘it’s over’, or cutting ourselves from the pain of letting go – it is about engaging in a grieving process that will eventually transform the dying into resources for future life. As a team, hold debrief sessions about your mistakes – not to judge each other, but to learn from them; celebrate those products and services that have brought great joy, pride and revenues in the past but can no longer be part of the future; when your new organizational strategy involves significant reorientation, enable sessions, rituals and symbols that honour the past and leave it behind, rather than just expect people to understand and follow the new ideas because they make business sense; as a leader in/of your organisation, connect to and share your own feelings about letting go of what you held dear of this shared, collective past, even if you find the proposed future very attractive, etc.

 

  1. Divest from life-draining processes: what is really life-draining is not the dying itself; it is when we invest energy in maintaining alive something that needs to die. Feeding your false-self rather than your true-self is life-draining, so divest from it; let go of dysfunctional relationships, of ungrounded/unachievable objectives; of waving a carrot or a stick as a manager: if your staff cannot find their own intrinsic motivation in what they do, let it be seen – but it is not your job to motivate them; stop working on those projects or going to those meetings that you know are life-draining (or address the issue and restore life to them); with your team, name those activities/projects that you are keeping alive because no one has the heart to bring up the fact that you should discontinue them; as a team and an organization, embrace transparency, accountability, and organizational learning, so that you can spend your energy addressing the real issues rather than spending it trying to cover up various shortfalls; wean yourself, your team, and your whole organization off dynamics of compensation, whereby we end up taking up someone else’s role because they seem incapable/unwilling to take it up, instead of holding them to account and work with the consequences; or whereby we support projects/products/services beyond the initial launching phase despite evidence that they are not able to self-sustain, etc.

 

These are all examples, but in my view the most important is to hold on to the principles, and as you’re engaging with a situation that you are intending to regenerate, ask yourself: how can I increase life-giving interactions here? Where/what is the life that is trying to blossom, and how can I encourage it? What are the attacks to life I can notice, and how do I contribute to reducing them? What do I need to divest my energies from, so that I can help what needs to die to actually die and feed the next cycle?

When activated together, you will find that these 5 principles will bring much potency to the regeneration of yourself, your team, and your organisation.