Taking leadership for the planet – how to get started

Taking leadership for the planet – how to get started
12th May 2021 Tim Malnick
Earth from space

Our current models of business, industry and economics wage an unwitting war against the natural world. The biggest challenge that any leader in any sector faces today is how to align their profession and leadership toward a life sustaining and healthy society.

Perhaps you don’t agree we are at war? For most of us there are no bombs going off in the night; no enemy troops threatening to invade; no mobilising of mass forces on our borders. Life is certainly strange and disrupted in this pandemic, but war?

Yet amidst the pressures and routines of everyday life and work, occasionally we glimpse a different picture. Fires raging in the Amazon, unprecedented flooding in Europe and Asia, deadly heatwaves in US. Almost everywhere we can see poignant, painful messages about the ongoing destruction of life due to human activities.

Our climate is changing and we are living through the 6th great extinction in geological history. Other species are being wiped out at speeds never seen before. Life forms of every kind – animals, forests, corals are extinguished with accelerating intensity. All of this due to the actions of one species – homo sapiens.

Us. People.

You and me.

We do not think we are at war. But perhaps the other creatures who share this planet with us feel otherwise.

So, what does this situation require of leaders and professionals – whatever our sector, seniority or status?

What does it ask of you?


The defining question for all leaders and professionals today

If you are still reading, thank you for not turning away. Some part of you recognises that our modern society is waging an unconscious, unintentional war on the natural world. Scientists tell us that we have a decade to transform our entire industrial system into a 21st century ecological society. That’s 10 years to establish a regenerative, healthy, planetary culture that avoids the worst consequences of the current devastation.

It’s a huge challenge, but also an opportunity for tremendous inspiration, creativity and collective waking up.

Are you up for it?

Our children, grandchildren and descendants will not look back on our worldly accomplishments or promotions, our financial accumulation or our clever gadgets. Those who follow will inhabit either a thriving, healthy, peaceful planet, or an overheating, impoverished, dying one. What they will want to know about their ancestors – those who lived during the time when people knew, but often did not act – is ‘what did they do?’

What will you do to bring about the world you wish to see?

What if you made this the defining question for your leadership from now on?


Taking leadership for the planet – some first steps

I’ve coached leaders, founders and professionals to respond creatively to these questions for over 20 years. Here are some things that we’ve learned are vital in starting to take leadership for the planet:

1. Don’t rush to quick solutions, (but do be willing to act):

A hastily found solution will come from the same mindset and deeper patterns of thinking, doing and being that have created our current challenges and problems.

Consider that your own development as a leader requires you to respond to these challenges. Allow the question of how to respond to provoke you, and open up your thinking and your feeling. In this way it will stimulate a creative response rather than an instant reaction based on what you already know. Be willing to experiment even when (especially when) you don’t know the answer.

2. Do not avoid the unpleasant feelings associated with this situation

It can be painful, overwhelming, frightening and disturbing to consider that we must profoundly change our way of life. Strong feelings will come when you engage with this situation. Let them.

Allow yourself to be present to the magnitude of the question and challenges without running away. The world needs leaders and professionals who can stay present in the face of strong emotion, disruption and profound uncertainty. You will need to act in the midst of such experiences, not wait until they disappear or try to avoid them.

3. Know that you are not alone.

Many professionals grappling with these issues initially feel it is just them. That they are somehow alone with their concerns, and their dreams for the world. This creates feelings of pressure, paralysis and isolation.

Know that here is a growing global consciousness and movement for change. It is under reported in the media, and still poorly represented in mainstream organisations and institutions. But it is there, it is here, and it is growing. If you are reading this, you are part of it. Know that you are not alone. There will be more allies than you imagine.

4. Find allies and community to share questions and prototype responses

Most of the world continues its sleepy, destructive pattern. Awkward questions are rarely welcomed in business and most of us don’t like to be troublemakers or question prevailing logics and norms – even when they have created huge problems.

Find like-minded souls with whom you can share honestly the rawness of the situation and also the inspiration, vision and new energy that comes with really imagining what might become different. You begin to find these allies when you begin speaking truthfully about how you are seeing the situation and the questions it raises for your organisation or business.

5. Talk about your inspiration and describe the world you can imagine

Leaders and professionals are often reticent to speak from their heart about their dreams for the world. We limit visions to within mainstream business norms. We worry that speaking passionately or idealistically on a wider scale seems ‘unprofessional’, beyond the boundary or legitimacy of our roles. Rather like children, we worry about being told off, ridiculed or shamed for speaking what we truly believe.

Be willing to make yourself vulnerable. Talk about the world you long to live in and wish for those who come after you. Honour what psychologist Arnold Mindell calls your ‘High Dream’. When we are not conscious and clear in speaking and honouring our High Dream, we unwittingly create the low dream – a world of frustration, limitation and conflict. Leaders who create change must know and name their own High Dream for the world without fear or embarrassment. This requires courage.

6. Bring your whole Self and know that all of you is needed

The unhealthy, unbalanced industrialised patterns we have fallen into demand that we fragment and divide ourselves. We don’t bring our dreams, intuitions, bodies and hearts into professional life. An invisible but powerful boundary in the mind makes this seem ‘unprofessional’ and so keeps this separation alive.

Try to move beyond this edge and express a way of being that integrates mind, heart, soul. Honour both rational analysis AND your dreams and visionary knowing. They are all part of the human experience, of your human experience. And they are all much needed right now. Intricate spreadsheets and snappy PowerPoint alone are not going to deliver what we need.

7. Trust in your Work. It is bigger than your job

Many professionals feel a tension between their personal values and visions, and the demands of their professional role. They feel confined and restricted by expectations of the role which means they hold back from sharing both visions and concerns about the world.

While staying respectful of professional roles and organisational norms, now is the time for leaders to contribute on a larger canvas. Our Work, your Work (regardless of your job) is to recreate society on wise, compassionate and ecological principles within a decade. Experiment with how to do this within your job, but don’t allow your job to define or restrict this Work. Leadership always requires a step into the unknown, and moving to where others will later follow. Be willing to redefine your own and others jobs in order to do the Work that is needed.

8. Do what you can wholeheartedly, and stay in the present

We cannot know the future or if what we do will be enough. We can only commit to acting now based on our deepest beliefs and visions. Like the old joke about the lost traveller who asks a local villager for directions to the big city and is told ‘well I wouldn’t start from here if I were you!’ We are where we are. We have to start from here.

Make a conscious choice to be a leader who can redefine roles, work and identities in line with the principles. Make a commitment to express courage, clarity and conviction to move organisations toward new, wiser, better ways of being and doing.

This is real leadership. It is the leadership that is required of us all right now – whatever our job title or role.


PS: If this is leadership that calls you and you are wondering where to begin, then do check out The Compassionate Professional Revolution programme.

PPS: If you think a colleague, contact or friend would find this post valuable right now, then please share.