If I could choose a single graphic to encapsulate the fundamental leadership challenge we have today it is this one. It comes from a report by the World Busines Council for Sustainable Development originally published back in 2010. You can link to the report here. (The image with description is on p4).To me this graphic is an invitation. An invitation to me, you, right now, to step up and refocus our work – whatever it is – on creating a healthy, sustainable planet that works well for everyone.
High human development without trashing the planet
The vertical / right hand axis represents the ecological footprint of each country. In essence this is a measure of the overall impact on the planet and natural world that each person, or each nation per capita, has. Left to its own devices the planet will naturally replenish and renew a certain amount of natural capital (water, trees, soil, life etc) each year. But when humanity’s ecological footprint grows too large, we collectively take out more than can be naturally replaced. Repeatedly doing this over years or decades degrades and eventually destroys the natural systems of the planet.
The horizontal access is the United Nations Development Programme Index score for each country. This is a measure of the overall quality of life for people in different countries – based on an assessment of fundamental human needs. These represent the likelihood of a long, healthy life with access to education, stability, security, and general well-being.
So why do I like this graph and why is it an invitation to you?
The fundamental challenge for all of us
What this graph demonstrates is that for all our cleverness and ingenuity, humans have not yet worked out how to create a high level of development without trashing the planet.
We either have countries with a high quality of life who are trashing the planet (blue / green dots on the right hand side). Or we have countries that live lightly on the earth but where many people still struggle to access a good standard of living.
We have amazing, advanced technology. We have created computers, planes, pizza. We have travelled to space, to the depths of the sea and to almost every country of the world. We can calculate all sorts of things at godlike speeds, counting, predicting, measuring and mapping.
But we’ve not yet figured out how to live in that bottom right hand corner, shaded blue that represents achieving high human development within ecological limits.
So whatever work you do, whatever industry you are in and whatever level or career stage you are at, surely the only really worthwhile leadership question is – how will what you do help create a good society for all humans that is also good for the planet?
Personally, I don’t see how anything else is a truly worthwhile goal.
Transforming organisations at every level
That doesn’t mean of course that we stop being creative, productive, purposeful and energised about all the different facets of life and work. Nor experts in our areas. Rather it’s an invitation to align each of these different activities, the whole myriad of human activity and achievement with a single, overarching purpose – to hit that sweet spot (the glaringly empty box in the bottom right hand corner of the graphic) where all human needs are well met in a way that respects and helps to heal the natural environment.
So, what do you think?
Can you think of anything more important? More worthwhile? Let me know if you can, perhaps I am missing something?
And here’s the invitation. Would you like to become part of making that happen?
Sure, you probably can’t do the whole thing by yourself. You may even feel that it’s hopeless – that the challenge is too big and your part of the world or current role just too small. But what if nevertheless, you chose to realign what you do with that lower right hand box? What if you allowed that to shape your thinking, your team conversations, your corporate reward systems, your marketing, your story of who you are and what you are here to do in life and work?
And what if other people started to do that as well?
And what if we woke up one day and 8 billion people were engaged in the same overarching purpose? To work towards a world with high level human development – health, well being, safety, security, education within ecological limits.
Fanciful? Perhaps. Idealistic? Most probably.
Worth getting out of bed for every morning? Well, you tell me. I reckon it is. I reckon it might lead to high levels of Monday morning cheerfulness.
As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
A call to radical, creative, courageous action
I believe our current global challenges are a call to each of us, all leaders, all professions to stop waiting for someone else to find a way out of these problems and to align what we do with this central vision.
The moment we do that, the moment we make that sort of inner commitment, it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to do. It doesn’t matter if we are not experts. It only matters that we accept, as wholeheartedly as we can, the invitation and make the first step.
Let’s say it again: humanity as not yet discovered how to provide a decent life for everyone without destroying the planet on which we all depend. It is going to take everyone to figure that out, and quickly.
You are invited to be part of finding out how to do that. You are invited to enroll in the Compassionate Professional Revolution.
RSVP here. I’d love to hear from you. Dress code informal. Please come absolutely, precisely as you are.