What is regenerative leadership? (And why it’s the way forward)
The challenges facing humanity in today's ever-changing world are nothing short of daunting. Complex, interconnected, and ubiquitous, they require a systemic, long-term approach to create the necessary change. The traditional approach to leadership has often focused on short-term gains, exploiting resources and people for immediate benefits. This model has resulted in environmental degradation, social inequality, and economic instability.
A regenerative approach recognises that everything is interconnected and that leaders have a responsibility to not only create economic value but also to contribute to the wellbeing of society and the environment. Regenerative leadership takes inspiration from how living organisms and systems work and self-regulate in nature. A regenerative leader will seek to create systems that are restorative, resilient, and adaptable, nurturing life-affirming organisations, teams and communities.
So how can you integrate and develop this approach as part of your leadership practice?
Focus on sustainability
Regenerative leadership focuses on creating sustainable organisations that can thrive in the long term. This means considering the impact of the company's actions on the environment, society, and future generations.
McKinsey report from 2017 found that short-termism (an excessive focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term interests) is increasing, however, long-term firms exhibit stronger fundamentals, deliver superior financial performance, as well as add more to economic output and growth.
Long-term organisations continue to invest in difficult times, while short-term companies and leaders often make unwise decisions for the sake of profit and growth that later harm both the company and its shareholders. A recent and still ongoing example are the Big Tech layoffs (in 2023, already more than 153k people have been laid off), with companies overestimating their hiring numbers and many employees being let go with merely an email or denied access to the work systems account.
Regenerative leadership is a leadership style that emphasises sustainability and long-term thinking. It encourages leaders to prioritise the well-being of the planet, society, and future generations in their decision-making processes. It provides a framework for making choices that benefit the company in the long run, even at the expense of rapid growth and expansion.
A regenerative leader also understands that their organisation is not separate from its environment but is a part of it. As a result, they make decisions that are not only profitable but also sustainable. They tend to prioritise resource efficiency, waste reduction, and carbon footprint reduction, among other environmental considerations.
Additionally, regenerative leadership recognises that an organisation's impact extends beyond its immediate stakeholders. It understands that decisions made today can have significant consequences for future generations and prioritises the creation of sustainable organisations that can thrive in the long term, rather than focusing solely on short-term profits.
Furthermore, regenerative leadership seeks to create a positive impact on society. It recognises that businesses have a responsibility to contribute to the social well-being of their communities - regenerative leaders prioritise social justice and ethical practices, such as fair labour practices, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement.
Use systems thinking
Systems thinking is a critical aspect of regenerative leadership, as it allows leaders to view problems and opportunities through a systemic lens that takes into account the interconnectedness of various elements within a system. At its core, systems thinking is the ability to understand and appreciate the relationships between different parts of a system, and to recognise how changes in one area can impact other areas.
In the context of regenerative leadership, systems thinking is particularly important because it enables leaders to identify and address the root causes of problems, rather than simply treating their symptoms. This approach is crucial for creating sustainable and resilient systems that can adapt to changing circumstances and thrive over the long term.
One of the key tenets of systemic thinking is the concept of feedback loops, which refers to the way that changes in one part of a system can create ripple effects throughout the system as a whole. For example, a change in the natural ecosystem can impact the availability of resources, which in turn can affect the livelihoods of local communities and the economic well-being of the region.
A regenerative approach to leadership seeks to understand and appreciate the complex web of relationships that exist within a system, and to be able to identify and leverage the various feedback loops that drive those relationships. This requires a deep understanding of the various factors that contribute to a system's functioning, including environmental, social, and economic factors, as well as the complex interplay between them.
In addition to understanding the complex web of relationships that exist within a system, regenerative leaders nurture their ability to think creatively and strategically about how to leverage those relationships in order to drive positive change. This might involve identifying leverage points within the system where small changes can have a big impact, or leveraging existing resources and relationships in new and innovative ways.
Find your purpose
Regenerative leadership applies living-system dynamics to all aspects of leadership – from running a business to leading teams to driving change in one’s area of interest. Regardless of their area of interest, a regenerative leader is driven by a strong sense of purpose.
In a business setting, this translates into working to align the organisation's purpose with its values and goals, ensuring that all actions are taken in line with the organisation's mission.
2018 Cone & Porter Novelli Purpose Study found that 89% of consumers believe that purpose is demonstrated through how the company benefits the society and environment. More than words, they care to see tangible results expecting brands to transparently share their impact across all touch points.
Regenerative leaders understand that a sense of purpose is crucial to the organisation's success. It helps employees to feel more engaged and motivated, which, in turn, drives performance and productivity. Purpose also helps to attract and retain top talent, as employees are more likely to stay with a company that shares their values and beliefs.
A clear sense of purpose can help the organisation to create a positive impact on society and the environment. By aligning their purpose with the needs of the community and the planet, they can inspire everyone to work towards a common goal.
- Regenerative leadership is an emerging approach embracing a systemic worldview that aims to restore, preserve, and enhance people, society, and the environment.
- It is a purposeful and empathetic leadership that focuses on fostering partnerships between people and nature.
- It adopts a systemic, long-term focused and holistic approach to provide a framework centred on creating thriving ecosystems, and fostering equitable and sustainable outcomes for all stakeholders.
Would you like to learn more? Check out our Regenerative Leadership Training.