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Inclusive Leadership: A Paradigm For Navigating Polycrisis

Jul 05, 2024

And suddenly, we find ourselves at a pivot point in human history! While our global economic system has yielded undeniable benefits, it is also held up by unsustainable practices. We need to learn fast to navigate the complex conditions of the current polycrisis and at a scale of human organization that we yet need to evolve.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) uses the term polycrisis to describe our collective situation where multiple global crises converge, creating a complex and interconnected cascade of existential challenges:

  • Cost of living crisis
  • Natural disasters and extreme weather events
  • Geo-economic confrontations
  • Failure to mitigate climate change
  • Societal polarization 

These crises threaten the viability of our current global economic and social systems and expose the unsustainability of the key practices upon which they rest. In a recent report, the global professional services firm EY recognizes that “the ecological, social and geo-economic polycrisis we find ourselves in, and the inadequacy of attempts to avoid or address it, are inevitable consequences of six interconnected systemic flaws." They list the following:

  1. Unsustainable Growth – valuing the quantity over the quality and sustainability of growth
  2. Overconsumption – consuming unequally, beyond our planetary means
  3. Linear Economy – a take-make-waste production and consumption model
  4. Financial Capital Myopia – overvaluing finances and undervaluing everything else
  5. Short-Termism – structural and cognitive focus on the present at the expense of the future
  6. Siloed Thinking approaching complex, interconnected issues in isolation

The EY report is alarming, and it appeals to pursue and accelerate a radical revamping of the systems and practices that accelerate the polycrisis. The 3 key insights are:

  • Global progress on environmental, social, and economic indicators suggests a bleak future unless we revamp unsustainable systems.
  • Key forces like policy, technology, citizens, finance, and business could either reinforce the status quo or help transition to a more sustainable state.
  • Businesses, through their economic power and environmental impact, play a critical role in driving systemic change toward a regenerative future.

Importantly, the report outlines five principles upon which a transformation of unsustainable systems can succeed. Chief among them is activating systems thinking (principle 1) to catalyze systemic changes that put "human and planetary flourishing at the heart of value creation" (principle 2). This requires the pursuit of sufficiency, i.e., enough for a good life within planetary boundaries (principle 3), circularity; i.e., aligning production and consumption with nature (principle 4) as well as Equity and justice, i.e., achieving shared and lasting prosperity for all (principle 5).

There are some promising indications that such a profound transformation is possible–the emergence of new economic frameworks, advancements in renewable technology, a shift towards eco-conscious consumption, and innovative business models that challenge traditional success measures. In several industries, we can observe trends toward optimizing resource usage, embracing recycling, implementing sharing models, and focusing on sustainability in their operations. 

For example, in the transportation industry, companies are developing electric vehicles, investing in public transportation infrastructure, and promoting car-sharing and ride-hailing services to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion. Some businesses are even exploring the use of autonomous vehicles to enhance efficiency and reduce environmental impact. In the food industry, companies are implementing sustainable practices such as reducing food waste, promoting local sourcing, and supporting regenerative agriculture. They are also exploring alternative packaging materials to reduce plastic waste. In the energy sector, there is a significant shift towards renewable sources like solar and wind power, with companies investing in clean energy technologies and transitioning away from fossil fuels. The construction industry is seeing a growing focus on sustainable building practices such as using recycled materials, improving energy efficiency, and reducing carbon emissions during construction. Companies are also incorporating green building certifications and standards to ensure that new structures meet environmentally friendly criteria.

These industry-specific examples illustrate how various sectors are embracing sustainability practices to address the challenges of our current economic system. By adopting these sustainable approaches and shifting towards a more regenerative economy, businesses play a significant role in shaping a more sustainable future for all. 

We must remember that many of these actions reflect a slow but steady movement away from shareholder capitalism to a more inclusive stakeholder capitalism, which has its roots in the 1990s and early 2000s and crystallized the ESG focus in business (Environment, Social, and Governance).

These positive moves in specific industries and sectors, together with policy initiatives in various countries, are only the beginning of a deliberate transformation that requires intentional and purpose-oriented collaboration across all social, political, and economic actors to remove structural barriers and create enabling conditions for a regenerative economy focused on human and environmental well-being.

The EY report rightfully emphasizes that all this takes time and that the policies and strategies we develop today critically determine the kind of future we create for the next generations. All this effort may not be enough if we do not evolve the way we organize at the most global levels and align with actions at the most local levels. This requires a scale of human organization, collaboration, and coordination that we yet need to evolve

This includes governance, metrics, and communication on one hand, equitable decision-making, shared vision, purpose, motivation, value and belief system, and behavioral norms (culture) on the other. All too often, strategic change efforts fail or underdeliver because they underestimate and, therefore, minimize the latter. The precarious global situation does not afford us the luxury of this trap. This is particularly important for the scale and scope of human organization that we require now.

The Covid crisis could have given us the necessary impetus to develop global systems and structures, and - perhaps most importantly - global consciousness, solidarity, and care. Instead, we are in jeopardy of regressing into multiple forms of identity-based, authoritarian nationalisms with their related tensions, hostilities, and dynamics of hate that are manifesting at multiple levels - overtly and covertly. How can we make the difficult choices to pursue a regenerative and sustainable future when the very social conditions to achieve are eroding?

Inclusive Leadership, in the way we understand it, is the deliberate cultivation of the social and relational foundations upon which the sustainable success of this profound transformation critically depends! 

The authors of the EY paper urge us to consider, "Which future will we gift to the next generation, and what is our role in bringing it about?” The first question is rhetorical, the second is anything but trivial and invites serious reflection and possibly a profound personal transformation. After all, for the principles to manifest in actual human systems, social and economic structures, and practices, they need to become embedded in our collective and individual consciousness and behavior. This is what systemic change entails: the integration and creation of mutually supportive relationships between the individual and the collective in formal structures and systems, as well as informal norms and practices. In other words, it needs to become cultural through deliberate and intentional decisions and actions, or “ethos" .

This may lead us to the most important part of our response to the question about our role in bringing about the needed change: contributing to creating, maintaining, and safeguarding the cultural foundation needed for a regenerative and sustainable future. In other words, embracing and practicing Inclusive Leadership.

For each of us, that will entail a different set of actions depending on our context and circumstance. After all, the opportunities to initiate change and put the principles above into action will vary with our different roles, positions, and spheres of influence. However, what we share as a starting point is the shared cultivation of the required “ethos.” 

For all of us, this cultivation starts with cultivating the foundational practice of meta-reflexivity This refers to a type of self-reflection where individuals constantly question and evaluate their own goals, values, and actions. In simple terms, it's when people regularly think about and reassess what they are doing and why, often leading to changes in their behavior or plans based on their reflections. 

Meta-reflexive individuals tend to critically inspect their decisions and are always looking for ways to improve or change according to their evolving understanding of themselves and the world around them. To effect social/cultural change, meta-reflexivity is not only an individual habit but a deliberately pursued shared practice within groups and/or teams with the power to influence or shape the norms and standards of the wider social system.

Meta-reflexivity is the stepping stone to other deliberate practices that define Inclusive Leadership, i.e., the building of organizational cultures where all can thrive. The collective stewardship of culture is anchored by meta-reflexivity and iteratively evolves other deliberate practices that we call:

  • Bold Humility- understanding that one does not have answers, only one specific perspective and point of view. It also requires engaging other perspectives and stakeholders to achieve true and sustainable solutions. It includes being open to, inviting in, listening to, learning from, incorporating, crediting, and valuing different perspectives and stakeholders. 
  • Compassionate Curiosity- reaching out across vastly different experiences and backgrounds in a way that surfaces the differences and develops deeper connections between people. 
  • Considerate Courage- taking actions to remove barriers, surface biases, and counter stigmas. 
  • Dynamic Interdependence- valuing and engaging the interconnectedness of all contributors within and beyond the organization, team, or relationship. 
  • Personal Accountability- embedding processes and measures of individual and collective ownership to improve or rectify issues.

Together, they define a distinct ethos of leadership that, in many cases, clashes with cultural and leadership norms in many organizations and institutions. When focused on specific intractable challenges, this can ethos unlock surprising potential. This may be particularly important when seeking ways to address the polycrisis. 

 


1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/01/polycrisis-global-risks-report-cost-of-living/
2. For the article and report, please go to: https://www.ey.com/en_gl/insights/climate-change-sustainability-services/regenerative-principles-sustainable-future
3. For the article and report, please go to: https://www.ey.com/en_gl/insights/climate-change-sustainability-services/regenerative-principles-sustainable-future
4.  "Ethos" is a Greek word that refers to the character or credibility of the speaker or writer. In a broader sense, it relates to the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.
5. This definition reflects the work of sociologist Margaret Archer, who understood and elaborated the critical role of meta-reflexivity to social change.

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Joerg Thomas Schmitz

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28217 Bremen ‚Äď √úberseestadt
Germany

+49 1520 8612287

[email protected]

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Joerg Schmitz    
 

 

Company Information
The Inclusive Leadership Institute 
Inhaber/Owner: Joerg Schmitz
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26
28217 Bremen / Germany
Betriebsnummer / Company Nr.: 83841216
UST-IdNr. / VAT ID: DE 339418563

Home | Coaching | Consulting | Learning | About | Events | Contact

Imprint

Inhaber/Owner:
Joerg Thomas Schmitz

Address/Adresse:
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26

28217 Bremen ‚Äď √úberseestadt
Germany

Telephone/Telefon:
+49 1520 8612287

E-Mail:
[email protected]

Rechtsform: Einzelunternehmen

Betriebsnummer:
83841216

Ust-Id Nummer:
DE 339418563       

Gesch√§ftsf√ľhrer:
Joerg Schmitz    

Company Information
The Inclusive Leadership Institute 
Inhaber/Owner: Joerg Schmitz
Kommodore-Johnsen-Boulevard 26
28217 Bremen / Germany
Betriebsnummer / Company Nr.: 83841216
UST-IdNr. / VAT ID: DE 339418563