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Leading by Nature

Giles Hutchins, an author, speaker, business transformation leader and CEO coach
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It’s a fascinating yet challenging time to be a leader. We are in the midst of an old system dying and a new one being born, with unceasing transformation impacting all industries. 

Climate change, Covid and conflict are all impacting the way we work, and an increasingly dispersed multi-generational workforce searching for meaning and belonging. The unrelenting pace of these leadership challenges is demanding a shift in the way we approach leadership and organisational development, from root to leaf. 

This shift in leadership and organisational development involves moving away from a reductive perspective which compartmentalises an organisation like a machine – with silos, hierarchies and predictable linear relationships. This mindset has created a worldview which is ruled by hyper-competition, scarcity, fear and control. It served us well during the Industrial Revolution, but is wholly unfit for 21st century business.  

Look to Nature for our New Leadership Principles

To get away from these systems, we need to look to nature for our new leadership principles. Leading by Nature is a fundamental departure from the traditional mechanistic management theory that much of today’s mainstream business world is rooted in. Instead, an approach based on living systems takes its insight from the way life works, and sees our organisations as living systems full of complex processes involving human relationships. By becoming more natural and conscious leaders, we can better sense and respond to dynamics at play across and organisation which acts as a living system. 

Organisations are constantly evolving. They are relational and purposeful systems made up of messy, unpredictable human relationships that take place within a complicated web of stakeholders and individuals. Organisations are non-linear by their nature, and are naturally closer to living systems than to the traditional structure imposed on them. Organisations and businesses respond to continuous change, learn and evolve and thrive during unceasing transformation.  

Starting the Transition

So how do we start this transition? I’m lucky to have worked with some brilliant companies and CEOs, and have developed a simple set of tools and practices which help organisations embrace natural systems. These tools relate to ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions, and addressing each of these can help drive regenerative business practices which are enabled to deal with the challenges of today. 

For leaders, this involves recognizing our true inner and outer natures. The inner nature is our personality – helping us lead with authenticity, coherence and purpose. These values are essential to leading effectively, and must be used in partnership with ‘the outer dimension’ – a term I use to describe the world around us, and an ability to remain open and receptive to the ever-changing nature of life. This creates genuine spaces where trust, responsiveness and developmental learning truly thrive. This ‘inner-outer’ leadership approach allows us to create regenerative business environments, and also regenerative potential in ourselves through our relationships with others.  

For organisations, the inner dimension is its mission, culture, values, meeting conventions and decision-making protocols that support the organisation’s way of being. By working to improve these, we can create a purposeful, entrepreneurial, self-managing and inclusive way of working. Doing this encourages adult-adult relationships and unlocks regenerative potential. The ‘outer dimension’ here relates to products and services, supply chains and wider stakeholder relationships that show how the organisation shows up in the world. Achieving a coherent inner-outer organisation allows diverse stakeholder relations to flourish through the products, services and experiences we offer. 

Create a Welcoming Work Environment

The aim of all of this is to create a working environment where people feel welcome to bring their whole selves to work. An adult-adult culture of agility and empowered entrepreneurialism ensures failures are transformed into learnings, reducing bureaucracy and anxiety. This invites innovation, collaboration and purposefulness into he heart of everyday meetings and decision-making, where individuals are able to discover more of their natural, creative spark.  

This might sound like fanciful utopia to some who maintain that the bottom-line should still be an organisation’s primary focus. Survival is indeed essential if organisations are to thrive, but this shows why there are clear financial benefits to adopting a regenerative approach to business in the first place. Years of detailed research by The Global Lamp Index shows that companies embracing this living-systems approach consistently outperform their mechanistic counterparts. These approaches also help organisations attract and retain high quality talent and innovation which helps them outperform and adapt in increasingly volatile business environments. If we are going to meet the needs of the wider societal shift, we need to focus on incorporating and encouraging purpose, engagement and creativity in the workplace.  

By Giles Hutchins, an author, speaker, business transformation leader and CEO coach

Giles Hutchins is an author, speaker, business transformation leader and CEO coach. He has written 5 books on regenerative leadership and how organizations can learn from nature to become more resilient and future-fit. He is a senior advisor for a number of leading organizations and business schools on the future of business, and has worked in organizational change for over 25 years. His international practice is anchored at Springwood, 60 acres of ancient woodland in Sussex, UK. 

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