Is it too obvious to say that the way we live should be conducive to life?
How do we measure if it is?
In many ways right now, it is clear that the way we live is not conducive to life. We have created economic and social systems based on immediacy and scarcity, financial systems that focus on short-term profit, and organizational structures that are fueled by chronic stress and dominated by hierarchy and competition.
These systems dehumanize us, dampen our vitality, create excessive waste, and extract resources unsustainably. How did we get it so wrong? Have we, as a collective, lost our capacity for deep empathic connection with life and the ecological systems that sustain life on our planet?
The Source of Trouble:
Throughout our recent colonial history, we have been experiencing increasing levels of disconnection – from nature, from spirit, and from ourselves. This disconnect, in a time of technological hyper-connectivity, has happened in the name of linear material progress, capitalistic expansion, and convenience culture. There are many environmental and social costs of this lost capacity for connection.
It seems that many people either feel overwhelmed by these issues or desensitized to them. Neither of which is a productive response. So, then, what is? As we bear witness to what seems to be a breakdown of our old systems and structures of a colonial, patriarchal, hyper-consumerist culture, what is the best response?
We must rebuild the systems and structures in ways that actually contribute to life on Earth rather than destroy it. It is a big task. Where do we begin?
We begin to regenerate.
Regenerative leadership is one potential solution. Or perhaps, one part of a multifaceted solution. There are a lot of problems, but many can be traced back to this disconnection. Regenerative leadership goes beyond a set of techniques on how to lead, rather it is a shift in consciousness, a shift from separateness to interconnectedness, a conscious act of rebuilding.
Regeneration means to renew, replenish, heal, and revitalize. You may have heard about a recent movement towards regenerative agriculture. The idea is to farm and produce in ways that not only do less harm to the earth, but actually replenish the soil, water, and the earth in general. It is possible. And while the term may be relatively new, the practices are as old as our ancient civilizations.
The same is true for regenerative leadership. The practices that lead us towards connection and away from disconnection are not necessarily new. Rather it’s a process of unlearning and relearning. Essentially, the goal is to align with the way nature works.
Surely, we must know how already – it must be written in our collective stories.
What is Regenerative Leadership?
Starting From Inside
In practice, regeneration means to understand and work with living-system dynamics. In agriculture, that may mean the physical environment (and the supply chain system). In business or leadership, it could mean the organization and its wider ecosystem.
While the goal is to become more connected to everything around us, the process of regenerative leadership recognizes that we must start by looking within. It is a dynamic process, an individual journey, that leads us straight into a more connected state. The journey requires us to open into our deeper and truer nature, individually, while understanding more fully how life works and opening to all of it. We tap into greater wisdom within ourselves, the wisdom of the collective, and from there, we become wiser humans and more holistic leaders. We look forward, beyond the present, to consider our impact on future generations. We look to regenerate.
So, what is a regenerative leader? A regenerative leader thinks about the deep impact of the projects and organizations she works with. She ensures that the project not only sustains, net zero, but actually gives back. Environmentally, this can mean replenished soils and cleaner air, but in other areas, this could require aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals for a better future, or finding other ways to ensure that the project contributes a net positive for future generations.
How Do We Learn Regenerative Leadership?
Practices of regenerative leadership come from many bodies of knowledge, including biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurology, and economics. They also draw from methodologies such as permaculture, circular economics, biophilia, and biomimicry.
We work with and apply nature’s wisdom to four ways of knowing: intuitive, emotional, somatic, and rational. When we create coherence of these within us, we have access to a deeper kind of wisdom and whole-body intelligence. This kind of inner sustainability fosters creativity, play, and wellbeing.
In the past, we haven’t always linked “leadership” with intuition. Or play. Or emotions. In fact, we often have forced ourselves to keep these things separate from our work lives or leadership styles. However, to create holistic, well-functioning systems, we must embrace our full selves and that includes our intuitive and emotional capacities. It includes our ability to learn through play and our need to create.
Who should practice regenerative leadership?
Anyone! Learning and practicing regenerative leadership is not just for CEO’s and those at the top of hierarchical structures. We all have the capacity to be leaders, and we all can lead in different moments or contexts, regardless of our job titles.
Anyone who is interested in exploring and undertaking transformational change within our systems, organizations, and communities will benefit from regenerative leadership.
At the Centre for Executive Education, we are excited to begin offering a course on regenerative leadership. Our courses focusing on asynchronous learning can stand alone or be built upon with more of our courses to take a full diploma in global leadership or social innovation. They offer opportunities to connect with and be inspired by people from all over the world. Find the full course list here.