Dawn of a New World – Part 3

Here’s the 3rd of a series of 5 articles about the Dawn of a New World, i.e. the scenario that the Covid-19 crisis (really a Climate Change crisis) is preparing for the quantum leap of humanity in a completely new dimension.

The publishing plan is  so structured:

  1. The context
  2. What it means for Businesses
  3. What about their Leaderships
  4. 15 Practical Priority Actions to survive and thrive
  5. What about management education

Part 3: Leadership

It is clear that such a radical change in the economy and society as portrayed in the first two articles of the series cannot be guided in the same way and by the same leadership as the old (until yesterday!) model. It is equally clear that it will take a transitional phase, because there are tens of millions of “key” places where people sit who are not prepared for the new paradigm and we cannot think of replacing or transforming them overnight.

One thing makes me optimistic: just as there are tens of millions of people who are not prepared for the new, just as many, if not more, have suffered compressed into the old paradigm, having vision, ideas and the desire to commit and put themselves to the test but constantly blocked by the prevailing cultural structure. I am confident that this potential, fostered by circumstances, will blossom and express itself. The new leaders will have to favor this real sustainable renaissance at all costs.

We will also see the emergence of a new wave of women’s leadership: it is no coincidence that in all fields related to sustainability and the circular economy women are the majority and often the most advanced.

We have good reasons to leave behind the model that has brought us so far: 2020, according to WHO forecasts, is the year in which depression will be the second cause of illness and disability for the “active” segment of the population (DALY Index).

Today we have two more powerful allies to motivate us to the radical change that we need: the Covid-19 “pandemic” – especially its causes in Climate Change – and the new generations, Millennials and beyond.

The climate is changing, indifferent to our indifference, and it will continue to do so if we do not have the courage to make a sharp U-turn.

The draconian measures taken in many countries due to the Covid-19 “pandemic” have shown almost immediate effects on climate-altering factors and pollution levels: that’s obvious. Less obvious would be that billions of people would accept the same coercive and restrictive of freedom measures in the face of the many more deaths caused each year by air pollution alone, by climate change or because of injustice in the distribution of resources. After all, those deaths are always of “the others”, whereas the “pandemic” has triggered the fear of dying “ourselves or our kin”.

Hence, the New World leaders must have the vision, charisma and authority to lead people and organizations to make the drastic changes needed without the coercive measures used by governments for the “pandemic. The alternative is the Police State, which we are experiencing for the first time in our generation, at least in Europe, in these weeks. And it is by no means a desirable alternative.

The transition will take more humanism in the leadership of organizations. If companies are to meet human and ecosystem Needs, business leaders shall be able to grasp and understand them. Therefore, empathy skills and great capacity for service are needed. 

We need more anthropology and less financial engineering, more economics and less econometrics, more sharing and less competition. We need more biology and systemic thinking, less individualism and greed. We need more awareness of belonging to an ecosystem and being part of complex interrelationships, depending on them for our very survival.

We need a ruling class, in business and beyond, competent in “humanist engineering”. Given that engineering is the “application of ingenuity to problem-solving”, it takes the ability to use intelligence and all scientific, biological, technological and material knowledge to solve the problems that hinder the full satisfaction of humanity’s Basic Needs, at every level and in every field, taking into account the planetary framework of limited resources. 

This was the secret of Olivetti, which many have interpreted in reverse: when Olivetti sold office machines such as the mythical “Divisumma” with margins of 80 – 90%, it could do so as a consequence of its investments in human development and in the satisfaction of the community’s Needs, NOT vice versa, that is “it invested in human development because it had margins”. The stratospheric margins came from the incredible contribution of ingenuity, spirit and participation that the humanistic approach of the entrepreneur knew how to elicit; it was the result of how he knew how to integrate philosophers and workers, mechanics and psychologists, designers and writers, engineers and researchers in the pursuit of a single common and exciting mission.

This is why in the post-Covid-19 New World leaders are needed who inspire and encourage the expression of people’s creativity and ingenuity, of their potential, proposing high, truly motivating and engaging goals. About a fraction of a percent more of turnover, frankly, nobody gives a damn:  data on employee engagement in companies (32% on average, Gallup 2018) confirm this.

Psychologists know that, as a social species, our motivation for the common good is deeper than our motivation for individual benefit, despite the marketing push. Studies on motivation to work and productivity confirm this: meaningful work, which gives the feeling of contributing to the improvement of human living conditions, generates higher productivity, greater dedication and less demand for economic benefits. For some decades now, sustainability pioneers have been reporting, with the comfort of data, that the more companies integrate sustainability into their strategy and processes, the more attractive they become to the best talent and the more they retain their best minds (and hearts). 

We need leaders capable of being reliable captains of ships sailing in turbulent and dangerous waters, with frightened and disoriented crews, who can lead them to safe seas and horizons of peace and shared prosperity. We need in leaders the ability to inspire both vision and trust in the crew. Trust: a magic word that management raised in work environments where the main problem is covering their backs does not understand. Yet trust, like purpose and meaningfulness, is a powerful incentive for performance (recent studies attribute it 50% productivity, 76% engagement and 102% more energy – HBR 2017). 

Many of the conflicts that are exploding in organizations at the time of Covid-19 are due to the (well deserved) lack of trust in the company’s leadership, which has not been patiently cultivated and built over time and, therefore, cannot be improvised in an emergency, with people frightened and insecure. Trust is inspired by solid, self-confident persons, who do not need to support their Ego with abuse and ostentatious exercise of power, but are rather always ready to serve and support. It takes constant exercise of authenticity and transparency to receive trust in return: how many managers can say with confidence that they have practiced them?

Trust is built by example, by reliability, by sincere “care” for one’s own people. As one of the most innovative authors on the subject of leadership, Simon Sinek, states repeatedly, the effective leader is the one who “eats last” (from the title of his bestseller “Leaders eat last”), i.e. he is first and foremost concerned about the well-being of his/her people. Such leader is also capable of conveying clearly and forcefully “why” the enterprise exists and what is its contribution to the quality of human life. That’s why his/her collaborators, when necessary, give their utmost for the leader and his/her mission.

Finally, in the business embracing the new paradigm, the management is responsible, i.e. it must account for how it puts its people in a position to express fully their contribution to the mission of the whole. This entails a total inversion of accountability with respect to the hierarchical model still prevailing and the new leaders will have to know how to manage this transition successfully, accepting this new role with confidence in order to enjoy its fruits. 

The 5th article in the series will be dedicated to the characteristics that the training and education  of the new leaders must have. 

In order to help those who are in roles of responsibility and leadership today to adapt quickly to the New World that is emerging and to proceed with the necessary turnaround, the 4th article will contain practical indications for the integration of sustainability in organizations organized in 15 priority actions.