The planetary crisis, often used to refer to a range of interconnected environmental and ecological challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, and more, can have significant impacts on the health of people. Some companies are already now acting by introducing the concept of Regeneration as a response to the planetary crisis and to secure the long-term survival of the company, as well as safeguarding human health. Unfortunately, regeneration is sometimes misunderstood in terms of where and how to apply it in the organization.

In this article I would like to explain why I see that it is necessary to apply regeneration broader in the organization and with broader I mean, it needs to touch the people, processes and technologies of the company. In my world, regenerative leadership does not exist. But leadership, good leadership can be vital in creating the organization, the systems and the practices of a regenerative approach.

Regeneration calls for a system change
The planetary crisis and mitigating its effects is not only crucial for the environment but also for safeguarding human health. Actions such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, transitioning to renewable energy sources, conserving biodiversity, and implementing sustainable agricultural practices can help mitigate these health risks and build a more resilient and sustainable future for people around the world.

A regenerative approach aims for complete systems changes that address the root causes of global challenges. The goal is to create the conditions for all life to thrive, generating self-sustaining positive outcomes for nature, people and the economy. Regeneration hence offers a bold vision of the future we need to achieve, rather than the climate catastrophe we need to avoid. Regeneration introduces the organization to new value drivers, encourages innovation and builds the resilience of the company.

Leadership of systems refers to the practice of guiding and managing complex organizations or systems to achieve objectives and effectiveness. Leadership of systems should involve: planning, organization, coordination, monitoring & control, change and innovation. Leadership of systems should be applied to a wide range of areas, including business management, public administration, project management, and even the management of social or environmental systems. It is a complex discipline that requires a combination of skills, including planning, communication, decision-making, and leadership.

What leadership traits do transformative leaders have?
In the previous sections we touched upon the systemic change that is needed to respond to the planetary crisis. The transformation in itself requires leadership. There are specific traits or characteristics of a leader who is able to transform the organization, the company, the systems so they become regenerative.

These leaders must manage, though management in itself is not regenerative. Learning organizations, self-directing organizations are all element of a regenerative company which regenerates the resources it uses.

The traits are:

Curiosity — Being curious starts with ourselves, it’s about questioning the as-is to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities to build a regenerative business. We need to develop and nurture a capacity to learn, reevaluating and having a curiosity on the people and systems we are a part of, to be able to develop new ways of working.

Critical Thinking — The ability to or habit of asking questions and seeking validity, insights and data in relation to statements, claims, views and opinions are a core trait for the Regenerative business leader. Together with curiosity the ability to think critically and challenge the beliefs and thoughts of an organization is core for understanding the complexity of the company in a data driven way.

Sense-making — We have included this core leadership trait, as leadership should be seen as distributed. It is not only the appointed leader who actually leads, everyone in the organization of a regenerative business leads, and they need to know this. It is about empowerment.

Empathy and compassion — Empathy is the capacity to understand and feel into what other people feel. Compassion surfaces from the wish to relate to other people also when they are in need of help. As a leader in a regenerative company it is important to realize that leadership is democratized, and most likely it is not a place for a “superman” leader.

Leadership has its offset in practices of empathy and compassion, which most people — having the wish to — will be able to cultivate as practices, if willing to dig into one self and work with their own beliefs and understandings. It is about being in synchronization with the people in the organization, without losing sight of the leadership task of setting direction etc.

Trust — Companies are run through relationships between the people involved in the businesses, having numerous different roles, positions in the hierarchy, cultures, languages etc. It’s about the ability to show trust and to create and maintain trusting relationships. It is about building these relationships in a way for people to feel included and part of something — everyone wants to be part of a team.

Trust is often seen as a product or an outcome and not a trait or skill. However, we believe that the ability to interact with other people, having the ambition to create as much trust as possible, wanting to inspire trust by being present, empathic, compassionate and sense-creating. Trust is a skill, a trait, of a leader in a regenerative company.

Courage — can be seen as an enabling trait for the new mental models. Being a leader in a regenerative company, will demand courage. You will be challenged in the sense of changing the business model. This trait is about the ability to stand up for values you deeply believe in, to make decisions and take decisive actions and, if needed, challenge and disrupt existing structures and views to create the needed new mental models and perceptions. Courage is also about challenging one’s own biases and opening up possibilities for creativity, in the process of explaining to others how the new business models work.

Creativity — is seen as a strong trait connected to a leader of a regenerative business. Creativity is linked to adult development and cultivates the ability to question the current business practices. It is the ability to generate and develop original ideas, innovate and be willing to disrupt conventional patterns.

Perseverance — Building the stamina to be able to live life, is also about overcoming one’s own biases. Realizing that bias is systemic and deeply rooted in ways of working, the culture at a workplace “this is how we do things around here”, or the way we talk to each other. We all assume we know what others think, believe and want — but we don’t, it’s our bias, our blind spot directing our mindset. We continuously in our minds make a map of the world, our own simplified representation of what is happening and we use this map to navigate in our daily life.

However, this map is just a simple representation — mental model — of the world we are in based on all our assumptions, biases and blind spots. This map is what we use for decision making and it is a hard task to challenge our deeply rooted assumptions of how things work — this is where a leader in a regenerative Value Chain needs to build perseverance to be able to lead.