We are living through a once-in-a-civilization moment marked by great upheaval, where the breakdown of global systems has become impossible to ignore and signs of breakthrough are starting to emerge. This metamorphic breakdown-breakthrough moment is characterized by the need to evolve our enterprises from polluting extractors into life-affirming contributors. Our collective future requires that we learn to flourish within planetary boundaries while respecting all life on Earth. This is what the term regenerative means, to adapt and evolve towards life-affirming futures.
There is a rising zeitgeist around regenerative. Yet what regenerative truly points to is a timeless journey of becoming more in harmony with life, more attuned to nature’s ways. For an organization to be on this regenerative journey, it must work toward enriching all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, investors, the wider society, and the environment. Key to this is leadership, and in particular Leading by Nature, which establishes a regenerative leadership consciousness that is more in harmony with life.
Leading by Nature is a fundamental departure from the traditional mechanistic management theory that much of today’s mainstream leadership and organizational development (L&OD) is rooted in. This regenerative approach works with a living-systems worldview by unlocking self-and-system consciousness within us so that we can better sense and respond to dynamics at play across the organization-as-living-system, enabling future-fitness amid these volatile and metamorphic times.
Alas, we can’t just activate a new quality of leadership consciousness with the flick of a switch. Instead, we must endure a journey of transformation that involves a deep psychological renewal—a process of dying and being reborn, a threshold-crossing from one state of being to the next by letting go of the old while bringing in the new. This threshold-crossing morphs how we relate to our inner selves and our outer world. The ancient Greeks used the term “metanoia” to describe such a shift. “Meta,” like in metamorphosis, is to “shape-shift” or “move beyond” and “noia” relates to “true understanding,” to transform the understanding of our sense of self and how we relate with the world. It’s a profound undertaking that affects us in deep and partly unconscious ways. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and without this personal shift in consciousness the looming crises our organizations and societies now face will be unavoidable.
Over many years of coaching leaders from all walks of life, experience has shown me that for a leader—or any adult for that matter—to undergo such a psychological metamorphosis, one needs to hold space for both inner and outer shifts. Outer is the way we relate with others and attend to the world around us, and inner is the way we attend to our inner psyche and its deeper nature.
The way in which we respond to the world shapes our own world, in turn shaping us. As Ghandi insightfully said, “As one changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward them.” Our leadership consciousness influences our teams and the wider organization, just as the organizational culture influences us. Likewise, the organization’s inner culture, its values and behaviors, has an influence on the organization’s outer brand, its value propositions and stakeholder relationships. Vice versa, the changing nature of the organization’s outer market and stakeholder ecosystem has an influence on the organization’s inner culture. Both the inner and the outer aspects of the leader and of the organization are ripe for transformation in these metamorphic times.
As our leadership consciousness shifts, we become more aware of the reciprocal and participatory nature of relationships within and beyond the organization-as-living-system.
The Necessary Evolution from Machine to Living-systems L&OD
When, as leaders, we are able to let go of the outdated mechanistic tendencies and expand our restricted view of the organization, we open ourselves and our teams up to how life inherently operates—in harmony. We learn how to work with natural rhythms and methods that encourage the vitality and adaptability of the organization. We learn to lead by nature.
Table: Worldview Shift
Machine Worldview Living-Systems Worldview
Dominator culture Partnership culture
This evolutionary shift in L&OD is a learning-in-action process. First and foremost, it’s an internal shift, an embodied process—rather than a linear tick-box exercise—where one must become self-aware of old habits while patiently practicing new ones. Secondly, it requires enriching the cultural soil of the organization so that each person can draw nourishment from everyday interactions as they learn and adapt.
The good news is that we need look no further than within and all around us to find inspiration for this L&OD shift from a machine into a living-systems worldview.
When we observe a forest or woodland, reductive machine logic sees trees struggling against each other in a competitive battle for survival of the fittest. However, when we sharpen our lens of perception—using a living-systems lens—we start to see the immense, inter-relational venture at play. Different species of trees share nutrients with each other through the soil, and tree roots form intimate relationships with mycelia, bacteria, and microbes. The forest floor is teaming with networks that benefit the vibrancy, resilience, and evolutionary dynamics of the whole ecosystem. In only a handful of healthy soil there’s more living beings working together than there are human beings on the entire planet.
What Charles Darwin originally meant by the phrase “survival of the fittest” was not “dominate or become dominated,” but rather each species adapts to an ever-changing context by “fitting-in” to its niche. It’s not the strongest species that survive nor the most intelligent but the ones most able to adapt to change. This adaptive edge is what our organizations need to foster by welcoming in the living-systems worldview into our L&OD.
The ability for our sophisticated, digitized, yet stressed-out organizations to attune with Nature’s Wisdom is the next frontier. It means aligning with life itself, nothing more nothing less. All of life—including human society, the organization, and the leader—is immersed in an ever-changing rhythmic and relational dance. When off kilter with the rhythms of this dance, chaos and fragility ensue; when in-tune, all parts find flow and the capacity to flourish. It’s the same for life within the organization as it is for life beyond the organization. Those organizations and leaders who learn to attune with the rhythms and ways of nature are the ones most able to adapt to change.
Leading by Nature
I call my regenerative, nature-inspired approach to L&OD Leading by Nature. It is simultaneously completely natural and radically different from today’s dominant leadership narrative. Above all, Leading by Nature is a journey not a destination, a journey that includes both inner and outer dimensions for the leader and the organization to embark upon.
For the leader: The inner dimension is the capacity to connect to our true nature within; tapping into our essence so we can lead with authenticity, coherence, and purposefulness. The outer dimension is about attuning with life around us; being open and receptive to the ever-changing nature of life and creating generative spaces where trust, responsiveness, and developmental learning thrive. This inner-outer leadership coherence allows us to create regenerative potential in ourselves and through our relationships with others.
For the organization: The inner dimension is the mission, culture, values, meeting conventions, and decision-making protocols that support the organization’s way of being. Creating a more purposeful, adult-adult, entrepreneurial, self-managing, diverse, and inclusive way of working unlocks the organization’s regenerative potential. The outer dimension is the customer value propositions, supply-chain, and wider stakeholder relationships that drive how the organization shows up in the world. This inner-outer organizational coherence allows diverse stakeholder relations to flourish through the products, services, experiences, and communities the organization facilitates.
The upshot of regenerative L&OD is a working environment where people feel welcome to bring their whole selves to work. An adult-adult culture of agility and empowered entrepreneurialism allows failures to be continuously transformed into learnings, which ultimately reduces the burden of bureaucracy. This humanness invites innovation, collaboration, and purposefulness into the heart of everyday meetings and decision-making where individuals are able to discover more of their natural, creative spark.
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016), Regenerative Leadership (2019) and Leading by Nature (2022). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK. Previously held corporate roles – Head of Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director and Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. Giles is a keynote speaker on the future of business and regenerative leadership. He is also a Reiki Master, a certified advanced coach, holds a Diploma in Senior Leadership Development, a Masters of Science in Business Systems, is trained in advanced Integral Solonics leadership development, Spiral Dynamics, a range of consciousness-raising modalities and is a certified Harthill Leadership Development Practitioner.
“Leading by Nature is THE handbook for regenerative leadership. A must-read for every business leader who genuinely cares about the future of humanity.’ Jayn Sterland, CEO of Weleda UK
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