As the rising interest in regenerative business unfolds, with an increasing number of conferences, consultancies, think tanks and practitioners positioning the journey toward regeneration as vital for the times we are in, it feels timely to explore the essence of becoming ‘regenerative’ in relation to Leadership & Organizational Development (L&OD).
‘Regenerative leadership consciousness’ is what our leaders today need to embrace in order for their organizations to become regenerative – without this shift in consciousness we are unanchored and rudderless, tossed this-way-and-that amid stormy seas. But what does this shift into regenerative leadership consciousness truly entail for the leader?
First, its important to acknowledge what we are moving away from (or ‘letting-go’ of) as a leader.
Today’s mainstream leadership is rooted in Mechanistic Materialism, a reductive perspective of life/nature/world/humanity; from which a mechanistic view of adult development and leadership development is formed. Whether its agile leadership, responsible leadership, sustainable leadership, transformational leadership, etc., often these approaches draw from a Mechanistic Materialistic worldview that prioritizes left hemisphere over right hemisphere thinking, masculine tendencies over feminine, outer-achieving/mechanism over inner-awareness/connection, and humanity as separate from (or trying to ‘save’) nature.
The important first step toward regenerative leadership consciousness is becoming aware of how inured in seeing the world through a materialistic lens we really are. Much of what we are taught at school is Mechanistic Materialism. Seeing nature as a competitive struggle, where random mutation and incremental adaptation fuel evolution. For many decades now, science has shown us that this is a woefully superficial view, yet the inured thinking remains ingrained. Take, for instance, the quest for agile business through agile leadership. Nothing wrong with it, in fact it’s an important aspect of evolving business, yet it’s not necessarily ‘regenerative’ if it isolates ‘adaptation’ and overlooks how essence, purposefulness, coherence, complexity and connectedness play out in living-systems. (For an exploration of ‘essence’ within the process of becoming a regenerative business see this recent article: Activating Regenerative Potential with the 5 E’s – Essence, Energy, Emergence, Evolutionary, Enthusiasm.)
Nature’s emergent evolution is not simply about adaptation. For sure, we can learn a lot about agility from living-systems, copying nature’s design principles and applying these insights to our ways of designing products and running our organizations. Yet what ‘regenerative’ really demands is a far deeper way of perceiving life beyond mere survivalism, adaptation to outer-change, and bio-mimetic design.
For instance, the essence of each living-being impels it to become a more whole manifestation of itself. Whether it’s the acorn becoming the oak tree or the caterpillar the butterfly, there’s much more going on than adaptation to external conditions. There is a metaphysical process of becoming that informs outer forms and designs we measure, categorize and copy. Ignore this ‘inner’ dimension and we superficialize and mechanize life.
What I am highlighting here is a step beyond the mechanistic application of nature’s biological forms, functions and designs and the materialistic quest to colonise nature’s secrets, package them into patents, securitizing assets of ‘natural capital’. The act of packaging and copying nature can be useful, but not necessarily ‘regenerative’ unless it involves a step beyond surface mechanism. This step beyond, is what Albert Einstein points to when he says, ‘Look deep, deep, deep into nature and you will understand everything better.’ There’s good reason the genius repeats ‘deep’ three times. Nor is it a mere coincidence that opening into deeper nature is essential to all wisdom traditions and indigenous peoples the world over.
This ‘opening’ involves an embodied attunement with the essence and energy of living-systems. Living-systems are far more than survival, they show us how to thrive by harmonizing with the sentience of life. This necessarily evokes existential questions for leader: what is the true essence and purpose of my organization, and how does this impel the value propositions and culture of the living-organization to continuously evolve in life-affirming ways amid increasing volatility? (I explore this as thriving living-organization as DEE – Developmental Emergent & Evolutionary, see Leading by Nature).
This step takes us beyond the short-sight of machine-organizations managed through top-down levers, controlled through P&Ls, while sweat assets for short-term returns. No matter how sustainable or values-led, this is a bi-product of mechanistic-materialistic logic, and simply not regenerative, regardless of how much it gives back to community or ecology.
As our lenses widen, we gain a deeper understanding of viability, resilience, profitability and systemic value creation amid volatility through a deeper understanding of nature, human nature, the organization-as-living-system, and its capacity to work with and serve life. Life is regenerative. Reconnect with the rapture of reality and regenerative leadership conscious flows through us. This is the beautiful simplicity the other side of all this complexity. Soul-wisdom beyond ego-cleverness.
‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.’ Lao Tzu
It is a virtuous endeavour – as fresh as it is ancient – to seek inspiration from nature amid metamorphic times. Yet all-too-easy is the application of a mechanistic-materialistic lens to our acquisition of findings ‘from’ nature that ignore deeper nature’s energetic interconnectedness; thus, applying the very same level of consciousness to our well-intended solutions that created the problems in the first place.
‘Learn how to see. Realize everything connects with everything else.’ Leonardo Da Vinci
Essentially, we are nature, we are ever-immersed in nature, never separate from it/Her. Nature is a participatory affair steeped in consciousness. Sentient, energetic, informational, rhythmic; held within a depth of dimension one might call ‘metaphysical’, ‘inner’, ‘implicate’ or ‘quantum’. From the quark string humming away, the water tumbling down stream, the sapling and Mother tree, the bee and hive, to the leader and organization, there’s not just ‘systems nested within systems’ but ‘fields immersed within fields’, interpenetrated with intentionality. We participate in this, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Becoming regenerative is an act of waking-up to Nature’s Wisdom.
Think – Indra’s Net: living-systems participating within living-systems which participate within wider living-systems, reciprocating across both tangible-physical and intangible-metaphysical dimensions. Each unique individual essence finds its tune within the team-essence, within the wider organizational-essence which finds its tune within wider systemic interplays (business ecosystem, society, Earth/Gaia, cosmos).
Feel – The Dance of Life: tunes playing within tunes playing within tunes that inform diverse dancing moves while finding right-relation amid a unity-of-multiplicity, improvised-yet-choreographed unique-yet-unified, emergent-yet-evolutionary. And underpinning all this movement is a pervading stillness. The way into the dance is through nothingness. How magical!
‘Understanding the illusion only comes after the understanding of reality, not before. Until we have the experience of reality, in all its stillness, we are still lost.’ Peter Kingsley
(Artist – Jodie Harburt)
Today, our mainstream leadership mindset is inured in a heightened ego-consciousness which prioritizes left-hemisphere over right, masculine over feminine, outer over inner, humanity over nature. It’s this fragmented imbalanced ego-consciousness that creates an illusion of separation that infects our daily consciousness – enter energy sapping stress, inauthenticity, dis-ease, control, fear, bureaucracy, inefficiency.
From the moment we wake up, its all-too-easy to slip into Mechanistic Materialism regardless of whether we might wish to be regenerative or not. Before we know it, the organization-is-a-machine to be managed by the P&L FOR the P&L. Rather than the P&L serving as a useful tool to help the vitality and purposefulness of the living-organization, it becomes the master, enslaving the life-force of the organization.
Enter the matrix. The wasteland of the wounded Fisher King becomes reality. First – we need to catch the slip into the machine-matrix, in order to notice the entrapment. Then we can begin to find our way out.
Through death-rebirth metamorphoses we learn to let-go of old ways and start to see with new eyes. In-so-doing, cultivating mastery of ego-consciousness in order to open our hearts and minds to learning from AND attuning with living-systems.
During many years of coaching regenerative leaders and practitioners through death-rebirth metamorphoses, I have found the framing of a three-level learning from living-systems useful:
1. ‘open mind’ – learning from nature – educating ourselves about nature’s design principles, biomimicry, circular economics, regenerative design, biophilic design, systems thinking, nature connection, etc.
2. ‘open heart’ – participating within nature – cultivating self-and-systemic awareness, sensing the organization-as-living-system, learning to work with L&OD living-system dynamics
3. ‘open will’ – attuning to nature – opening into deeper nature, finding accord with the rhythms and wisdom of life, alchemizing inner-outer nature in service of life
These three levels of learning from-and-within living-systems enable a shift in how we perceive reality – a ‘seeing with new eyes’, which is both ontological (a shift in our being) and epistemological (a shift in our knowing); both scientific (a shift from mechanistic-materialistic science to quantum-complexity science) and spiritual (a shift in how we experience the ‘inner’ metaphysical dimension of nature amid our day-to-day).
‘The true ground-of-all-being is the infinite, intangible, spirit that infuses all living beings.’ David Bohm
Essential to enabling regenerative leadership consciousness, these three levels are not a nice-to-have luxury to contemplate only when on silent retreat or round the camp-fire. They are the prerequisite for dealing with the root of today’s breakdown of civilisation, and for enabling future-fit business. Not climate change, not the money system, nor capitalism, corporatism or consumerism – these are downstream effects of an ungrounded perception of life. Dealing with these crises with the very level of consciousness that created them is unwise.
All three levels of living-systems learning, when embodied, allow us to work with the flows, rhythms and wisdom nature affords us. This is what lies before us, as a humanity. Nothing more, nothing less: A full-bodied immersive experience into what it means to be human in this more-than-human world.
‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st century won’t occur because of technology; they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ John Naisbett
The adult developmental psychologist Clare Graves, through his painstaking research, saw this latent regenerative potential in human consciousness being born on our watch, and his prescient work is coming true through the exponential take-up of regenerative business, leadership, economics, farming, medicine and more.
Welcome to the wisdom that’s fresh yet ancient, momentous yet timeless, full of dynamism yet born of stillness. Welcome to the Wisdom of Regeneration!
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water…All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’ Hopi Elders’ Prophecy
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner, regenerative leadership coach 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.
“Giles Hutchins has for over a decade led the way with his championship of learning through nature. His new book Leading by Nature is a really important evolution of these ideas emerging into a philosophy of systems thinking/being – it’s bang on the money, a really important book” – Sir Tim Smit, KBE, Founder of The Eden Project
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