Arundhati Roy, writes the Pandemic is a Portal, having brought “the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt”. We have an opportunity to “examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.”

In our conversations with leaders and practitioners like you, striving whole-heartedly to create a just, compassionate and regenerative “engine”, we see a four key challenges and needed capabilities.

Foster workplaces and communities where people feel a sense of belonging, that are inclusive, diverse, and caring

The willingness to actively create deeply human workplaces, where people are respected and valued, requires courage to face into the mirror and reflect how close and how far we are, personally and collectively from this ideal. 

At one level, this means embracing flexible working. With COVID, Atlassian, a software company that has as its purpose to unlock the potential in any team, has announced that their employees never have to come back to the office again, embracing radical flexibility.  This decision has put themselves squarely in the shoes of their customers, who are working in teams in WFH/WFA (working from anywhere) environments. 

Atlassian, in the same breath as making this decision, also stated their commitment to creating a workplace where belonging and the magic of connection can flourish. The two can coexist, with good will, openness, and employee commitment to making it work.

Going deeper, creating inclusive workplaces means embracing the conversation focused on discrimination, specifically becoming anti-racist. Lata Reddy, senior VP of inclusive solutions at Prudential and chair of the Prudential Foundation who guides Prudential’s approach to addressing structural racism says that the first step in creating systemic solutions to address racism, is to “deeply examine how the institution you represent contributed to today’s injustices.”

In addition to community focused actions (investments in public school education, local entrepreneurship, housing, and financial security), Prudential has turned the mirror internally.

Following the murder of George Floyd, Prudential ran “125 listening forums on racial equity with 7,000 employees to understand how we can foster an inclusive workplace and continue to contribute to meaningful, enduring progress in society and within our company.” The result were nine commitments to racial equity (talent, data transparency, product development, advocacy & resource allocation).  The company is also running training programs for all US employees focused on how to become antiracist, understanding racism and everyday bias, and building cultural intelligence.

There is a choice for leaders to be critically and morally reflective, with regards to their own biases, as well as to the systems in which they are a part.  

Face into ethical dilemmas and difficult times, with integrity, courage, and care

Each of us, and our organisations, systems, and teams are being called to align to a higher purpose, to be driven by social values and conscience, to be ethical, to lead with high resolves, wisdom, and virtue.

People are being forced into hyper focused situations, where they are having to react and make decisions quickly. Context can activate default, fast thinking decisions, fear, and control. It is critical that we each decide: How do you really want to make decisions? In the words of Margaret Wheatley, “Who do we choose to become?

Many of the grey situations leaders face involve the need to make sense of uncertain contexts and implications. At the same time, they are facing the increasing demand from employees, consumers, community members, and investors to be more altruistic, to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes. 

We know that our communities, the people we work with, our societies, are calling for organisations to be trustworthy, to act with moral integrity, and to do the right thing. The demand for organisations to re-create a trusting social contract founded on mutual respect is a characteristic of the New Era.  Cultivating ethical decision making cultures is a key role for leaders. We need to do the work for ourselves and accompany others to do the same.

Importantly, what we are learning is that leaders and organisations that bake into their own habits and ways of thinking, as well as their organisations, to act with noble intentions, with values-based decision making as a habit, and bring care to their culture are more resilient and more likely to survive crisis.

For example, in the last financial crisis, certified B Corps, businesses driven by a noble purpose, values, and stakeholder capitalism, were found to be 63% more likely to survive than other businesses of a similar size.  In a recent study of the impact of COVID19 on culture, the Australian Human Resources Institute found that 38% of HR Leaders believe Covid19 has adversely impacted their organisation’s culture, but 42% suggest the opposite. Of this later group, 93% of employees felt their leaders was showing empathy and demonstrating care.

How we show up, and what this looks like for leadership is part of the choice we need to make in re-creating the systems for this new era.

Be creative and innovative under pressure, through clarity and commitment to your guiding compass

Without a clear guiding compass, the uncertainty of our times, and finding a way through the portal, is a huge challenge. 

Having a guiding north star, focused on enriching the lives of customers, clients, employees, and communities, has helped purpose-driven organisations like B Corporations, to pivot, stay true to their core, and find new ways of serving.  

This is one of the reasons Nell Derick Debevoise (2020), Founder and CEO of the B Corp, Inspiring Capital, highlighted as to why purpose-driven businesses, like B Corporations, are faring better in COVID-19 environment. In the last financial crisis, certified B Corps, were found to be 63% more likely to survive than other businesses of a similar size. 

Leading with integrity, with commitment to purpose and values, cultivates good will and an authentic connection with employees, customers, clients and communities. By innovating on values, these businesses maintain that relationship in the market and with customers and clients.

Considering this question: “How can we best serve the interests of the time, drawing on our strengths?” opens up opportunities for creativity and innovation. It galvanises teams, because it is compelling, confident, and magnanimous. 

To support this pathway, leaders need to connect with their own beliefs around leading as service, as stewardship, and to rethink success.

Be agile and open to the collective intelligence and strengths in your organisation

Leaders, practitioners, decision-makers are overwhelmed, being thrust into roles and ways of leading requiring greater flexibility and agility that they didn’t expect.

Crises need a greater level of flexibility in decision making and access to the strengths and ideas of the people in your organisation as well as stakeholder communities. Debevoise (2020) writes about the agile capacity of B Corporations like Leesa, underpinned by being open as an organisation to flatten decision making structures, surface wisdom and ideas across organisations, united by a desire to serve and care for one another and the needs of the community.

Role fluidity can create emotional discomfort, so when roles do change, it is important to have a culture that values everyone’s contribution to help people feel safe and connected.  It is really important to remember the interpersonal aspects as each of these elements cultivates trust, wellbeing and performance, or degrades it. 

Collaboration is a mindset, a habit of heart, and a skill critical to weathering crises and responding quickly to changing needs. It is also essential to creating an organisation that takes justice, equity and compassion seriously, internally and externally.  A true openness to diversity of thinking and experience within your organisation is at the learning edge of many people and organisations. It isn’t easy.

We know collaboration goes hand in hand with innovation for social change, but often times collaboration doesn’t work out. How might you grow your capacities to collaborate around purposeful change?

Rising to the challenge and opportunity with a choice

At this time, leaders have the opportunity and the choice to examine the parts of the system that do not work for all, that fly in the face of our profound interconnectedness and stop people from living with dignity and realising their potential.

We have the challenge of looking inside, to magnify what is noble within us, and become what the world needs us to become. 

To support you on this inner and outer journey at this time, we have created the Masterclass Series: Leading with Nobility for a New Era