We are honored to feature excerpts from the commencement address that our Board member, Darcy Winslow, gave to the graduating class of Pinchot/Bainbridge Graduate Institute earlier this month.
I am honored to be here – in the company of leaders embracing the global and complex challenges we’re facing, as well as the exciting opportunities these challenges present.
It’s rare that I get to speak to an audience who really gets it – no coercing, no convincing, no need to drown you in data or facts. Although it seems facts mean nothing to many.
During my 21 years at Nike, I spent many of those focused on the introduction of the concept of sustainability into the business. It was the most exciting – and toughest – challenge of my career, convincing a company to take this on when it was a nascent, and seemingly risky and unnecessary step to take.
It is now stated as the legacy they want to leave, yet they acknowledge that there remains much to be discovered and addressed – and with a growing sense of urgency.
I also dedicated much of my efforts on the role of women in business, women in sports, and certainly Nike’s women’s business. We were finally able to elevate it from ‘the women’s thing, or the women’s initiative’ to a business with equal respect and on equal footing within Nike.
So when Gifford [Pinchot] invited me to speak today, among other things he said, “I always loved your shrink it and pink it story”. It’s funny what people remember!
As I thought about that, I decided, as simple as this example is, it’s a story of challenging both long held mental models and a business as usual approach.
The question regarding the women’s business was: Why do we create shoes for male athletes, then shrink them down, pink them up, and sell them to female athletes? Because that’s how we’d always done business and it seemed to be good enough.
Right question – wrong answer. So we changed that.
The question I asked regarding sustainability and our business practices was more complex:
Why do we create enormous amounts of waste, and toxic waste, not in our own backyard but someone else’s, in the course of growing our business, with huge profits and increasing wealth, while they are left with polluted water, air and land? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
Again, wrong answer. This too has changed – thanks to many in the early days and those who continue to work with these challenges.
The list of these types of questions is lengthy and we – the global we – have lived in a bubble for far too many years.
We are now in a time of deep questioning and change, and the questions are global in nature.
We have surpassed 7 billion people. We are, today, experiencing the impacts of climate uncertainty.
We are depleting our oceans of fish, and becoming ever more aware of our unhealthy dependence on petroleum and other finite resources.
We are in the midst of a great acceleration where the rates of deterioration in all the global systems that support life on the planet are increasing at ever-heightening vectors.
In Otto Scharmer’s work on the Transformation of Capitalism and the path to what he characterizes as “Society 4.0”, he talks about the three critical divides we are currently facing: the ecological, social and spiritual divide.
We are currently using the equivalent of 1 ½ planets worth of natural resources – this is the ecological divide.
With population growth and the ever-increasing pattern of consumption in developed countries, and growth of the middle-class in developing countries, this number is expected to reach upwards of 3 planets worth of resources by mid-century. The physics of this just don’t work.
Might there be a day when the question shifts from “how much can we afford to pay for scarce resources such as water or materials”, to a day when these resources are not available at any price? Are we as adaptable as we will need to be?
The social divide illustrates that 2.5 B people currently live below the poverty line. A good example of this inequality is food – there is plenty of food to feed 7B people – it’s a distribution problem. More than 1B people have too little food, and more than 1B people have too much food.
And the spiritual divide is equally astonishing: the World Health Organization found that almost 3 times as many people die by suicide and stress related illnesses than the number who die in war and by homicide combined.
And all of these numbers are moving in the wrong direction.
This is our current reality and we have to take it personally!
Our current leadership models place value on the skills and capabilities that meet our present day needs. However, we must now ask ourselves the question:
Is it time for a new set of behaviors, a new way of being, a new way of leading? Absolutely.
Today I have the honor of working with and managing the Academy for Systemic Change. In a nutshell, our goal is to address systems change, in support of ecological, social and economic well-being, at a scale and in a timeframe that matters.
Our focus is to develop a critical mass of awareness-based, system change practitioners and leaders: leaders that have the capacity to work within the increased complexity and interconnectedness caused by globalization, and leaders that are able to address, with a real sense of urgency, large, multi-stakeholder issues such as soul-crushing poverty and climate change.
The good news is that there is a quantum shift emerging in new models of leadership. These shifts are demographic, societal, and technology dependent.
This journey to a new model of leadership and setting a new trajectory for all stakeholders, including the natural world, is happening. It’s grounded in having a shared purpose, a shared vision, and shared responsibility.
I’ll share a quick story about leadership. Five years ago I went on my first of 3 leadership and climate change expeditions to the Antarctic – truly transformational events for me.
Robert Swan, our expedition leader, this generations’ greatest polar explorer and now dear friend, shared one of his lessons on leadership: “When you are about to tackle huge and unknown challenges, make sure you have a healthy dose of naivete. If we knew every aspect of the challenge before us, most would walk away.”
This new model of leadership requires intellectual intelligence – mastery, skills, creativity, innovation, passion, and the ability to recognize global systems and patterns. This is necessary, but not sufficient.
The work of Dan Goleman now shows it also requires social intelligence – the ability to develop a follow-ship, to understand ecosystems and relationships, the ability to communicate to all, to build community while living in a virtual world, and ultimately to collaborate in unprecedented ways around a common purpose.
And it requires emotional intelligence – the courage to act on your beliefs, your values, having a heightened sense of self-awareness and being deeply empathic.
These are life-long practices as part of both an inner and outer journey in this new model of leadership.
As Peter Senge has taught me and countless others, the origin of “To Lead” is literally to “step across the threshold” – the threshold of your doubts, your fears, your passion, and your purpose. You are stepping across a threshold today.
But be clear: in the spirit of this new model of leadership, it is not just about you.
Organizations are increasingly awakening to the need for people who are committed to life-long cultivation of self, in service to their organizations, communities, and the global and critical systems we rely on to thrive as a human race.
This journey is about contribution and generosity. It’s about the positive impact your personal transformation will have on others. And it requires a large dose of humility.
The inner journey of a true leader is one in which you will discover not who you are, but through much reflection, who you could be.
While the nature of this work will be multi-generational, it is truly the next generation of leaders we HAVE to commit to developing, and fan their flames. These leaders – YOU – are characterized by a profound sense of purpose.
You must practice the art of balancing the personal, intellectual, emotional and social aspects of leading. And you must be capable of standing at the edge of the system and visualizing the limits and possibilities that emerge.
Will this cause the transformation we need? No. The best of tools in the hands of a power hungry, egocentric leader can have a devastating impact.
It’s the tool user, and the inner state of the tool user will determine the impact. This decade: 2010 – 2020 has often been referred to as the Decade of Change – the Decade for a New Kind of Leadership.
The Dalai Lama once said, “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
I agree – AND, we need more successful CEOs, influencers and entrepreneurs, who are peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
We need for business to blend with nature, and commerce to coincide with compassion. The new leaders who can accomplish these things will be our modern day heroes.
I would add that your job responsibilities include: convener, facilitator, translator, designer, innovator, and certainly, entrepreneur.
Your role is to create the conditions for the type of dialogue, collaboration, innovation and call to action needed to positively redirect the global trajectory we’re on. Create the conditions for collective leadership.
As you reenter the ‘real or un-real’ world, there is no curriculum – the entire place is an elective! Whatever you commit your hard won new knowledge and wisdom to – commit fully – anything less is not worthy of your investment.
You know the data. You know the science. You know what the world needs. You’ve seen and have created new examples of what’s possible.
And you have the tools and resources to draw upon. This is only the start – there will be many more teachers and lessons on the path ahead.
As you move through life, take everything you’re passionate about seriously, except yourself. But most of all, move through this one life you have with grace.
I have the honor of working with an amazing group of women focused on advancing the work of sustainability across all sectors and generations, called the Generative Council. These sentiments were recently shared by one of these courageous women, and I offer them to you with her permission:
Apologize with Sincerity
Explore with Curiosity
Love with Generosity
Forgive without Resentment
Listen with Intent
Act with Passion
I’ll finish by sharing a quote that continues to capture what is near and dear to me, and where I seek inspiration to do the work I do. It’s from the documentary 180 Degrees South.
“I’m drawn to open country. It’s where everything becomes clear; where the world makes the most sense. When I put myself out there, I always return with something new. The best journeys answer questions that, in the beginning, you didn’t even think to ask.”
I wish you a powerful and astounding journey.