Let’s look at a case about a positive executive team and their CEO, that can offer hope. If you are worried, anxious, angry, scared, or depressed about the current challenges and crises, read this.
This company wants to become future-proof. They care about nature, social issues, and future generations. They have a socially safe executive team. They start with what is positive to fix what is negative. They are learning to act as positive warriors.
In this series, I explore organizational culture and what we need to face our current ecological, social, and governance challenges and become future-fit. Organizations can play a crucial role in humanity’s transition to a healthy future when they make their products, services, and actions sustainable and just. Organizations can be spaces where people learn crucial new ways of thinking and doing, and where they find support and meaning. People take this new culture home to their communities and spread it. Organizations can help people learn and adapt as the world faces several transitions.
A future-fit culture provides the glue, the speed and trust, the shared identity, the narrative, the purpose, the core values and priorities, the key behaviors, and the openness to learn new skills needed in the VUCA-world, that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
‘On a scale of one to ten, how positive are you feeling right now?’
I look at the five faces on my screen. This executive team is doing positive leadership sessions. Although…. they look a little defeated. Xander, the CEO, goes on and on about the IPCC climate reports: 3.6 billion people could be severely affected by climate change.
‘We’re doing too little, too late!’
I observe his passion and frustration. He is a charming sixty-something in an impeccably tailored suit, at the top of the company ladder. But the more he talks, the less he fits into the category of a “successful CEO who’s busy with the financial bottom line”.
Are you a positive warrior?
Suddenly I am reminded of the Shambhala warrior prophecy: You can’t see on the outside who is “good” or “bad”. Good and evil live together in everyone’s heart.
Joanna Macy shares this Buddhist prophecy in her book Active Hope. Here’s my summary: There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. At that time, great rival powers rule, with weapons of mass destruction and technology. That’s when the kingdom of Shambhala will rise. This kingdom is invisible, because it exists in the hearts of Shambhala warriors, and you cannot tell from the outside who is such a warrior. The only two weapons the warriors have are compassion and the understanding that everything is connected. Their compassion gives them energy to go forth, their insight helps them see that there are no dividing lines. The struggle is not between good and bad people. Good and evil live together in everyone’s heart. Each person can do good acts. Every act, no matter how small, can cause a tipping point because everything is connected. Shambhala warriors choose to do the right thing, no matter how small.
This is an important message in our current era where climate change and other global, complex issues cause so much polarization. That’s why I share this ancient prophecy here and positive organizations apply its advice: We cannot judge from the outside, as each person has good or bad in their heart. But, if we are positive warriors, we can choose to do the right thing, no matter how small. The struggle is not between good and bad people, between us and them. The struggle is within all of us (hence the fierce emotions) – let’s suspend judgment. Let’s try to see the nuances and notice the positive acts that people do, whether they wear business suits or streetwear.
We are all struggling with rapid change and uncertain times.
Becoming a future-proof organization
This company wants to go to net-zero carbon emissions. They are changing their business model from selling to renting, repairing, and recycling – they have to become future-proof.
In the previous team session, they have chosen an extra team member: an empty chair at the meeting table, reminding them of those without a voice; nature, and future generations. I hadn’t expected them to be this progressive when they hired me!
But how positive do they feel now? The human resources manager grades a four, Xander a three, the finance woman offers a six, the operations manager a four, and the head of marketing a seven.
This executive team is as divided as the voices in my head. Maybe we all oscillate between:
- It will be fine, man will come up with solutions.
- No, things will go wrong, everyone just keeps doing what they always did. There’s not enough change!
- So, we have to prepare for the worst.
I am facilitating their conversation – how can the company get to net zero faster – when Xander exclaims: ‘I just had a grandchild! When I imagine what she’s going to go through… Then how does my work even matter?’
The others become silent. I don’t see a CEO, but a human being: brave and authentic. The human resources and operations manager nod, the marketing guy looks shocked, and the finance woman keeps her face neutral.
‘It’s so honest to express that feeling. You’re probably not the only one,’ I say.
‘I know the feeling,’ says the human resources manager. ‘That’s why it’s so important for this company to work on positive goals. Because that makes our work matter.’
‘Every little bit helps,’ says the operations manager, but he sounds unconvinced.
‘Not always,’ thinks the financial woman. ‘You have to make money first. And in addition, find those little bits that do make a difference.’
It’s a great team: they can have an honest conversation like this, where they feel socially safe and express what they think and feel. The CEO sets a great example, showing up vulnerable, with many concerns about the future.
Starting with what is positive to fix what is not
‘Do you want to know how to find those?’ I ask them. ‘According to positive psychology, it starts with recognizing what is positive. That changes your state of mind because when you’re scared or angry, those emotions hinder your reasoning. So you don’t deny what’s wrong, but you come up with better solutions without despair.’
I see four heads nodding interestedly; only the marketing guy sputters. ‘Surely this is not therapy!’
‘No, this is a concrete exercise that works,’ I say. ‘Let’s answer a few questions in pairs. This might help you discover ideas that can make a difference.’
I work with Xander on the questions – what makes you happy, who are you grateful for, what are your concerns, what do you hope for, what role do you take to achieve the future you hope for? His energy splashes off the screen.
‘So, what are you going to do next?’ is my last question.
‘I’m going to make sure that this company goes beyond net-zero emissions and sustainable business. We’re going to contribute positive solutions for that empty chair, the future. We can do so much more than we’re doing now!’ He sounds enthusiastic.
‘Sounds good! If I can suggest one tip for your motivation: write a letter to your granddaughter about the state of the world and what you’re doing about it – and update that letter all the time.’
He nods warmly. ‘That’s a nice gift to her and the future.’
Xander is lucky to have a grandchild; I have to wait and see if I ever get one. Can we still long for grandchildren, on this warming, crowded planet? I guess it’s a desire for many to have children and grandchildren and see them thrive.
After the pairs are done with the questions, the team talks energetically and shares many ideas. What if we now…, next time we will continue with…
It’s a great brainstorming and team-building exercise that yields great ideas, bonding, and motivation!
‘One more thing,’ says Xander, just before the session ends. ‘Maybe I’ll join Extinction Rebellion as a private person. We need way more urgent action! We need to put more pressure on governments and their decision-makers. I’ll do it for my granddaughter.’
The others laugh in surprise and wave, they have another appointment and their screens go black. Xanders signs off quickly, too.
Xander must be a positive warrior, building a positive culture and organization. These positive warriors are everywhere, also in corporations. Also in roles that some people may have labeled as “bad, greedy capitalists”. And in roles that others label as “bad, anarchistic activists”. Or in whatever role that we judge. Let’s not make it personal. Let’s work together to respond to the urgent, complex, global, ecological, social, and governance issues.
- We cannot judge from the outside, as each person has good or bad in their heart. But, if we are positive warriors, we can choose to do the right thing, no matter how small.
- The struggle is not between good and bad people, between us and them. The struggle is within all of us.
- Let’s suspend judgment. Let’s try to see the nuances and notice the positive acts that people do, whether they wear business suits or streetwear.
- We are all coping with rapid change and uncertain times.
© Marcella Bremer, 2023
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