We are at a pivotal leadership moment that will determine whether we will reach Net Zero fast enough. Observing the drive to reach Net Zero gives the impression that we are in a tug of war. On one side we have the people who protest and say things are not going fast or far enough. On the other side we have the people that are trying to respond and are calling for pragmatism.
At our latest Executive Roundtable co-hosted by Andy Samuel, the Chief Executive at the UK Oil & Gas Authority, we explored how we best support the recovery whilst addressing issues such as the climate emergency, social injustice and loss of biodiversity. With a small group of leaders ranging from government and civil service to energy and private equity, we inquired into the leadership needed to effect a sustainable recovery.
We recognised that people being angry, upset and voicing this out loud has often been pivotal in causing big change. It gets the issues on people’s minds, and the sense of threat to political and commercial interests causes powerful forces to take note and respond. However, the disorderly nature of a protest movement makes it hard for organised political and commercial interests to interact. People are upset, there is no predictable cause and effect, and there is no sight of any solution to agree on. It is often a complex and perplexing environment.
On the other ‘side’, we have a large number political and business leaders that are deeply concerned about the same issues as the protest movement and find themselves in a demanding situation. They know they represent powerful forces for change and at the same time they represent organisations whose power is vested in the people they represent. Be it shareholders or voters, we are trapped in lifestyles and patterns of consumption that many are reticent to change.
So, the question becomes, how to connect and join the power of these two powerful forces? Protest and upset on one side and power to change at scale on the other.
First step is for business and political leaders to recognise the complex nature of this movement. There is little chance of bringing us all into a lock-step march towards a better future, but there is an opportunity to align ourselves and together address the key environmental and social issues before we all do too much damage.
Second step is utilisation of two of the most powerful tools available to business and political leaders – convening and listening. They have the power to convene; bring us together. Not to present their views and justifications for why this is hard, but to truly listen to the people who are upset and angry. Unless the people protesting can clearly see that business and political leaders really do get how they see things and their reason for being upset, they themselves have little room for listening to others. Leaders taking the time to build a profound connection through listening create the space needed for authentic collaborative dialogue.
A space based on deep listening and collaboration gives rise to new and creative opportunities. It enables collaboration, experimentation and learning. It is a space where the way forward and right action emerges, rather than being pre-ordained.
So, how do we make this happen? As a leader with the power to convene, there is no one else to look to. Taking the two steps above is already within your power. It is a journey of discovery and will be unpredictable. A journey of extraordinary leadership.