This is the blog of Petra Kuenkel, Executive Director of the Collective Leadership Institute and Member of the Club of Rome. My passion is to scale-up global collaboration skills for the sustainability of our world and the future of humankind. I promote and teach Collective Leadership as the capacity of a collective to catalyse positive change for the common good.
Well known leadership experts say, if you want to achieve something, start with the end in mind. Can we make it happen that by the end of 2015 women are at centre stage in sustainability leadership?
I think we can. But it needs us all.
The guardian sustainable business hub has made a brilliant start with its discussion on women in sustainability . Good start. But don’t we need a bigger shift?
We have come up to this point in our human development with a rather unbalanced relationship between men and women in positions of power. It has brought us up to here. Sustainability cannot be achieved with exactly how we have been approaching things in the past. I think this is clear to all. Other aspects need to be included in bringing forth reality in the form of a liveable future. The world needs a more balanced relationship between the way women and man build future.
Professional women are around. In millions and millions. Probably less interested in issues of power and less interested in being exposed to media. They are doing their jobs. Help them a little to come centre stage. It will help us all. Getting women into a stronger driving seat is crucial for sustainability. Why?
It took me years to understand that human intelligence must be seen both as an individual and a collective phenomenon – although this insight is not new. Dialogic settings – the only way to harness collective intelligence – are essentially human and have a long tradition in human history.
Dialogue is a communicative structure, and as such can become a container for the awareness of mutuality and interdependence. In a circle hierarchy is not structurally exposed, nor are lines of communication influenced by the seating order. But the essence is that each person sees herself as important as he or she sees the others, and therefore everybody respects a space in which each person’s aspect or point of view is heard and valued.
We all wish to be creative, and in fact – we all are. But creativity has its own rhythms and dynamics. Bringing the creative urge back into our life is not always easy. Because it requires phases of non-action – not something we have many opportunities to do in the daily rush of events.
It may help to unearth what our pattern of creativity is. One thing is sure – when we are creative, our heart is involved, we feel closer to life, and no matter how aware of it we are, we feel closer to our deepest values.
People are different, so the ways that enable their creativity to flow are different. Allowing our creative expression to well up from a deeper source requires emptiness within. This can mean a mind that rests in silence; it can take the form of withdrawal, into nature, into ourselves, into a busy crowd we are somehow separated from. It is anything that allows an inward process of connection.
When we want to bring forth sustainability, we need to engage people. Be it in the area of sustainable production and consumption, environmental management, resource protection, responsible supply chain management, energy efficiency, climate adaptation, social cohesion, demographic change or sustainable business.
My experience is that people engage when they resonate with the content and goal of an endeavor, an initiative, or a change process. The questions: what can we do to make this happen?
Where collaboration initiatives for sustainability have been successful they built a step-by-step engagement of actors, as representatives of institutions and as people who opened up to making a difference. Plans were important, rigidity not. The role of a caretaker is crucial – a person or core group who takes the change process further, attends to engagement regularly and keeps the communication flowing. Combining flexibility and openness to adjustments with commitment and reliability is the key to success.
Common Code for the Coffee Community Initiative
No engagement can be maintained without a larger and emotionally charged vision for change that all actors can identify with. But evenly important is to break ambitious goals down into pathways that people can travel in their own area of expertise or responsibility.
These are typical good practice examples in creating step-by-step engagement processes:
Sensing the need, testing the urgency, building resonance with a change endeavour is time wisely invested in the beginning
Starting small and engaging a group of relevant people (already representing the differences), building engagement and inclusivity step by step
Diagnosing the situation jointly and integrating diverse perspectives into future planning
Investing in trust – and relationship building in the beginning
Ensuring that sufficient knowledge and expertise is available or built
Following-up on actions agreed, but maintaining a dialogic approach
Maintaining confidentiality, if needed, and avoiding the media at an early stage
Keeping the larger vision visible, but breaking it down into achievable action points, celebrating results accomplished
Creating a culture of iterative learning – reviewing progress jointly
Navigating differences in the way goals are achieved requires trust, patience and a continuous exploration of overlapping interests. Yet, engagement and commitment can only be maintained, if people see tangible results – having contributed to an impact is what keeps people going.
Experiences of powerlessness are gateways to deeper perceptions of reality. The most disconcerting experiences sometimes help us to access a deeper sense of life in all its possibilities. When the boundaries of our constructed identity are shaken, and we find a way of integrating the disturbing experience, we transform. We also become more human.
Sometimes life suggests contradictions. On could suggest that in stakeholder collaboration people work together, because they can’t achieve the goal alone. This is surely right. And yet, without suggesting that competition in collaboration is helpful, my experience is that the stronger the collaboration partners, the better the quality of collaboration. What does this mean in practice?