On Wednesday, I had the privilege of facilitating a panel discussion with Mathieu Lenglin from Tesla, Antonio Hautle who works with the UN Global Compact and Karen Rivoire, former Chief People Office at WPP and Global Director of HR at Unilever. We explored what sustainable leadership is, how we can consistently realize a sustainable vision, what the challenges of sustainability are and how can we overcome them.
This is the story of what happened…
Why do you do what you do? Is it to make money… to look after your family… or for some greater purpose?
I paint in extreme places all over the world to explore what it takes to be creative everywhere. And then, along with my business partners, I use what I learn to help leaders, their teams and organizations articulate and realize a sustainable vision for good.
Did you know our cells change at 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times every second and 4,500 stars are created every single second?
That change is creation itself.
At the very highest level we are aware of, and the very lowest level we are aware of creativity is natural.
You could say we were born to create in a creative Universe.
The creative spirit inside each of us desperately wants to create physical things. The totality of what we create during our life becomes our legacy.
It is how we are remembered by our family, friends and society.
We cannot not create a legacy. However, we can choose to create what we intend.
Every child is born to create. The problem is remaining creative as he grows up. Pablo Picasso
So why have we built organizations – businesses, schools, governments, supra-national organizations etc. – that suffocate creativity?
The symptoms of this suffocation are climate change, poverty, hunger, conflict, financial crises, disease…
In the world’s most popular TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson asked Do schools kill creativity? Yes, they do.
Now, we need to ask a more fundamental question: Is suffocating creativity killing us?
Exactly two years ago, I was planning a trip to paint Mount Fuji in Japan.
Using Google Maps I had worked out exactly where I needed to stand to paint a perfect reflection of Fuji in one of the lakes on its Northern edge.
Finally, the day arrived and I looked out the window of our hotel room. I was excited. The lake was flat and there were perfect reflections.
So I packed up my stuff and rushed round the lake to the spot I’d selected. I was going to paint Fuji with a perfect reflection!
However, by the time I arrived, the wind had got up and the reflection had disappeared.
I willed the lake to calm down. Nothing happened. I tried again and waves started to form.
Throughout the day the waves got stronger and stronger.
It’s harder to paint waves than a reflection. Each wave is different. Waves moving away are different than waves moving towards you. And they’re constantly moving!
After 6 hours, exhausted, I finished the painting, packed up my stuff and walked back round the lake.
Every painting tells a story, so I wondered what the story of this painting was.
As I walked, I passed a young man wearing a Tshirt, on which it said in English, ‘Don’t create waves’!
And so it is with life.
How often do we create waves in our professional and personal lives without intending to? We forget that Newton’s Third Law, ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’ works both physically and metaphysically.
The law operates with what we can see and what we can’t… with our actions as well as our thoughts.
In business, waves start at the top.
The culture of a company should align perfectly with the CEO’s vision.
Too often it doesn’t.
Invariablly, the dissonance between vision and culture comes from the lack of alignment within the CEO.
Consider the recent case of harassment at Uber or the criticism of AirBnB and Google over housing.
Think of Steve Jobs. He flipped between genius and shouting at colleagues.
One moment he had God-like thoughts, the next moment, he acted like God.
To prevent this, we must shine light into what Carl Jung called the shadow – that part of ourselves we are not yet consciously aware of.
We must align our actions and our thoughts with something greater.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. Mahatma Gandhi
This was how I introduced the panel discussion. It led to three questions from me and a number from the floor…
- What is Sustainable Leadership?
Only last week, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched its CEO Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals, stressing the importance of visionary leadership.
At this time of political and economic uncertainty, strong and visionary CEO leadership is essential to achieving the transformation needed to usher in the inclusive and sustainable economic growth that the SDGs represent. WBCSD CEO Guide
In answer to the question, Karen talked about Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Mathieu talked about Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. No surprise there then!
Both men are enabling a more sustainable future.
The first is transforming the business model of an existing organization, Unilever, to make it more sustainable. The second is creating a sustainable business model, Tesla, from scratch.
Both men know if they succeed and no-one follows, they will have failed though.
If we hit all our targets… but no-one else follows suit, we will have failed miserably. Paul Polman
And that’s why Musk has made his batteries available to other car manufacturers and why Polman is Chair of The World Council for Sustainable Development. Both care about their legacy.
Antonio added that sustainable leadership links an organization’s actions to one of more of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (commonly known as The Global Goals). These targets are designed to tackle humanity’s most pressing problems – climate change, poverty, hunger, health, education, sanitation, access to clean water…
2. How do leaders enable sustainability consistently across an organization?
Karen talked about the importance of aligning employee experience with company purpose. Companies spend $ millions on customer experience and forget that the employee experience drives the customer’s experience.
If employees aren’t happy, they will create waves.
And that’s unsustainable.
Richard Branson would agree. He puts his employees, rather than his customers first.
It doesn’t matter how inspirational a leader’s vision is, it isn’t possible to impose it on anyone. A leader can only enable another person to find themselves in that vision.
Or even better, help them to discover their own vision.
Mathieu described how Tesla walks its talk.
For instance, it is currently building the world’s biggest battery factory, the Giga Factory in California, which will produce more electricity than it consumes.
While the leadership of big companies is important, Antonio added, 80% of the world’s organizations are small and medium-sized businesses and we must enable them to be sustainable too.
That’s why Antonio spends his days criss-crossing Switzerland, speaking to CEOs, leadership teams and businesses of all sizes, helping them understand how they can generate value by aligning themselves with the Global Goals.
3. What are the challenges of consistently realizing a vision across a company and how do you overcome them?
In the last question before opening the discussion up to the audience, we turned to the challenges of becoming sustainable.
Antonio talked about a lack of awareness, which requires more effective communications.
Mathieu added trust is key. Customers must trust that an electric car really is better. And it takes time and enormous effort to build trust.
And Karen added we must continue to act consistently everyday. It’s not good enough to just create a vision, we must consistently act on that vision.
One of the subsequent questions, from Mahmud Samandari, Governing Board member of Baha’i-inspired ebbf, picked up on this point. He asked what The UN Global Compact is doing to encourage sustainability in developing countries, after all The Global Compact is the largest business network tackling sustainability in the world.
It turns out, what all of us do to help developing countries is less important than howwe do it. We must move from handouts to hand-ups by providing fair access to a level playing field.
And that tied in with an earlier question from Gianpaolo Turri, at Namiki Group, who added innovation is the key to creating positive, sustainable waves.
He’s correct. Having worked on every single Global Goal, for me, the most important one is Number 9, which promotes innovation.
UN Global Goal #9: build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
To achieve every other Global Goal will require innovation, and not just in developed countries… in developing countries as well.
We can’t do what we’ve done in the past and expect a different result in the future.
We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Albert Einstein
Creativity drives innovation.
And my experiments, painting in the mountains, have taught me how to unleash creativity.
If you’d like to know more about how to do this, download The BreakFree Canvas, a short, free eBook that explains how leaders, teams and organizations can articulate and realize a sustainable vision.
4. How to create a legacy?
In the last few minutes before participants got a chance to test drive a Tesla, Caroline Harper Jantuah, executive coach and consultant at UNHCR, asked the panel how they would like to be remembered.
What would they like their legacy to be?
Karen talked about aligning the employee experience with a greater purpose.
Mathieu returned to the subject of trust.
And Antonio added it didn’t matter how people remembered him – what mattered was they remembered to be sustainable.
My two children are only 3 years old and 18 months old.
They’re born to create too.
However, they won’t get a chance to create their legacy unless everyone remembers to be sustainable everywhere.
Thanks to Tesla Geneva, Kursner wines and Beaux Art Perrier for making the evening possible. You can keep up to date with Tesla on Twitter and find out more about The UN Global Compact and the Global Compact Network Switzerland online.