Leading Future Businesses: Why We Have To Disrupt Ourselves
It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting on a rooftop terrace in a co-working space in Cologne. The provocative motto of the get-together is “Slow Working.” WiFi is off – of course – and we start with a mindfulness exercise to set clear aims for the day. Many of the participants still have that lingering feeling of what is called the Sunday evening blues – a feeling that I’m familiar with from my years in a big consultancy, starting the week knowing that I’ll be on the road for the most part of it. People are sick and tired of rushing into the day bombarded with emails, squeezing valuable conceptual work into tiny breaks jammed in between a never-ending marathon of meetings. Instead, this Monday morning the idea is to concentrate and – at least try – to work with laser-like focus, without interference by our constantly buzzing cell phones.
Do we have time to slow down at all?
This warm summer morning, surrounded by smiling people and seated in a lovely, sun-drenched location with a view over the rooftops, this approach sounds particularly attractive to me. Yet, I am very conscious of the bubble I am in and that, in fact, the “house is on fire,” as Peace Nobel Prize Winner Prof. Yunus emphasized at the Friends of Social Business Forum in Wiesbaden a few weeks ago. Climate scientists are adamant that the next ten years are critical. Until the year 2030, this will be the last decade that remains to tackle climate change and prevent the warming up of our ecosystem from getting out of control. Ten years. From the first publication of “The Limits to Growth” in 1972 until the 2015 Paris Agreement it took us 43 years. Ten years.
Our house is on fire
Saying that the task at hand is a big challenge is an understatement. It reminds me of Frodo, the little hobbit of the Shire who inherits the One Ring and sets out on the all but impossible quest to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom. But what we’re up against isn’t fiction. It is real – and stakes are high. This heightened sense of urgency to act now is what is pulling so many people onto the streets every week in the Fridays for Future rallies.
Right now, sitting on this rooftop terrace, the house seems to be entirely calm and relaxed. No sign of fire. Can one have a big impact on the world while in such a Buddha-like state? Maybe not. But, in order to master the challenges we are facing as a species, I do believe that we need to overcome patterns of how we feel, think and act. And, therefore, we need to take some time to focus on the cosmos inside us.
We need disruption on a personal level
“Disruption” and “Innovation” are the key concepts of our time. As we watch old institutions come apart and political systems erode, a void is emerging that is unsettling for many. Yet this void opens up a space where something truly new can emerge: for our society and for us personally. I find it striking that both disruption and innovation are mainly discussed and applied on a corporate and systems level, mainly focused on transformation through digitalization. Given the situation we are in – and it’s almost cliché to mention VUCA, the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times we live in – I believe that we also need to take this journey on a personal level. Let’s be disruptive with ourselves. Let’s dismantle our own limiting belief systems, judgmental thinking, and conditioned behaviors that do us no service. And let’s use our liberated minds to fuel the transformation we are in collectively.
But — how can we make this shift?
Some of you might cringe hearing the word – but I firmly believe it’s a powerful tool to energize transformation: purpose. Knowing one’s purpose and working towards something bigger helps orchestrate activities in an organization and motivates employees, customers and investors alike. In his yearly letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink makes crystal clear “that every company needs a framework to navigate this difficult landscape, and that it must begin with a clear embodiment of your company’s purpose in your business model and corporate strategy.”
In a time when corporations are being asked to act more responsibly, what about us? Maybe it’s because I’m a psychologist that I’ve always been more curious about what purpose means to us as individuals, as human beings. In fact, becoming increasingly aware of our reason for being is an essential part of our personal growth story. (Re)gaining access to that kind of inner guidance allows us to intuitively know what to do, not only in challenging situations. Purpose is found by connecting the dots between our most important values, our signature strengths, and core incidents in our life – purpose glues it all together and helps us make sense of ourselves.
Driving change from the inside out
Few top executives embody their purpose as consistently as Paul Polman, former CEO at Unilever and founder of IMAGINE – a for-benefit corporation and foundation to help accelerate implementation of the Global Goals. Transforming Unilever into one of the frontrunners in sustainability, he demonstrated that business can be done differently. Throughout Unilever’s transformation, leadership was strongly involved. In their leadership development program, featured in the Harvard Business Review article “From Purpose to Impact,” senior executives crystallized their personal purpose. Energized through this, they launched impact projects as part of the leadership curriculum. In this way, they strengthened their sense of purpose and advanced Unilever’s portfolio and expertise in impact-driven business practices.
One’s sense of purpose, once found, will likely grow and blossom over time – but learning how to live up to it can consciously be accelerated. What then are the key steps to make this happen? Well, the Purpose Activation process can be structured in three major steps. First, we mine the “gold nuggets” from our past and hammer out what truly matters to us. Basically, the question here is: “What is missing after I leave the room? What is my essence?” Then, step by step, we become better at connecting the dots and we learn how to boil it down and put it into words – words that have the power to inspire us every day. Lastly, once we have gained this clarity about our WHY, we can intentionally align what we do and how we do it, becoming more and more consistent over time.
Inspired to lead into a brighter future
Our personal purpose helps us remain calm and focused in the eye of the storm. It helps us make conscious decisions and say no where necessary to focus on what really matters. The world needs leaders who inspire new ways of thinking, feeling and acting – and who operate from their authentic purpose to usher in positive change. And the world needs courageous bridge-builders who can facilitate the shift into a future that is not a repetition of the past. The good news is: this inner compass is not exclusive to a select few, it is available to all of us. All of us can actively work on fine-tuning it, over time.
And this is what I take away from my Monday morning “Slow Working” experience: We definitely do not have to slow down our efforts to act, all to the contrary. Nevertheless, there is great power in conquering an inner state of consciousness and focus regarding what we do and why we do it. For this reason, taking a step back from time to time – to retreat, reflect, and connect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way – is a powerful starting point for us to tackle the decade ahead, together.
#FutureBusiness #DisruptYourself #Purpose #Leadership #PurposeActivation #WhyTribe #Kopföffner
This blog post was also published in 17Goals Magazine
Contribution to Stephan Grabmeier’s Blogparade