Flourish or Perish: Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

Kevin Lynch Sustainability

Flourish or perishEditor’s Note: This post first appeared on the Corporate Responsibility Association website, and is republished with permission.

New sources of value – in other words, successful opportunities for business – exist within the challenges of our times. This is not a call for benevolence or charity, but highlights opportunity.

We have heard the same thing said about sustainability. Sustainability, commonly defined as the merger of planet, people and profit (the “three Ps” or the triple bottom line), has been touted as a source of competitive advantage by authors such as Peter Senge and Chris Laszlo.  Although more popular now than ever, a review of popular blogs suggest that sustainability initiatives may be flagging. Possible causes can include leadership changes or “sustainability fatigue.”

The third global forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit was recently held at Case Western University in Cleveland. The concept of business an agent of world benefit is intriguing. The conference sponsors state that:

Business as an Agent of World Benefit unites the best in business with the call of our times. At the heart of BAWB is world inquiry—a global search for the many ways that the business sector is putting its people, imagination and assets to work to benefit humanity. Every social and global issue of our day is an opportunity to ignite industry leading innovation, eco-entrepreneurship, and new sources of value.

The conference theme was premised on a new book by Chris Laszlo and Judy Sorum Brown titled Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business. The authors redefine sustainability as flourishing, which points to fresh practices and the possibility of better results. They focus on flourishing at all levels: individual, team, organizational, and global. “Think of flourishing relationships, radiant health, thriving enterprises, and humming communities.” Further, “flourishing has the power to engage a broad range of people, from leaders to front-line employees and supply chain partners, in a way the sustainability simply does not.” While sustainability is framed as meeting material that can allow us to survive, flourishing connotes the idea of thriving.

Flourishing at the individual level is a prerequisite to team, organizational and global flourishing. Thus, leaders need to become acquainted with key skills that their employees can work on to flourish. These skills include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring
  • Empathy
  • Spiritual practice
  • Love

The last two of these key skills, in particular, may confuse or confound organizational leaders. The authors suggest that spirituality suggests a “way of experiencing the world and taking action that leads to caring, based on a personal quest for connectedness and meaning”. As organizational leaders, we can, for instance, create environments that focus on personal responsibility, and understanding our personal and organizational impact on others in our communities.

Love is another touchy issue for leaders. Interestingly, I was fortunate to work with a student in Benedictine University’s Values-Driven Leadership Ph.D. program for senior executives. This student is a senior leader in the military and his research focuses on the relationship of love and leadership. (Read highlights of his research – which you can apply at work – at this link.) The preliminary research indicates that employees who perceive love from their leaders are more likely to respect and admire their leaders.

The authors suggest that these key individual skills lead to a greater level of connectedness. It is in this realization of connectedness that teams and organizations can support flourishing. I know this can sound like mushy nonsense, but stop and think for a moment. If organizations can gain a better sense of who the employees are, who the suppliers and customers are, and the communities in which they operate, won’t they have a better sense of what will lead to success in the organization? By understanding how an organization connects and impacts, it can make better strategic decisions.

This is well beyond market research. Market research can be blind to the holistic implications of doing business. The holistic view gained by a true sense of connectedness is where organizational life and flourishing merge together.

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Dr. Kevin Lynch is Leadership Executive-in-Residence at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. As a practitioner, academic and consultant, Kevin specializes in assisting organizations that are experiencing rapid change, particularly with regard to strategic growth decisions, and the implementation of appropriate organizational infrastructure. Before joining the Center, Kevin was a senior executive in the real estate industry. He also is co-owner of Williams and Halla wilderness canoe outfitting business in Ely, Minnesota.

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