If you like what we do and think we can help then let’s chat.

contact@greenheartbusiness.com

Work.Life, 9 Noel Street, London, W1F 8GG

Back

Regenerative Leadership in practice: the early steps

Tom working in nature greenheart business life Half-circle stamp style image with 'Greenheart for greener futures' caption
Section edge texture with light green on top and light blue on bottom

Beside parenting, starting and growing a business is without doubt the hardest job I’ve ever had. There are plenty of similarities of course. These include: late nights, tantrums, constant demands on cash and the ever-present feeling that you’re never quite doing well enough.

But in many ways it’s also the most liberating. In my case, it provided a blank canvas on which I could start experimenting with a different style of organisational development; one based on trust, respect, instinct and interdependence. In short, one that felt more natural and authentic for me as a human inhabitant of Planet Earth.

I’ve since learnt it’s called regenerative leadership and it’s totally changed my worldview.

At its heart, regenerative leadership seeks to answer the question: what would this organisation look like if we treated it like a living-system, not a machine? What if we applied the learnings of four billion years of evolutionary development to our companies so that they become inherently resilient, nimble and life-affirming? Just like nature.

When I started looking through this lens, I came to appreciate that most businesses are indeed run like machines: people as cogs, managers as operators and systems as user manuals in a clear and linear input -> output relationship. Striving for efficiency, management is characterised by a fear of failure with success measured primarily in numbers and charts as opposed to genuine societal and environmental value. It’s the opposite of life-affirming, it’s soul sapping and I’m convinced it is a key contributor to the many social & environmental messes we find ourselves in now.

In this series of articles, I share my, and Greenheart’s, journey into the world of regenerative leadership. It’s a journey that’s far from complete and none of us consider ourselves experts. But we are passionate, committed and bold in our efforts to do things differently.

Why did the journey begin?

I trained and qualified as a lawyer; a profession with a very pre-determined path. Degree leads to law school leads to training contract leads to years of hard slog before the faintest prospect of partnership. All the while you are working your way up ladders, falling down the occasional snake, and answerable always to your seniors and/or your clients. The sense of individual agency as a lawyer is limited. For me, last orders were called on my legal career when I found myself being forensically micro-managed in an environment where advancement seemed to come only to those who threatened to resign. It wasn’t the system for me – my Sunday night blues were palpable.

The next stop on my journey was as Managing Director of a meat production business. Yes, it was as bizarre and unlikely a segue as it sounds. Despite the illusion of freedom that came with the title and a very hands-off sole shareholder, my real masters this time were wafer thin production margins and a deeply embedded ‘upstairs/downstairs’ team structure more reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse than a progressive organic company. Now I was doing the micro-managing, out of necessity and without the tools to conceive any other way. Before I took the job my best friend warned me that an MD has to “really want to manage people.” It turned out I didn’t; I hated it just as much and the Sunday night blues were even darker.

Stepping out with Regenerative Leadership and Greenheart 

When Greenheart was born in late 2015, I vowed I would never employ people, let alone end up managing them. I was happy to enjoy a one-man lifestyle existence, earning enough (just) but entirely on my own terms. I had no growth strategy beyond the ability to meet my family’s basic needs.

That didn’t last long. It turns out that Greenheart and I were in the right place at the right time. We’d hit a chord that resonated with the exploding movement of business for good. By 2019 demand was far outstripping what I could deliver myself. As is often the case with small consultancies, I brought in some freelance associates to help me out but that wasn’t enough.

I was at a T-junction: should I put a lid on it, stay solo and manage demand by cranking up my fees? Or should I listen to the universe and let growth happen? Well, you try putting a cloche on an oak seedling. It’ll either die or break through its own ceiling pretty quickly.

I kicked off the cloche, drafted the first employment contracts and braced myself.

Building a Regenerative business ecosystem

As the first large corporate clients came in and the team continued to grow, so did the need for systems and processes. IT, data security, time management etc all needed bedding in quickly. We had reached the next T-junction. Should we a) dust off the traditional management playbook and start drafting linear org charts and policies, or b) do something different but uncertain and higher risk? Well, I think you know the answer to that…

My first call was to Giles Hutchins, one of the key shepherds of the regenerative leadership movement. Our friends and clients at Vivobarefoot had introduced me to his book Regenerative Leadership (co-authored with Laura Storm) and I had inhaled it more or less in one sitting. I reached out, not really expecting a reply, asking for urgent help.

“I have read your and Laura’s book (twice) and am deeply committed to building my own business ecosystem along regenerative line. I’m at a pretty early stage in my understanding but want the whole team to be aligned from the off.”

That was less than 2 years ago and Giles has been my, and Greenheart’s, guide and mentor ever since. It feels like we have travelled through time and space since then but in reality we’ve only scratched the surface.

If I’d wanted an easy life of rapid and profitable growth, of short-term value creation for myself and my family in line with most entrepreneurial norms, I should have chosen option a). But option b) has already given me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. I now have Sunday night excitement at the week ahead and I’m convinced this version of Greenheart will deliver more value for more people for longer.

More on Regenerative Leadership and Regenerative Business

In the next article, I’ll tell you how we took our first tentative steps as an aspiring regenerative business. Hear my conversation with Giles Hutchins about regenerative leadership on his Leading By Nature podcast here.

Section edge texture with light blue on top and dark green on bottom