The New Environmentalism (pt5) – Leaders Creating Meaning and Change

May 4, 2012

By Matt Palmer

When I began writing about what I call “The New Environmentalism” the intent was to explore how to create a society-wide attitudinal shift around energy issues, thereby moving the public discourse towards a greater understanding of systems thinking as a part of any solutions for the future. But who can we look to, to create this shift, to create new meanings, and inspire needed change?

After posting the first part of this series, a friend posted a reply with a link to this fantastic article by Dr Barrett Brown, Conscious Leadership for Sustainability. Dr Brown specializes in leadership development and organizational and systems transformation. Here is an overview of his current research:

The overarching purpose of this research has been to better understand how to help address our biggest social, environmental, and economic challenges. The specific area studied is how leaders and change agents with a very complex and rare meaning-making system design and engage with sustainability initiatives. By identifying how such leaders respond to sustainability challenges, we may be able to help future and existing leaders to be more effective.

In my last post I wrote about some in the environmental movement who are calling for all-out war against Government and Corporations whose only aim, they believe, is profit and economic growth at the expense of the environment. On the opposite side, Government has instituted policies aimed at hampering environmental groups ability to operate as they have been, impeding economic and jobs growth. Who you feel is showing greater leadership is determined by your own worldview. The big question is: do we have the leaders we need who can challenge our world views by presenting a greater vision for the future?

If humanity is going to achieve important global objectives like the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and mitigating our impact upon the climate, numerous significant changes in our organizations and social systems are needed. Research and experience suggest that some of our change efforts toward a more sustainable world will work, while many may fail (Kotter, 1995). Amongst the myriad success drivers for a change initiative, a key component is the design of the initiative itself (Doppelt, 2010; Kotter, 1996). In turn, one of the most important influences on the design and implementation of change initiatives is the worldview of the designer(s)

Inspiring action away from conventional thinking and behaviour takes great courage. Leaders are the ones who step out of the comfort zone, challenge the status quo, but manage to do so in a way that is inclusive of multiple perspectives, and not motivated by fear or the diminishment of others.

 An “action logic” fundamentally represents the way that an individual organizes reality. It describes the developmental stage of meaning-making that informs and drives our reasoning and behavior. It includes what we see as the purpose of life, what needs we act upon, what ends we move toward, our emotions and our experience of being in the world, and how we think about ourselves and the world

Do we have leaders who fulfill these requirements? Dr Brown outlines eight action logics relating to sustainability leadership and it would be an interesting exercise, and it should also be a necessary one, to see where our government, corporate, and environmental leaders fit. Are there Alchemists and Ironists within our leadership circle? Are they out there? Do we listen to them?

True leaders move beyond sound bites and polarized positions that favour a specific ideological status quo, by creating new meanings, new ideas, and then change. Those who fear transformational change, who fear making new mistakes, are doomed to repeat the old ones over and over. Transformational change will account for positive and negative unintended consequences by utilizing a worldview constructed by systems thinking.


About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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