Fueling The Greater Good, Preventing Harm And Promoting Good

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As I write this article, the crescendo of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, seems to be tapering off. As always, hopes were raised, expectations realigned, and commitments revisited.  But like previous years, my fear is, once the daily grind sets in, our sense of urgency will fade away. We will get back to our own bubbles and bury our heads in the sand.

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Calls For Action At COP26

There was no shortage of calls for action at COP26 this year, like the one delivered by the Prime Mister of Barbados, Mia Mottley.  But no matter how eloquent the annunciation of the real threats and how vigorous the sounding of the bells about the catastrophic consequences of unmitigated risks, it is just another sound bite in a world awash with data. I’m afraid, the message yet again, won’t sink in deep enough for us to understand the gravity of the challenges we face today and the magnitude of destruction that awaits us if we don’t change our course.

In the attempt to perpetually grow our material throughputs, we have become skilled at punting our responsibilities and obligations. Knowingly, we keep kicking the can of accountability further out, jeopardizing the future for generations to come.  Our systems are wired for capitalizing short-term benefits. As a result, our politicians are hell-bent on divisive politics with the primarily focus of winning elections not solving societal problems.  Our business leaders too, are obsessed with quarterly profits and year end growth for their shareholders. The inability of such leaders to observe, contemplate and reflect on our state of current affairs is an indicator of their internal desire to maintain the course we are currently on.

The notion of “sustainability” without meaningful change to the existing economic, social, and political systems is wishful thinking, satisfying us only on an emotional level and in the moment.  Behaviors resulting from emotional triggers, without due process of rationally thinking through the outcomes is toxic to our intellect.  Intoxicated intellects can justify any action without any empathy towards the negative consequences or impacts to others or the environment. We live in a world where most nation states can barely manage their own affairs.  How can we expect them to come together collaboratively to solve our planet’s complex and interconnected challenges?

Is it heedlessness, self-preservation, or short-term thinking?  What is it that keeps us from taking meaningful action?

I believe it is the absence of stoicism in our material pursuits, the lack of thinking systematically when understanding our challenges, and adhering to outdated growth playbooks.

Why Balance Between Materialism And Stoicism?

Understanding the repercussions of our actions on others and on the environment, demands emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion from us.  Knowing ourselves, our psyche, how we think and make decisions then becomes a necessary first step in understanding our impact. Leaders that just lead and influence in the heat of the moment, without aligning intent with action, are seldom mindful of the consequences of their actions and the impacts of their decisions on everything around them.  This imbalance affects us socially, economically, and politically. There is a dire need to have the material and the stoic aspects of our psyche balanced to produce meaningful change tied to the greater good of society.

A good starting point is inward reflection; the ability to self-monitor our own adherence to accountability, commitment, and transparency; with the filters of codes of conduct tied to the greater good. But that adherence is only cultivated in us when the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive aspects of our psyche achieve balance in understanding the essence of what greater good entails.  The deeper the understanding of that balance, the more meaningful the commitment is for the greater good.

Aligning to the greater good requires rewiring ourselves to become impactful beings; what we do in life matters.  Our actions have consequences.  Regardless of how small the impact, there is one. It is like throwing a small pebble in still water.  The effect of the ripples that are created is far reaching, isn’t it?

We will achieve balance when the following two conditions are met:

  • Our aspirations are above and beyond short-term gains, tying our success not just to financial or economic performance but to public interest and environmental safeguard, and
  • We have a deeper sense of connectivity to the impact and consequences of our actions on our planet.

Why Systems Thinking Matters?

Part of our responsibility to take on the role of being stewards of this planet, requires the ability to do good.  But that goodness only comes out in us if we truly self-reflect with the sincere intension to rectify our wrongs.  The inward-reflecting maturity of thought is facilitated by systems thinking.  It facilitates the need for acute awareness of not just why we are doing something and what’s in it for us, but also how it is going to impact the environment around us.  A systems-thinking mindset is where we are forced to connect the dots between the system’s features such as goal orientation, inputs and outputs, transformation, regulation, hierarchy, and differentiation. Having that perspective allows us to understand all the parts that make up the whole. It is this type of systemic thinking that inculcates in us the ability to identify interdependencies, and relationships and therefore anticipate potential cause and effects.

Why A New Growth Playbook?

Our agenda of change has been set many a time before, with little or no avail.  We proclaim that the sense of urgency needed to course correct, is real. But we fail to take meaningful action. We acknowledge the need to work together. But we fail to be inclusive in our approach to solve our complicated and complex problems.

This happens because our words are fancy and appeasing, but our playbooks are outdated.

The 21st century demands from us a higher moral ground to fight all the challenges we are facing today. The interconnections of climate action failure, to extreme inequity, to waste and pollution, to the destruction of ecosystems, to loss of biodiversity are very real disruptions that call for a different kind of a playbook; one not focused on short-term material growth and profitability rather long-term social advancement and human upliftment. We must rethink our role in facilitating positive transformational change; where our values and principles, frameworks and practices, rules of engagement, and the resulting outcomes, align to the cause of preventing harm and promoting good; a cause that requires adherence to certain universal truths for the greater good of society.  I call these universal truths, “preservation principles”.

This transformative journey to the greater good, with the intent to prevent harm and promote good, has multiple pitstops.  Four of them are worth mentioning here:

  • Knowledge of Self – Situational awareness, mindfulness, self-reflection all come from taking a deeper look into ourselves. The transformation that is needed demands it.
  • Systems Thinking – We live in a closed loop system.  Understanding system’s dynamics is critical to refining the broken system.  Besides knowing that everything is connected to everything else, helps us see interconnectedness at play.
  • Collaborative Endeavor – We are in this together. No one agency, company, organization can solve this alone.  The time has gone for finger pointing.
  • Universal Playbook – The success of any strategy lies in its universality. There needs to be a common language that is easily understood and internalize by all.

In my book I introduce one such universal playbook and have named it Management by Intent (MBI).  There are five preservation principles that give us the foundational steppingstones for constructing our new yet universal playbook:

  • Safeguarding life from anything that threatens it,
  • Safeguarding human dignity from anything that degrades it,
  • Safeguarding reason and rationality to inculcate sound judgement making us aware of our biases,
  • Holistic financial well-being and equitable distribution of wealth, for all who partake in the free enterprise system, and
  • Mindfulness of the delicate balance nature has instilled for earth’s future long-term sustainability.

But we can’t get there with an outdated playbook; a playbook that heavily favors economic capital at the expense of human, natural and social capital. As Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment Program, so eloquently put it, “the economic system we’ve built is based on a very limited – and limiting – definition of what it means to be human. Because our economies encourage consumption and novelty-seeking behavior, we have created societies that value profit, material wealth and economic expansion above all else”.

So how do we get to that high moral ground?  The perils we face today, demand concerted action.  It is not possible for just one entity to course correct.  This has to be a collaborated effort where the public sector, the private sector, the Wall Street and Main Street, The CEOs and the frontline workforce all will have to do their part.

About the Author

As a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Abrar Ansari has worked with Fortune 500 company executives serving a diversified portfolio of clients in energy, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and agribusiness sectors for over 29 years. His career has been anchored in providing thought leadership and coaching in the areas of operational excellence, governance and risk management, strategy, and ESG. As a business strategist, mentor, and coach, he focuses on guiding his clients in designing, communicating, and executing incremental transformational change initiatives. He is an expert in aligning organizational goals and objectives to purposeful outcomes generating holistic value for his clients. Abrar is a skilled public speaker with the ability to capture audience attention and keep them engaged.