The narrative of separation is at the core of our economic system: a perception that human beings are separate from Nature and others encourages us to see the Earth as a resource that must be owned and exploited.
Controlling Nature has become the norm. From this extraction and exploitation mindset, we have developed a toxic way of leading. We have been encouraged to consider Nature — and other forms of life — as resources for consumption. We see people as resources too. When we manage them we focus on what benefit we can extract and get out of them.
The time has come for a new narrative that aligns with our true Nature as human beings. A narrative that speaks to radical collaboration, and empowering others with compassion and empathy.
Far from being hard wired for selfishness, scientists now assert that we are wired to respond to others in need. Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen of Princeton University found that when subjects contemplated harm being done to others, the same regions of the brain light up when mothers contemplate their babies’ faces. Whilst Darwin’s quote on “survival of the fittest” is often taken out of context, a better reading of the evolutionary biologist’s work would regard this assertion as the exception that proves the rule, rather than the meta organising principle.
Nature is inherently compassionate and highly collaborative.
And so we now need a new story that can be told through the lens of living systems, kindness and reciprocity. Such a story could inspire the much needed impetus for restoring our planet and unleashing our fullest human potential.
By moving from ‘I’ to ‘We’, Bio Leadership offers the possibility of conceptualizing a new paradigm deeply connected to Mother Earth. Living in harmony with — and in right relationship to — Nature. For inspiration for this new model, we look to Nature’s own living systems and indigenous practices for examples of how to lead in this way.
BioLeadership is about healing the separation mindset, and the paradigm of lack, extraction and exploitation, and replacing it with a new model based on connection and thriving.
Let’s look at what some of the key traits of this new mindset could be, where they occur in the natural world, and how a new generation of bio-leaders are adopting them:
1. Fosters Resilience
Human journeys are made up of uncertain and unpredictable moments. Through our experience, we can learn how to respond to shocks and hardships. Our human Nature allows us to source energy from within to recover and bounce back from struggles. Resilience is our natural ability to spring back into a better version of ourselves through taking lessons from hardship.
This ability is everywhere in Nature. For example, trees play a major role in preserving our ecosystems. Often confronted by extremely inhospitable conditions, trees are constantly adapting to their surroundings. Trees covered with heavy amounts of snow need to bend their branches in order to avoid them breaking. Trees on coastal areas often face droughts and huge amounts of wind and have to develop much stronger roots and take on unusual shapes to adapt to their environment. Trees will even re-allocate resources to other areas of the forest to other trees in need, emphasising that resilience is not an isolated occurrence, but one fomented by collaboration as well.
When we give people the support to discover their own resilience, remarkable things can happen. Alex Stephany is the founder of Beam — a company supporting homeless people to access training. Alex provides them with a transformational opportunity to bounce back from hardship. He’s been able to nurture their strengths developed through their resilience along the way. After facing addiction, extreme poverty, and exclusion, people in the program are provided with the support they need to recover from their struggles, start new lives, and build their futures.
2. Enables Radical Collaboration
Collaboration is the way forward. Being in symbiosis with others fosters self-development and impact. Thinking in silos is not an answer for the growing complexity of our world. The individualistic way of living does not fit with the need we have to act collectively. Radical collaboration is about coming together to co-create the future we want. It enables cognitive diversity to arise giving each individual a chance to innovate and contribute to solutions.
Honey bees are excellent examples of radical collaboration whilst working for the benefit of the collective — as well as the wider ecosystem. Each hive has three types of collaborators: the queen responsible for eggs, the male drones in charge of fertilizing them, and the female workers taking care of food and the hive. The bees change their duties as their age increases. There is a high level of altruism being in service to the whole group. When the worker uses her sting, her gut is usually ripped out and she dies soon afterwards. Her defence is therefore an act of suicide in which she sacrifices her life for the other bees.
Chrissy Levett is the Founder of Creative Conscience — a global movement set up to encourage, reward and support creative thinkers to use their talents for social & environmental impact. Chrissy connects design leaders and innovators around the globe to co-create impactful campaigns and solutions. Chrissy has always perceived the added value of gathering diverse voices and talents to co-create unique stories. Bringing together diverse creative minds, Chrissy has already delivered more than 5000 impact projects around the world.
3. Empowers Potential
We all face our own boundaries and limits. Bio Leadership is about empowering others to overcome barriers, source the change from within, and unleash their capabilities to lead real change. Leaders create adequate conditions for individuals to safely explore themselves. Empowering potential is about enabling others to thrive. Empowerment is a must. Being in service to others helping them to reach their fullest potential is a gift.
Female polar bears protect and empower cubs for as long as 20 to 30 months. During the first few weeks of a cub’s life, female polar bears stay close to them in order to keep them warm. For the next three or four months the cubs nurse as often as six times a day. Mother polar bears are extremely protective of their young, even risking their own lives in their cubs’ defense. The polar bear mother will use the time with her cubs to teach them how to hunt, swim and survive in their Arctic habitat.
Rick Mower is the Managing Director of Raw Workshop — a manufacturing and commercial services business employing people who wouldn’t get past the first stages of regular interviews. Rick puts his energy into hiring and changing the lives of people with mental health issues, addiction, homelessness, criminal records, adverse childhoods, low self-esteem and refugee background. Rick uses his skills and experience to empower its employees to unleash their potential, trusting them for what they can become rather than who they have been. Another such exemplary leader is the Nobel Laureate Mohamed Yunus, the microfinance pioneer who has empowered millions of rural poor and women.
4. Nurtures Connection
We are connected by and with Nature. We are all part of a web of life directly rooted into Nature’s living systems. Acknowledging our interconnectedness and nurturing it is vital for the blooming of our humanity. Human beings are not separate from each other. Taking a step back and seeing the world through a systemic lens helps us understand systems as a whole. We are invited to source from self and Nature. Nurturing connection is about acknowledging, valuing, and celebrating our interdependence.
Between 50 and 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the oceans. The ocean produces oxygen through marine photosynthesizers (phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton) that live in it. The oxygen is produced as a byproduct of photosynthesis, a process which converts carbon dioxide and sunlight into sugars the organism can use for energy. All these elements share a profound connection, as well as interdependencies. As humans, we breathe in air, which contains oxygen. When we exhale, carbon dioxide is released. Plants and trees, on the other hand, convert this carbon dioxide, and use it to produce their own energy, releasing oxygen back in a virtuous circle.
Andres Roberts is the Founder of Bio Leadership Project — an ecosystem empowering a new way of leading sourced from Nature. Andres has spent years working as a guide, advisor and facilitator stepping away from our dominant cultural narrative and, instead, deeply connecting to Nature and bringing people back to each other and themselves. His close connection to Nature has inspired him to bring human connection to life in his daily work. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all life, Andres sources his inspiration from Nature itself. The Bio Leadership Project is run according to Nature’s own organizing principles, and leaders, “pollinators” and fellows are encouraged to foster deep connections with each other in the program. This is the fertile ground upon which strong roots are built.
5. Seeks Harmony
Being in balance with Nature and ourselves. Nature works in a symphony of interactions: the complex systems that underpin the movement of galaxies, the health and wellbeing of ecosystems, the passing of the seasons, and even moon cycles. The whole system functions as the result of interdependent nested systems. Leaders seeking harmony always adapt and balance their behaviors to external influences. Harmony is about acknowledging the masculine and feminine attributes and the emergence that arises from their complementarity.
Moon cycles are in perfect harmony with the ocean. The gravitational pull between Mother Earth and the Moon creates the tides in our oceans. The moon cycles are 28 days long and provide a harmonious flow of waves on shorelines. When the gravitational pull of the Sun and moon are combined, we get more extreme high and low tides. This ebb and flow impacts women’s menstrual cycles and when they are most fertile. The moon also influences sowing and harvest times. Fishermen plan fishing expeditions so that they can benefit from greater catches. The bigger the tide, the more active the fish. The strongest tides happen twice a month: during a new moon, when the sun and moon are both pulling in the same direction, and during the full moon, they’re pulling on either side of the planet. In many mystical traditions the moon and sun symbolize the masculine and feminine attributes, the yin and yang, the conscious and the unconscious. Everything is connected, all things work in perfect harmony together, exquisitely calibrated in a magical dance.
Dave Gilboa is the co-founder and CEO of Warby Parker — an online retailer of glasses and sunglasses, that aims to make the process of buying glasses more accessible. Dave recognizes the importance of getting the best out of the people he works with by involving them wherever possible, and seeking harmony and consensus. Even before starting Warby Parker, he was hosting 360-degree reviews with team members so that he could work out the most harmonious path for all in terms of the direction of the company. He introduced a survey for all team members to share values they believed in, later receiving more than 200 suggestions. He then opened up discussions to determine the business’ core values-by involving the whole team in the process. While seeking harmony internally, Dave and his team have also focused their efforts on their wider social impact. They launched a “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program encouraging their customers to help others in need.
6. Honors Wholeness
There is beauty in everyone and all aspects of life. How the various elements in Nature come together is in itself instructive. When scientists dissect a frog, the frog loses the quality that makes it a frog. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. It is essential to honour people for their authentic selves and the uniqueness they bring as their whole selves. Encouraging them to be themselves can be a major driver in their ability to foster their impacts on the world. Honouring differences and diversity makes others more inclined to innovate and lead change. Honoring wholeness is about valuing differences and encouraging true self-expression.
Ecological diversity allows both terrestrial and aquatic environments to work alongside each other. On a planetary scale, we can see the uniqueness of areas such as deserts, forests, grasslands, wetlands, glaciers, and oceans. At a smaller scale different species perform different complementary, mutually reinforcing functions. Each has a unique identity, form, expression and purpose and perfect integrity as an individual unit. Such is the richness and wealth of biodiversity on our planet. Although rich and unique by themselves, these different elements, interlocking systems and entities, interact together to make their own unique contribution to the wholeness -and health and wellbeing — of planet earth.
Gina Badenoch is the Founder of Capaxia — a consultancy building bridges and giving a voice to those who are not being seen for their potential. Gina’s work is about showcasing and supporting diverse talents. Her other passion is about teaching photography to blind people testament to the fact she refuses to let people be defined by perceived limitations. Gina recognizes the beauty of diversity and is committed to fostering intersectionality within companies. She has dedicated her life to honour others and their authentic selves.
7. Holds Space
Self-development requires space and trust. Leaders need to hold space for others to experiment and learn. Lifting boundaries truly transforms the way individuals interact and explore their role in the whole system. It is about being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for people and giving them full trust and attention to nourish their potentials. Holding space is also an invitation for others to let go and honour low states and moods. Flow states are about surrender and emergence.
Breaks in the forest canopy create gaps of light — large trees take up the space they need to thrive and flourish but also provide space for others. By doing so, they allow young plants to receive sunlight and grow. This is one of the ways they support diversity in the forest ecosystem. This illustrates the intergenerational transmission between older trees and younger ones as they gently inhabit and then eventually take over the space offered to them. Older trees exchange nutrients — and information — with younger trees in their network. Meanwhile, pioneer plants are hardy species colonizing barren environments as first responders often healing previously biodiverse steady-state ecosystems that have been damaged, for example by fire. Pioneer plants include lichens which grow on rocks without soil, and may be amongst the first life forms, breaking down the rocks into soil for plants. These plants often have deep roots to pull up minerals from the earth. They also decompose faster than other plants giving back their nutrients to the earth.
Whitney Wolfe Herd is the Founder of Bumble — a social and dating app where women make the first move. Whitney has been advocating to support the personal care of each employee. She initiated a collective two weeks’ paid vacation each year for all employees. She believes that this is the minimum that can be given for them to look after themselves. Bumble tells employees they can also take unlimited holiday as long as they complete their work before they leave. Bumble also gave its employees a surprise week’s vacation to ward off COVID burnout. Whitney is holding a very important space for her employees to thrive.
The future of our humanity is on hold. Our individual awakening is the way forward for a thriving society. We are the custodians of this new story. The time has come to reconnect with Mother Earth empowering one another unleashing the power of connection and thriving.
Learn more about Bio Leadership and systemic change with the Positive Handbook for Regenerative Business.
From social injustice, to climate change, this handbook sets out a practical vision for transformational change inspired by Nature.