If you’re anything like me, 2023 will have given you a new (or renewed) sense of urgency. It’s been a year marked by the ongoing effects of the climate crisis, world conflicts, labour actions and growing concerns about the impact of AI. And I’ve seen the psychological impacts on my clients – anxiety, compassion fatigue, burnout.
But I’m an optimist at heart. Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting you pack in your job and become a full-time activist. Quite the opposite! My advice to leaders in 2024 is simply this: do the work that is in front of you. Tend your own garden.
What do I mean by that? It’s simple. Issues like climate change involve all of us, as individuals and as groups. And leaders are in the best positions to change their organisations, and their industries, for the better.
This work is also essential to becoming a better leader. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend developing your EQ, unlearning your unconscious biases, becoming a more active listener, even attaining that productivity holy grail of inbox zero, if you never turn your gaze on the systems you’re embedded in and ask: is this the best we can do?
Just take a look at the labour actions this year. Did they happen because there are no great managers in the UK’s health, transport or education systems? No inspiring, motivational leaders? Of course not – and no matter how hard any one of those individuals worked to be good at their job, they wouldn’t have been able to avert the strikes. Because the problems were about systems.
Or look at the actors’ and writers’ strikes, and how AI played into them. The solution had to be industry-wide, systems-level commitments to protect jobs. It wasn’t enough for a few people in leadership roles to be really switched-on and empathetic about the looming threat. People had to work together to do something about it.
The climate crisis is another great example. As a leader, what are you doing to make your industry as sustainable as possible? Are you just applying your organisation’s eco policies? Reminding your team to add that “please don’t print this unless you need to” sign-off to their emails? If so, I’m really glad you are – but I’d like you to consider if there’s more you can do to improve things on a systemic level.
I’ve been in the environmental sustainability space for a long time, and this really does feel like a moment of change. I’m starting to see more people become aware that individual actions aren’t enough to tip the scales. Instead, we need a coordinated effort to prevent catastrophic impacts on business, not to mention all other areas of life.
Don’t just take my word for it: the World Economic Forum identifies the climate crisis as a key threat in its Global Risks Report 2023. More specifically, the WEF notes that “the latest instalment of the US National Climate Assessment has concluded that extreme weather events currently cost the country $1 billion every three weeks (compared to every four months in the 1980s) and averaged $150 billion in damages each year between 2018–2022.”
I know this can all sound intimidating. But the great news is, you don’t have to do it alone. And in fact, most of your employees don’t want you to! Deloitte’s Global 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey notes that people in those demographics “want to be empowered to drive change within their organizations”.
In other words, you don’t need to overhaul everything by yourself. Ask for input from all levels and areas. Actually listen. Help people feel empowered at work, show them that their voices matter and that they can help effect positive change. Not only will it help you in creating systemic change, but it’ll boost engagement and satisfaction too.
You won’t get it right the first time. And that’s okay. It’s how you react to that kind of setback that really matters. That’s why, in my blog posts this year, I’ll be focusing on failure. We have to change things, and we’re going to trip up along the way. That’s why I think it’s so important that we all learn to fail well, to become more adaptable and resilient. Luckily, I’m in great company – Amy Edmondson’s new book, Right Kind of Wrong, just won the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award.
So, are you ready for the challenge? Let’s all boldly step into this new year, committed to improving not only ourselves, but our organisations too.