To Build a Better Future, We Need Five Times Bolder Leadership

08/27/2019
B Team Leader Retreat 2019, Working Session, Halla Tómasdóttir.

By Halla Tómasdóttir
CEO, The B Team

What happens when you gather some of the world‘s boldest leaders to envision their dream for the next generation? 

They unite around a vision of a better world for all—one grounded in trust and equality. That hope for the future was the heart of our Leader gathering this summer. What emerged from our time together was a commitment to each other, our communities and the generations to come to build a world we want to live in and would be proud to leave for our children. 

Our B Team Leaders collectively envisioned a fair, honest, positive and creative world where we treat others as we wish to be treated. One that is equal, inclusive and where we’ve provided leadership opportunities for everyone, closed gender and generational gaps and deconstructed systemic inequalities.

In this world, businesses have repaired the environmental and social damages incurred over the past decades and we enjoy renewed security on a planet that is inhabitable for all. We no longer accept the unacceptable. With renewed optimism, we imagine and scale standards for humanity as fast as we currently grow technology, knowledge and wealth. Business as usual has been replaced by economic systems that serve humanity and value empathy, courage and brave action.

The B Team believes that business must redefine success to match 21st century expectations. And that it is our responsibility to cultivate the courage to collectively hold ourselves as well as other leaders accountable for delivering this dream for generations to come. Since our start , we’ve been committed to leading by brave action in our own companies, aiming to inspire others to follow. Whether it was introducing natural capital accounting, committing to net-zero by 2050 climate targets, developing principles for responsible tax or building 100% human workplaces, we’ve used this model to set a new standard for corporate leadership.  

We’re committed to purpose-driven leadership and believe that these times call for every business leader to also embrace the principles of sustainability, equality and accountability. To us, it is not a choice but simply our duty. We must address the existential climate crisis, unsustainable levels of inequality and broken trust not only “at home” in our own companies, but also beyond—in our supply chains, our industries, our countries, regions and the world at large. The world needs nothing less from those of us who want to call ourselves leaders. 

But great leaders, willing to embrace courage and accountability, also need a system that allows them to do what’s right. Currently our economic system emphasises short-termism over long-term value creation, favors the shareholder over all other stakeholders and fails to measure the real and undeniable costs business inflicts on nature and society. This summer, The B Team Leaders committed to becoming five times bolder when it comes to shifting their own practices, societal norms and governmental policies in order to create an inclusive economy by 2030. We can‘t deliver that dream without changing the system we operate within and without bold action and collaboration from others. 

Last week the Business Roundtable announced a new definition of the ‘Purpose of a Corporation,’ calling for an end to shareholder primacy and a fundamental commitment from business to value all stakeholders⁠, including employees and communities. This is an important market signal of the shifting culture and norms of business and finance toward fulfilling the higher purpose of our economic systems to create a more shared and durable prosperity—for all and for the long term. 

The B Team, and our partners, welcome the Business Roundtable’s declaration and look forward to working on important systemic changes to pave the way toward a sustainable future, one that answers to the needs and wants of humanity. For us, these changes are the imperative of 21st century leadership. Once we hold ourselves accountable for long-term value creation, start measuring what truly matters and govern on behalf of all stakeholders, we will repair trust that has broken down over the past decades of doing business as usual.

We encourage the Business Roundtable to also embrace the urgency of corporate action on our climate crisis. We are past the point for companies to merely acknowledge their responsibility in restoring our planet and need radical ambition and multi-stakeholder collaboration to lead the transformation this emergency calls for. The B Team believes it is time to correctly price externalities in business, from carbon to landfills to land degradation. We have to deliver on the rallying cry of “1.5 to stay alive.” There is no business for any of us beyond our planetary boundaries and the future of industry must be regenerative for our very existence. 

The need for inclusive economies also calls for us to manage a just transition into a green and clean future, one where all life thrives and no one is left behind. Failure to embrace both the rights and needs of humanity will leave us with social unrest that ultimately can harm our businesses and our economy beyond repair. It is quite clear that with all of these challenges, there will be no thriving planet or hopeful future if we don’t recognize that none of us truly succeeds unless all of us can succeed. 

This moment calls for business to build a new social contract with humanity. This is not only possible, but essential—and it rests upon us agreeing to fix what is broken. The B Team is ready to hold its feet to the fire, but we know that it will take leadership from everywhere to deliver our dream for the next generation. We have no time to waste and we call upon other business leaders, government and civil society to come along to deliver a dream that will serve all of us well. The question is upon us: How bold can we be today to create a tomorrow that makes us proud?  

Photo by Eric Rojas 

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