Posted in: thought leadership

17th December 2020

Lessons Learned In Pursuit of Ten Times Bolder Leadership

By Halla Tómasdóttir

It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been a year like no other—and one that’s tested us all in a number of ways. This year not only brought and accelerated great challenges, it also taught us a great deal about what a new way of leading needs to look like. In 2019, B Team Leaders committed to being five times bolder in confronting the crisis of conformity. Coming out of 2020, we know we must double down on this commitment.

It’s time to be ten times bolder in how we lead. That is the only way we will emerge from this decisive decade with a world that works for everyone.

While many of us may be eager to say goodbye to 2020, these are the lessons I encourage us all to carry into 2021 and beyond. They leave me filled with hope as we look toward a new year, but with both feet on the ground as to the work that lies ahead to realize our vision of shared prosperity on a healthy planet.

1. A convergence of crises is catalyzing change.

From the climate crisis to the crisis of inequality to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has shown us just how intertwined the health of all people, our planet and our economies is. Faced with unprecedented public health and economic crises, the world has responded with innovation and fast action at scale. Countries are issuing stimulus packages in-line with what’s needed to transition to a more sustainable and inclusive economy. We know this is what business and government leaders want, what’s best for economic and job growth and, of course, what’s best for all people to thrive on a healthy planet. We’re also now seeing the world’s largest and fastest vaccine distribution initiative underway and we must make sure it is an equitable process. We’ve discovered that we can innovate faster than we ever imagined when we have to.

2. But, we must become ten times bolder.

The convergence of crises has further highlighted the detriments of conformity in leadership. Around the world, we’ve seen nationalism and isolationist policies predominate many countries' responses to the pandemic. And we’ve seen countries where women are at the helm fare better throughout the pandemic. To change how we lead, we must change who is in leadership. We know that gender balance and diversity are key levers for change. Gender balance on boards has been shown to foster climate innovation as well as improve corporate governance. In California, a new state law will require representation of people of color on corporate boards and the Nasdaq is making a similar ask of its listed companies. While much more is needed to ensure transformative change, these are important shifts. Beyond boards, companies that have set gender balance goals, like Unilever, are reaching them and reaping real benefits. Just this week, IKEA shared its plan to strive for racial and ethnic equality at all levels of leadership in 30 countries by 2024. We need more leaders in both the public and private sector to learn from these examples.

3. We need to get better at listening to, and working for, humanity and our only home.

The climate crisis has reached the shores of every country. This year saw more devastating fires in the Amazon Rainforest, a record-setting fire season on the US’ West Coast and massive flooding in countries across Africa and Asia. There is no future for any of us beyond what our only home, our planet, can sustain. This month marked five years since the Paris Agreement was reached. The promise of Paris is one of a thriving world for future generations. To realize this promise, we all must step up and do better at listening to and working in service of both our people and our planet. Corporate leaders like Natura are putting plans in place to secure this vision with a bold and holistic commitment to all life and humankind.

Changing Who to Change How

Corporate boards with at least 30% women directors see emissions rise more slowly—and take more ambitious action on clean technology and climate disclosures.

4. Future-fit leaders are already uplifting new business models and measures.

Many leaders are going beyond just calling for this new economic model to putting it into practice. In June, Danone’s shareholders approved a move to embed ESG objectives into its bylaws. This initiative ensures that Danone is accountable to all of its stakeholders—a decision accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. “We shouldn’t look at it as an accident, but as a very clear warning. There is a need for change,” CEO and B Team Leader, Emmanuel Faber, said. This year has also seen an uptick in companies that are interested in pursuing B Corp certification—a sure sign that this movement is only growing in speed and scale. Investors are also rewarding companies that prioritize ESG objectives at a level never before seen, with the majority seeing these businesses as better opportunities for long-term returns. This is a significant step toward a new measurement of success—one that goes beyond financial measures. As B Team Leader and former CIO of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, Hiro Mizuno, said, “Market performance is disconnected from what is happening on the ground. We are borrowing from future generations and using that money to ease our pain today.”

5. The Friedman era of shareholder supremacy is ending.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of American economist, Milton Friedman’s essay on shareholder primacy. At the time of its publication in 1970, Friedman declared that the only social responsibility of the corporation was to increase profits for shareholders. That thinking has led to decades of unchecked economic growth fueling our climate and inequality crises and massive loss of trust. In September, I was proud to stand with business leaders, consumers, activists and artists to call for an economic RESET. Together, we’re rallying behind a new economic model: one that designs for interdependence, invests for justice and accounts for all stakeholders.

6. A RESET calls for a dialogue between all stakeholders.

We can’t RESET how we lead and run our economy without leaders creating space for open and inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders. We will not see an economy that works for everyone without everyone having a say in how we get there. Employees, unions, suppliers, customers, activists, investors, board directors, community representatives and more must come together in honest and humane conversations that allow us to co-create a future of shared prosperity on a healthy planet.

7. We need to unleash leadership in everyone, everywhere.

In addition to working together, we also must recognize that we can no longer only look to traditional, established models of leadership to guide the way. This year, we’ve seen leaders rise from all factions of society. Communities have come together to support neighbors in trying times, the next generation is continuing to take bold stands for our planet and the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight for racial equity have only further fueled employee activism. Looking ahead, we must continue to encourage and foster this sense of leadership in each and every one of us.

We shouldn’t look at it as an accident, but as a very clear warning. There is a need for change."

Emmanuel Faber, Chairman and CEO, Danone

While this year has seen many challenges, it’s also made one thing abundantly clear. The models and methods that have brought us a world of fractured trust, broken social contracts and rising temperatures are not the models and methods that are going to deliver an inclusive and sustainable world. As leaders we can, and we must, take a new approach—one that involves deep dialogue and supports radical collaboration and brave action from all stakeholders.

This year has certainly exposed the cracks in the foundations our economies and societies are built upon. But our collective vulnerability and humanity has also emerged with a new and improved vision for what leadership in the 21st century must look like. As we end this year and turn toward 2021, I encourage all of us to do our utmost to look for the lessons learned. We have it within us to be the leaders the world now needs and we can and must do the work to make this coming decade about creating the world we want.

There’s no doubt that we have our work cut out for us in 2021. At The B Team, we’re ready to do our part to spark the leadership the world now needs—but we can’t do it alone. We’re incredibly grateful for your continued support and dedication to our quest to build an inclusive economy. We don't, and shouldn’t, have all the answers on this journey. We need each other and we only look forward to growing our partnerships, and fostering new ones, in the years to come.

Thank you again for your commitment to helping us deliver a thriving future for all. I wish you and your loved ones a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.