Leading with integrity in a rapidly changing world


The world changed last week. Did you notice it? All around the world, our worried children gathered to raise their voices to demand a future with a future. 

So, how do leaders in business and organisations act now? What does working and leading with integrity look like now?

I want to suggest a few ideas that are rooted in a workshop that I delivered to the Governor’s Leadership Foundation participants last week and a week in retreat with Nora Bateson. Nora is the daughter of Gregory Bateson (anthropologist, systems thinker) and grand-daughter of Willian Bateson (coined the term genetics). Nora is in once sense the product of 125 years of familial inquiry into living systems and complexity before the term complexity was even a thing.

Amongst several profound insights from this week was this quote:

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.”

Gregory Bateson

For the last 300 years, we have been profoundly and increasingly unconsciously, influenced by the scientific methodology of physical sciences that Newton and his peers pioneered. We have gained a great deal from this way of perceiving the world – as a clock or machine. It has been the source of advances in agriculture that has fed an exploding global population. Science has enabled leaps in health care and longevity. Technology has connected us around the world with almost instantaneous communication. We have stepped on the moon and now carry aspirations of living on Mars. This worldview has served us well and will continue to help us well.

BUT/AND… the scientific paradigm has also spawned a range of unintended consequences that span social justice, ecological and even spiritual realms. It has been inappropriately applied to living systems: those systems, like humans, that recreate themselves from their parts.

So where do we find our guiding compass?

How do we find ways of thinking and meeting the complex challenges that are confronting us? Problems like climate change and sustainability that despite some technological progress, we are still facing possible human extinction.

Recently I have been guiding clients who are working in areas such as sustainability. Together, we have been learning how to see, think, and act based on how living systems work. The paradigm of living systems or complexity means that we might understand the nature and shape of the challenges better. And in so doing, that we might craft more influential ‘experiments’ to learn our way forward to make progress on these problems.

Let me return to my opening question again. 

Leading with integrity requires acknowledging our interdependence

For some time, the answer to this question has been an individual one in a society that has valued individualisation. Each of us looking inside for our unique true north – and integrity was following those core values.

I believe that last week marked a shift in the nature of that response to the question of integrity. It is still individual, AND it is now also collective. Integrity now will be hallmarked by the recognition that we humans are a part of nature. We evolved on Earth – from Earth. We are in the process of realigning our thinking with the dynamic of interdependency. 

Leading with integrity means leading with the knowledge wholeness and health of the whole because our self-interest is interdependent with the whole. Action needs to be in alignment, in integrity, with that relationship.