To thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become 'net positive'
Over the years Paul has been a huge inspiration, championing disability and inclusion initiatives, working with Richard to end the death penalty, and inspiring millions of business leaders to follow the leadership he demonstrated at Unilever when he successfully put people and planet at the centre of the entire organisation.
Paul’s new book, Net Positive, written alongside Andrew Winston, explains how everyone can build and work with businesses which profit by fixing the world’s problems, not creating them. Below we share an excerpt from Net Positive outlining how the best leaders lead.
Countless books, classes, and business school cases have explored leadership. We’ve long tried to distil what makes someone worthy of being followed. And that applies to all people, not just CEOs. Many people sit atop some kind of pyramid in an organization, managing or influencing others to work toward a goal. People can lead and inspire from many places.
No matter the level, there are evergreen leadership skills that were important fifty years ago, and will be fifty years from now. Effective leaders share traits, such as discipline, toughness and holding people to high standards, strategic thinking, intelligence, curiosity, and a desire to understand key drivers of a business like technology. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world, other traits, in particular adaptability and resilience, become critical as well.
But leading a net positive business takes more than the basics. The best leaders, the ones people will want to follow into this new territory, are first and foremost good human beings. They are at ease with themselves, have integrity, and what they say and what they do are in sync. Net positive leadership is also about putting others’ interests ahead of your own. It helps to know your own strengths and passions as well. The sweet spot is leading in the overlap of what you’re good at, what you like, and what the world needs. Getting there might require developing new skills and leaving your comfort zone.
We see five critical traits that help create a net positive leader: a sense of purpose, duty, and service; empathy: a high level of compassion, humility, and humanity; more courage; the ability to inspire and show moral leadership; seeking transformative partnerships .
We believe that a business is and should be human, with real people serving the needs of other real people.
The world needs leaders who are the opposite of the old “company man” who coldly maximizes profits, and who instead embrace being more vulnerable, open, caring, empathetic, and human. Organizations should strive for those traits as well. The obsession with shareholder value has turned businesses into soulless money machines. It’s all numbers, statistics, and profits. Companies have become robotic, valuing only contractual relationships instead of open, trusting partnerships (neither of us are big fans of contracts – we’re writing this book together on a handshake).
We believe that a business is and should be human, with real people serving the needs of other real people. If we start with people as the core of business – not with the pursuit of short-term profits – then the first step in building a more human business is to look inward to find the strength to change how business works.
A company can only head toward net positive if it has leaders courageous enough to challenge business as usual – leaders who understand that profit should come not from creating the world’s problems, but from solving them. How can we keep earning when the world is burning? The solutions to many of our challenges are available, and there’s plenty of capital to invest. What’s stopping us? Part of the answer is that resistance is high, from both inertia and vested interests.
So, finally, leaders need determination to fight through the roadblocks. Willpower comes from cultivating net positive leadership principles, such as purpose, humility, and courage. Underlying those traits, basic human values can be our guide and foundation of a new kind of leadership: justice, compassion, dignity, and respect – it’s the Golden Rule again. When you know what the right thing to do is, you’ll find the courage to take a stand.
To thrive today and tomorrow, companies must become "net positive" - giving more to the world than they take. Read Net Positive and join the movement today.