2030 is on the line.  Breakthrough catalysts Volans,  commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission to explore business models, challenges us to step up and take that call.

As per the introduction on the Commission’s website,  “global business leaders need to see the Sustainable Development Goals for what they are: the opportunity to adopt new business models for exponential and inclusive growth”. John Elkington, co-author of the paper [Breakthrough Business Models], argues that business leaders first need to develop an “exponential mindset” that shuns slow progress and contributes to accelerating systemic change.

You cannot help but be stirred by this work of love.  It is rich in resource and stimulus. And combines depth and breadth with succinctness.  Providing clear arguments for the way forward, it includes tangible examples. And includes sources of inspiration of organisations already breaking through the mould.

Missing leadership

However, despite the reference to leadership, there are only a few recommendations for top teams.

To use an expression of Lane4 Management Consultancy, ‘leaders create the environment in which people perform’. Going deeper into what leaders did in the organisations showcased will be a valuable further addition to this work.  As will getting more nuanced about leadership and people development. Perhaps this will happen on the complementary website Project Breakthrough. Which showcases where and how transformational change is happening right now.

For if the Sustainability Industry (as the term used) is to “reboot”, it must invest in and develop its people. In order to unleash potential and drive breakthrough change.

As a start, from my leadership perspective, such development would benefit from considering these interrelated factors.

A redefinition of leadership

We need to liberate ourselves from the still pervasive ‘great man theory’ that leadership is solely the domain of ‘global leaders’. Or the ‘top team’. Or someone else. As Impact International advocate, leadership is not about a special person. But a special action.


Despite demonstrable benefits, coaching is still widely misunderstood, under-utilised or non-existent, in organisations.  The dominant leadership style, born of our education, organisational and societal tendencies, and our tender egos is still one which is inclined to tell. To advocate, direct and close down. Rather than to ask, inquire, explore and open up. In my experience, coaching is key to transformation.  As a mindset and activity,  it raises consciousness. It helps people reclaim their own authority. And encourages them to dig deeper into their own wisdom. Thereby releasing their gifts in a way teaching, never can.  To quote Peter Drucker, ‘the leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask’.   We need to start asking now.

Experiential learning – with rigour

As the paper points out, top teams need to go on experiential learning journeys. We learn by experience. And we need to be rigorous in our reflecting.  As well as how we make sense of those experiences and what we can apply. The more diversity we are exposed to, the better.  Organisations like Common Purpose who I worked for, bring leaders from different backgrounds, beliefs, generations, geographies, specialisations and sectors, to help them lead across boundaries.  Opening our hearts and minds through exposure to diversity in all its forms, is at the heart of innovation. And collaboration and sustainability.

Being with nature

And that experiential learning has to include our experience in nature.   I like this story…

Activist and author Naomi Klein tells about the time she travelled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her “secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink.” 

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business?

“Before you can fight,” she was told, “you have to know what you are fighting for.”

Nature is worth saving for its own sake.  If we as humans want to co-exist, we need to realise our connectivity with it.

Which leads me to..

Thinking and.. going beyond thinking

The central argument of the Volans paper is about thinking differently.  We need to think sustainably, exponentially, socially, lean, integrated and circular.

And paradoxically part of doing that, will be to train ourselves to also go beyond thinking.

Here we can draw on Brendel and Bennett’s (2016) research on embodied leadership through mindfulness and somatics. We are fundamentally integrated whole beings. To rely purely on cognitive-behavioural processes to develop leadership or create breakthrough will be insufficient.  For optimal performance and sustainable change, we need to look holistically at our development. One which nurtures the mind-body connection. In order to tap into a greater intelligence. And to tap into our human nature with the wider natural world.  We must, as Osho wrote “get out of our heads into our hearts”.  Or in the words of my own haiku

Be yourself fully

In the thousand and thousand

Variants you are

Perhaps if we did that,  breakthrough would come earlier.



  • Brendel, W and Bennett, C (2016) “Learning to Embody Leadership Through Mindfulness and Somatics Practice”, Advances in Human Resources 1-17
  • Naomi Klein story ( as told in R. Brezny (2009) Pronoia is the Antitode of Paranoia, North Atlantic Books, page 76
  • Osho ( 2001), Intuition: Knowing Beyond Logic, Osho International Federation, NY  (quote from page 172)
  • Roberts, K (2016)  64 Shots: Leadership in a crazy world, PowerHouse Books, NY
  • photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
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