Why do we need ‘Leading Change for Good?’
There are many big problems in the world today. We may not all agree on what those problems are, or the best solutions to those problems, however, I think we can all agree there are problems.
The awareness of these problems often motivates us to join or start mission-driven companies or non-profits, donate our hard-earned money to good causes, march at protests, get involved in some way and share articles on social media.
As the world around us continues to change, and industries, businesses and communities rapidly evolve, there is a need to continually reconceptualise what it means to be a leader, what the process of leadership entails, and how to lead with purpose.
But first let’s start with what does ‘for good’ really mean?
Most people would relate ‘change for good’ to being a ‘social good’ – often defined as an action that provides some sort of benefit to the general public. Typically, this has been in relation to issues such as fresh water, education, social services and healthcare. More recently social good is changing to be about local and global citizens uniting to unlock the potential of individuals, technology and collaboration to create positive societal and environmental impacts.
In fact, a decade ago ‘leading change for good’, ‘social good’ or ‘social enterprise’ was still very much on the fringe arguably known predominately by discerning optimists and academics. Today, a Google search of the terms will return over 6.5 million results.
As more organisations commit to prioritising purpose and doing good, whether they be charities, public institutions, social enterprises, commercial organisations or social entrepreneurial start-ups, there is a growing need to develop strategies and actions to lead sustainable change for good.
Today we are seeing change for good being about people engaging in actions that benefit society, often by harnessing the power of technology and social media.
It is about engagement, shareability and bringing people together to change the world for the better. No more is it only governments, multinationals and large NGOs doing social good, there are a wide range of sectors, individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs and causes initiating and driving change for good.
For leaders this will often mean being in the middle of two traditionally contrasting worlds; capitalism and socialism – with mind, energy, and resources being strained whilst constantly seeking a balance between long-lasting social impact and financial sustainability. Whether working within local communities or creating impact nationally or globally leading change for good can be complex.
There is the tension in leading change with putting people and purpose above financial gains and at the same time needing to be financially sustainable.
While a lot is known about what it takes to run a successful for-profit business, there’s less guidance for a social change.
Regardless, many organisations both large and small are seeking to improve the world through corporate social responsibility better known as ‘leading change for good’ by implementing practices such as volunteerism, ethical sourcing, hiring practices, and more. The common characteristics of these organisations are that they are driven by a commitment for positive change through actions and initiatives that benefit defined groups of people and where funding is often provided through multiple sources including entrepreneurship, donations, philanthropy, and grants. The notion of ‘doing good’ is becoming more than just rhetoric for many industries, organisations and communities, which can be seen in the rise of social enterprises or organisations driven by purpose and not profit.
For example, Eat My Lunch, a New-Zealand based social enterprise, provides a lunch delivery service and with every lunch purchased, a child in a low decile school also receives a healthy lunch. For-profit enterprises are also increasingly looking for ways to enhance their profile for employees and customers by engaging in socially beneficial activities such as conservation, community service and purpose-lead social business initiatives. At the Stuff NZ Wellington office a coffee cart is now being staffed by those experiencing impaired hearing after a senior executive noticed their employment challenges. This had a double ‘for good’ return. The first being employment for people facing employment barriers because of hearing impairment and second, staff now learning to order their coffee through sign language.
New leadership styles are moving away from hierarchical or autocratic approaches to include more distributed leadership models or the adoption of specific leadership styles such as servant leadership.
Underpinning many visions of doing good is the overwhelming realisation that, moving forward, sustainable practice will underpin all leadership models and business practices.
The complexity of change requires the development of an understanding of multiple, adaptive, integrated systems that operate at the edge of chaos. Those making change may face many challenges, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity and unsustainability. Therefore strong and adaptable approaches to business and leadership are required to generate authentic value in leading change for good.
As communities and organisations have evolved in response to, and driven by social, cultural, economic, political and technological processes and structures, discourses of leadership have broadened.
A key strength of leading change for good is the intentional embedding of kaupapa Māori values and philosophies. The idea of shared leadership has been central to the leadership structures of many indigenous communities, including Māori in New Zealand, as captured in the following whakatauki:
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini.
My strength is not the strength of one. It is the strength of many.
Dr Mandy Lacy is the programme lead for our Postgraduate Certificate in Leading Change for Good.