How can effective leadership help tackle the climate emergency?

  • Author Rachael Millson
  • Published
  • Duration 8 Minutes

As negotiations took place at the COP 26 conference, we find ourselves at an important crossroads: The greatest challenge humanity has ever faced in front of us, and the possibility of momentous change in our hands. 

This is a moment where we can envision and choose to co-create a future based on harmony with nature and each other. A future that is inclusive, green and interconnected. And yet, in order to realise this more beautiful world, a quantum leap in the speed and depth of change is now required.    

Achieving this depth of systemic change requires outstanding leadership at all levels. Working towards net zero and the true regeneration of natural systems, for the sake of life on earth, is undeniably the biggest challenge of leadership any of us have ever faced. 

As leaders, we urgently need to reframe our actions and responses within a new context: That of Interconnection and Regeneration. 

We cannot solve this crisis through controlling or exerting yet more ‘power over’ the natural systems we are part of and rely on for our own survival. We can solve this crisis, however, by collaboratively working together, reimagining our future, engaging in sustained regeneration practices, and practising compassion in action. It starts with the heart and needs every one of us. 

It ripples from first reflecting within on our own personal values and responsibilities, out to our relationships with others and our influence over our organisations and the ecosystem we’re part of. 

What can you do as a leader to help support the climate change agenda? 

Leading Yourself

India 3 min

  1. Reconnect with nature

Spend time outdoors, in as wild nature as you can. Spend time regaining your sense of self as extending beyond the boundaries of your own skin, but as an interconnected part of the natural world all around.

Do this on your own, encourage it with your teams, do all you can to remember the beauty of the world, for the truth is we are not separate. Our planet is alive and interconnected and we are part of that web. Only through this true recognition will we able to meet this crisis with humility and compassion.

  1. Embrace a regenerative mindset

Regeneration, restoring our natural world, is perhaps the biggest opportunity we have to really solve the climate crisis, and move towards true life-enhancing practices.

Paul Hawken has some great advice about placing life at the centre of decision making. Some questions he offers to help unpack what this could mean include: “Does it heal the future or steal the future?” and “Does it promote fundamental human rights or deny them?”.

A regeneration mindset requires a long-term view. There’s an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy called the Seventh Generation Principle that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

If we can move beyond seeing our natural world purely as resources, as inputs in an economy, and recognise the intrinsic value of this land and our interdependence, we allow different decisions to be taken.

  1. Make decisions based on love, rather than fear

It’s hard to avoid fear-based stories around the issue of climate change and, while these are not unfounded, fear rarely leads us to a point of clarity, effective decision making, or change.

The way to counter fear, and the core of how we can become truly visionary leaders for these times is love. Love for our planet and all its beauty; love for humanity and each other. Love fast tracks our ability to move beyond an old paradigm of “doing things less badly”, towards a place where each and every one of us,  individuals, organisations, whole cultures, can make decisions that will truly regenerate life on earth.

Leading Teams and Organisations

Group smiling zambia 2018

  1. Understand the impact of your actions

No matter what industry you are in, or as a social enterprise leader no matter what your cause, take an honest look at what you are doing as regards climate change and restoring natural systems.

Look at all aspects of the organisation you lead.  What things need to change? How can you shift what you are doing towards truly regenerative practices, and make sure you avoid simple ‘greenwashing’?

Now is the time to move beyond ‘tinkering around the edges’, and ensure your organisation is both nature-positive and carbon-neutral – giving back to nature and the climate more than you take.

There’s little point in making a positive impact in one area, while at the same time making a negative impact in another.

  1. Encourage innovation and leadership

A leader is someone who creates opportunities for others to offer the fullness of their gifts. Encourage and incentivise innovation towards regenerative practices within your organisation.

We don’t need to be sustainability experts to take action, but we do need support and encouragement.

  1. Leverage your economic power

Shifting how money is being used in our world can significantly shift national priorities.

Look at all of your supply chain, and ask yourself which of these suppliers/products are life-enhancing and regenerative and which things you need to change. The easiest way for suppliers to adopt more ecologically sound practices is if they know that their buyers want them to do this. It provides an instant incentive for action.

If you have investments, including for example investing in a pension fund for your employees, find out where that money is invested. It’s interesting to reflect on whether your investments, misalign or even cancel out the great work you are doing connected to your purpose.

Leading the Sector

Rachael M

  1. Know your agency. Speak up

As leaders, we have a responsibility to be vocal in challenging the status quo.

We need leaders from all walks of life to speak up about ecological destruction and climate change, rather than stay silent. If not now, then when?

Think about who listens, who watches what you are doing, as a leader. Use your sphere of influence to further encourage others to take action. Leadership is about speaking your truth, even if this truth appears counter to general opinion.


  1. Share and learn in return

The race to Net-Zero is not a competition. This is a journey where we are all learning. You don’t need to have all the answers yourself, and there are many opportunities to collaborate with others, to find solutions for the whole sector.

Now, more than ever, is the time to connect, share and learn with others. It’s a time for collective leadership. And what an exciting opportunity to be truly innovative.

  1. Cultivate courage

Maya Angelou, Civil Rights Activist, said that if you’re going to cultivate one virtue, you should cultivate courage, because it’s the one you need to cultivate all the other ones. That is very much in need right now. From each and every one of us.

As Einstein so famously said ‘ If we want to change the world we have to change our thinking…no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it’ We are not going to solve the problems created by the industrial growth culture using the rules, methods and mindsets of that same culture.

Reversing climate damage has to do with the creation of a new human story.  The role of today’s leaders revolves squarely around the courage to step into this – a story of reconnection and interbeing, a story of regeneration, a story that recognises we are nature and it is us.

If we want to meet our climate targets it won’t be because people want to ‘fight climate change’. It will happen because we give ourselves the opportunity to connect with our beautiful home planet, and we acknowledge that the true solutions to the climate crisis are also the solutions that create a profoundly different and better world for everyone.