The following is an excerpt from The Business of Building a Better World: The Leadership Revolution That Is Changing Everything, published in 2021 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. The book is made up of contributions from twenty-nine leading scholars and executives, including Michele Hunt, Transformation Catalyst and advisor on leadership, organizational development, organizational transformation and strategic communications. In Chapter 14, Michele mentions Conversant and calls global leaders into our common belief in love as a leadership skill and organizing principle.
by Michele Hunt
I invite you to go on a visioning journey. Imagine it is the year 2030, and we live in a world where love, the most powerful, transcendent, energetic force in the universe, is the core value and organizing principle for business and civil society, and leaders value, embrace, and practice love as the essential competency for success:
Envision a world where conscious leaders from businesses, governments, institutions, and communities share a sense of responsibility for the state of the world and are committed to making it better. In collaboration and cooperation with a plethora of diverse stakeholders, leaders are mobilizing the collective genius of people, combined with the innovations and resources of business and governments to solve the seemingly intractable challenges of our time. These conscious leaders are changing the trajectory of humankind. The existential threats of climate crisis; global health; social, racial, and gender injustices; the growing wealth gap; and the pervasive political conflicts that once plagued our world are in a state of renewal.
ALL people, with their rich array of differences, are valued and contributing their unique gifts for the greater good while pursuing their hopes and dreams. Women are leading half of all businesses and organizations, enabling a beautiful dance between the feminine and masculine perspectives and energies, birthing cultures of “realized potential.” Young peoples’ ideas and experiences are valued, respected, and sought after. They are recognized as the “endpoint of evolution,” carrying civilization’s collective DNA and most evolved knowledge. Leaders no longer see their positions as an elite status or station in life but, rather, as servant leaders nurturing the health and well-being of people, communities, and the planet.
Conscious leaders are mobilizing people, across all sectors and boundaries, to collectively contribute their energy, creativity, and their gifts to transform our civilization. People, communities, businesses, and nations are cocreating a world where the planet is treasured; the peaceful use of business, science, technology, and governments is the norm; and ALL people and the planet have the opportunity to prosper and flourish.
If you think this is a dream of utopia born out of idealism or Pollyanna-ish sensitivities, think again. A vision of love may be the only way for us to change the trajectory of humankind. The tsunami of life-threatening crises engulfing our world has threatened everyone’s health and well-being and has shaken our sense of reality. COVID came along and placed an all-encompassing mirror in front of us illuminating the threats to our survival, and Mother Nature sent us to our room to get quiet and reflect on the world as we know it. People are now asking crucial questions: What is important in life? How do I want to live? What kind of world do we want to create for ourselves, our children, and future generations? As we come out of this experience of isolation and pervasive crisis, most of us cannot help but be deeply impacted emotionally, physically, and spiritually. A vision of love may be our only hope to heal and discover the path to a flourishing future.
People are also beginning to understand that the old story where the central plot is that money and power define success is fundamentally flawed. History has repeatedly proven that this story simply does not stand and is never sustainable. We inevitably devolve into two classes, the underserved and the overserved. The underserved exist to maintain the lifestyle of the overserved, and the laws, systems, and structures of this society are designed to maintain that status quo. The overserved claim dominion over people, flora and fauna, and ownership of the planet’s natural resources. A form of necropolitics emerges where the elite rich control the lives of the poor and disenfranchised, as well as their access to capital, quality education, wages, housing, and healthcare. This socioeconomic construct causes pain, suffering, fear, and hate, devastating the planet, destroying lives, and dampening the human spirit. In this narrative, those oppressed by the money-power society inevitably rebel, take over, and sadly repeat the same destructive cycle. We have been living and reliving George Orwell’s Animal Farm scenario since the beginning of civilization. The erroneous belief systems that posit there are only two extreme ways of living, working and being in life (as winners or losers, a belief in supremacy or inferiority, a mentality of abundance or scarcity), creates deep pain, suffering, and devastation. We need a change of heart, a change of mind, and a fundamental shift in consciousness.
I experienced a beautiful example of the power of love as a core leadership value and organizing principle while partnering with my dear friends at Conversant, a leadership and organizational development company that was founded in 1984 and that has served over 500 global clients in 90 different countries. They have a unique point of view: “We are a diverse, global community of dedicated professionals with a shared conviction: building human connection unleashes collective brilliance and powers sustained evolution” (Conversant Solutions, LLC 2021).
The company recently engaged in a whole-company renewal they call, “Our Collective Re-Enchantment.” Deeply moved by the death of George Floyd and pervasive racial, gender, and environmental injustices, they collectively took the time to reflect on what they believe in, what contribution(s) they want to make in the world, and what they need to equip them to realize their highest aspirations. I was drawn to Conversant because their people exhibited a level of authenticity and courage that I had never experienced in business. They started their re-enchantment journey with a public, bold statement called “It’s Time for Change” which was collectively created by the Conversant community in response to the killing of George Floyd. I feel compelled to share this with you in its entirety because this compelling statement is an act of love.
It’s Time for Change
At Conversant we are committed to an inclusive, just society without domination and abuse, a world where Black lives more than matter—where Black lives and contributions are recognized as additive to us all. That commitment requires that we face our own shortcomings and participate in building a future that heals and rights the moral wrong of systemic racism.
We are saddened and outraged by the horrific treatment of the Black community that continues every day. Being silently supportive of this movement out of fear of saying the wrong thing or saying it imperfectly is no longer acceptable. We see that we have played a part in allowing systemic racism to be perpetuated through our complacency and insufficient action. It is time for change in the world, for all of us to awaken and take conscious responsibility for our actions. And that requires change in us.
We believe the path forward starts with our own empathy and learning. Over the past few weeks, we have been spending time learning from others. We are continuing that work as we confront these questions: How do we use our privilege now? How will Conversant evolve?
Racial equity has not been paramount in our societal conversations, perpetuating this systemic injustice. We know conversations make a difference—we thank and admire organizers and leaders who have dedicated their lives to reshaping systems designed to oppress. We see the risks you take, and through your actions we are challenged to take risks ourselves.
Over the coming weeks, we will actively seek Black voices and leaders, using our platform to promote other resources that we find helpful. We promise to be transparent about our own learning and public about our commitments. Our first: the next era of our company will look like the world, not like our founders. (Email comm., Mickey Connolly)
Catalyzed by “It’s Time for Change,” Conversant went on a journey that engaged everyone in the company and their key stakeholders in creating their re-enchanted vision and core values. Indeed, Robin Anselmi, CEO of Conversant, defines love as: “truly seeing another” (Anselmi 2018). They were deeply influenced by Humberto Maturana, a Chilean biologist, philosopher, and coauthor of “The Biology of Business,” who says:
Most problems in companies are not solved through competition, not through fighting, not through authority. They are solved through the only emotion that expands intelligent behavior. They are solved through the only emotion that expands creativity.… This emotion is love. (Maturana and Bunnell 1999, 1)
I felt truly seen while partnering with this extraordinary community of people on their re-enchantment journey; indeed, I fell in love with Conversant.
Michele Hunt is a Transformation Catalyst and advisor on leadership, organizational development, organizational transformation and strategic communications. She began her career in the Michigan Department of Corrections, later becoming Michigan’s first female Deputy Warden, leading programs for rehabilitation in an adult male prison. She then spent 13 years with Hermann Miller, including her role as Director of Corporate Relations. She then served on President Bill Clinton’s Transition Team and was appointed to serve as the Director of the Federal Quality Institute, a part of Reinventing Government, a bipartisan initiative led by Vice President Al Gore.
In addition to her current advisory work through her company DreamMakers, Michele serves on the Boards of Directors of One Earth and the Detroit Windsor Dance Academy. She also serves on the advisory boards of Magnolia Moonshot 2030, the David Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry at the Stiller School of Business, as an Agent for World Benefit for Fowler Center for Business at Case Western Reserve University, and as a strategic mentor and advisor to the Junior Enterprise Global Council.
Twenty-nine leading scholars and executives provide a visionary look at the future of business, propelling past damaging industrial-age values to uncover the key ingredients of humanistic, ecologically sustainable, and intergenerational prosperity.
Through the exploration of robust cases and stories packed with deep insight and vital science, this extraordinary collection explores how we can adapt our notions of value, markets, and models of cooperation and collective action to create a world where economies and businesses excel, all people thrive, and nature flourishes.
In part I, “The Business of Business Is Betterment,” the contributors show how enterprises today are further developing—and even taking a quantum leap beyond—the multistakeholder logic of “shared value creation.” Part II, “Net Positive = Innovation’s New Frontier,” is focused on what companies can and are doing to move away from “doing no harm” to playing an active role in solving environmental, social, and economic problems. The final section, “Ultimate Advantage: A Leadership Revolution That Is Changing Everything,” looks at new leadership paradigms—characterized by unexpected qualities like virtue, love, compassion, and connection—that are crucial to creating engaged, empowered, innovative, and out-performing enterprises.
This book is designed to galvanize change and unite a global community of inquiry and action. It establishes the conceptual cornerstones for a new kind of business practice that will lead the way to an equitable, sustainable, and flourishing future.
You can purchase The Business of Building a Better World on Amazon or through most major booksellers. This excerpt has been shared with permission from Berrett-Koehler Publishers and Michele Hunt.