Servant Leadership 2.0 — It’s coming, whether you like it or not


A Quiet Moment — Mt. Rainier National Park, Adjacent to the Longmire Visitor Center

One of the challenging issues that many executives are just waking up to is the fact that, like it or not, they must consider social/ethical issues in their production or supply chain.  In their heart, they may want to service their inner Authoritarian — but the connectivity of the Internet, what I’ve called the evolving nervous system for the planet, isn’t going to let them decide that they get to lop off large parts of the world for their own use.

Once we understand how emergent social systems (as well as the people necessary to run them) evolve, we start accepting that V-Meme scaffolding will happen.  And it might behoove players to get involved with the game a priori instead of finding out, too late, and getting punished or crucified.

The Servant Leadership 2.0 Servant Leader has far more going for him or her in heading off conflict, and negative consequences at the pass.  Because they’ve moved beyond total egocentricity, they’re open to exploring others’ agendas, as well as functioning at a higher level of total responsibility, than someone who views their role as master and commander.

A great example of “it’s gonna be Global Holistic, like it or not” might be the rise of the group, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).  RAN is a different kind of environmental group.  Operating largely on international issues spatially far away from their home office in San Francisco, RAN has successfully run campaigns to save coastal rainforests in British Columbia, stop cattle ranching and exportation in Central and South America that were driving deforestation, and toxic waste dumping in Ecuador. It does this through a variety of tactics, including civil disobedience, media campaigns, but most importantly, corporate campaigns directed against large multi-nationals.  In the world of Spiral Dynamics, they are a coupled Global Holistic/Performance-based V-meme organization, focused on results, as opposed to process.  Though they may participate in larger conferences involving both governmental and non-governmental organizations, their focus is on bringing change on issues they are concerned with inside a created social environment of informed consumer outrage.

This is in direct contrast to more typical environmental organizations, that, in many ways, ‘play by the rules’ laid out by governments and their statutory legal environments.  The results have evolved the organization into one of the most effective actors in the social change portfolio.

Consider their actions against Chevron in their ‘We Can Change Chevron’ campaign in 2009.  Chevron had acquired Texaco, along with its liabilities in Ecuador, in 2001.  Chevron claimed that it had honored its commitments to past Texaco liabilities by funding 1/3 of their cleanup for dumping toxic waste in Ecuador, in its shared business with PetroEcuador.  Through a combination of legal action in Ecuador, as well as an extremely well-managed PR campaign, run jointly with the satirical group, the Yes Men, Rainforest Action Network crowdsourced multiple farcical advertisements from supporters, while essentially destroying an $80 million Greenwashing ad campaign run concurrently by Chevron.  Judges in Ecuador ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion to the plaintiffs.

Still other campaigns, like the latest Conflict Palm Oil campaign, instead of looking solely to punish companies using palm oil grown on deforested lands in Indonesia and Malaysia, recruit companies into signing pledges for sustainable sourcing.  Palm oil, a key ingredient in snack food and noodles around the world, has been a driver of deforestation and serves as an extinction threat for animals such as orangutans.  Through coupling a combination carrot and stick approach, along with connections across issues — the palm oil campaign highlights not just forest destruction and species extinction, but human slave trafficking, child labor laws, and native community destruction — RAN creates effective higher-level empathetic hooks in developed countries that then put pressure on Authoritarian v-Meme governments, like Indonesia, to evolve.

The point here is simple — the idea of a painless neocolonialist approach toward using areas off the communication channel, with the intent of reaping profits, doesn’t exist anymore.  The Internet, and the tools for creating all sorts of media content, are ubiquitous.  RAN, and other groups like RAN, are coming for the non-empathetic corporation.

At the same time, I should say that in RAN’s latest campaign to save orangutans, as well as the forests they live in in Indonesia, has no guarantee of success.  Wouldn’t it be better if we evolved our multi-nationals to a more enlightened level of leadership in the first place?  Especially when the larger external costs so often end up in corporate ledgers.  Doing the larger, right thing is also the best thing for the bottom line.

Takeaways:  The idea that ‘what you don’t care to know can’t hurt you’ is simply no longer true.  Servant Leadership 2.0 offers a channel to understand multiple stakeholder perspectives and develop pathways for consequential thinking before things go south.  

Further reading:  In case you want to understand just how bad the orangutan situation is in Borneo, you might read this article.  And then think before you buy — do you really want 2500 baby orangutans living in cages because a company that could use an easily substituted commodity needs to make a couple extra bucks?  A small note — this situation has not changed significantly since the publication date of 2009.

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