An Inquiry into Regenerative Leadership


An Inquiry into Regenerative Leadership

By: Dr. Nancy Zentis

To position yourself for this article, please watch this video first.

There exists a deep unease in our current social consciousness that paints a dismal picture of global inequality and unsustainable systems and structures. Our assumption is that leadership should be mobilizing efforts towards a better future, however, the effort by any standard, has largely failed. This session provided an exploratory conversation on the future of leadership toward creating a more regenerative world. Together, we will challenge the established norms of leadership and take a stance on what should characterize the evolving field of leadership and organizational change – People, Profit, Planet.  In the current reality, good enough to cause no harm is no longer enough.


 Where are we going as a species? What is happening to Mother Earth? Can we continue to pursue GDP as our collective purpose? Are our workplaces becoming more fragile and stressed than productive, creative, or happy?

The world is changing rapidly in many ways. In the post pandemic world, everyone, at some level, has perceived the need to shift the dominant narrative around human beings as consumers and producers to one that is more holistic and considers the myriad facets of human life that make it worth living. We cannot go back to normal because we clearly see now, that it was not normal to begin with.

Regenerative paradigms take prominence, in this context of wakefulness, as one that can anchor the action towards a transformation in our ways of being and doing. And, Regenerative Leadership aims to help people lead, enable and nurture spaces for individual and collective action for such an alternative future. Regenerative Leadership is not about position and power. Learners will reflect on the actions that can enable this shift as they journey from being to becoming. With concepts, frameworks, tools that emerge in the huddles, learners will reflect, meditate on learnings and choose the spaces, dimensions in which they can act on the shifts that are essential to them and the world at large.


Moving beyond Social Development Goals (SDGs) – The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly (UN-GA) and are intended to be achieved by 2030.

All the data from climate science is telling us that we have crossed many planetary thresholds and that humanity and all other living systems are in grave danger. Sustainability is inadequate now because we need to restore and heal before we can sustain. We need to transform urgently from degenerative and destructive to regenerative and restoring. This is a creative space that challenges us to stretch beyond the SDGs.

  • Analyze the underlying paradigm of separation and the designs that created existential risks and crises.
  • Go beyond Sustainability, learn about Regenerative Paradigm and move towards a Regenerative Worldview.
  • Create a Regenerative way of being and doing and be more discerning about choices.
  • Articulate Regenerative paradigm that will drive systemic change.
  • Co-create the tools and framework necessary for the shifts that are needed.
  • Design blue prints to inspire, influence and advocate transformation in circles of impact.

Regenerative development is an area that we must move to create eco-centric leadership.  Perhaps a better relationship is SEVA (an act of compassion and care for others above oneself) , creating better relationships among all ecosystems.

We were asked to reflect and dialogue on this question: “What do I feel when I see the impact of human imposition on the ecology and social structures?” Some of the responses included disgust, fear, mistrust, isolation, disbelief, depression, and sadness.

How can OD practitioners influence leaders and organizations to move to eco-centric leadership?
  1. Create new leadership competencies on how to lead change with influence and collaboration rather than command and control. Help leaders create a more sustainable future organization and abandon more traditional hierarchical structures. Developing a leadership mindset helps nurture important feedback loops, and lessens resistance to change over time.
  2. Encourage Interdependence as part of their worldview, shape how they work with others (partnerships, collaborations, and alliances) and how to design and implement large-scale change.Partner with them to understand that change flows along lines of building relationships and trust and inviting opposition and resistance into the conversation to transform resisters into allies. Help them recognize that in a system of connected networks that are interdependent, when one thing changes, it will ripple throughout the network and create impact in other areas.
  3. Encourage them to embrace a living system model, to make decisions based on and powered by a higher shared purpose. Get the leadership team involved to answer the question: “What is the deep need in the world (community, region, etc.) that I and my organization are uniquely designed to meet?”  This purpose links their work with the larger environment and keeps their egos and self-interest out of their work.
  4. Introduce them to a whole system change model to help them see the present and imagine a better future. Hope is an essential emotion that caused them to show up and start influencing the world around them. This means taking a clearer view of reality first, identifying what we hope and desire, and then showing up every day and acting in alignment with the better future they imagine, whether or not they believe their actions will be successful.
  5. Adapt a Seventh Generation Mindset.  The Iroquois Confederacy constitution introduced this concept for their leaders. The leader’s job is to make decisions in the present that includes the unborn voices of children seven generations in the future.  Basically, it means to take the long view and that what we do now will greatly impact people “seven generations” into the future. It’s a necessary part of a regenerative leadership style that helps us get out of this quarter-to-quarter, or annual goal setting that we’ve become entrenched in, particularly here in the U.S. Indigenous wisdom is providing inspiration for leaders, and many of the OD Practitioners can introduce activities for dialogue by drawing from lessons learned from indigenous groups.  Of course, this makes sense, as this knowledge is rooted in thousands of years of living and adapting in a sustainable, regenerative way.
  6. Finally, OD Practitioners draw from the Whole Systems Change Model to gain perspective from the whole system, or in other words, a holistic worldview.
Here are some examples of organizations practicing regenerative leadership:

Earlier this year, GM appointed its first chief sustainability officer Dane Parker to drive the carmaker and the nation towards an all-electric, zero-emissions future (GM plans to produce 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023).

By adopting the circular economy principles aimed at zero-waste, SC Johnson has already made 94% of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable.

Levi Strauss is shaking up the apparel sector, a top contributor to global warming, by committing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions within its own facilities by 90% by 2025.

Food giant, Danone, is leading triple regeneration with its “One Planet. One Health” initiative. Danone North America is enabling its US farming suppliers to adopt regenerative agriculture, a science-based approach that uses science-based techniques and natural methods like crop rotation to enrich the soil, preserve biodiversity, and enhance animal welfare. By adopting these practices, financially-challenged US farmers can “do better with less” and boost yields, their revenues, and the long-term value of their land while minimizing emissions and the use of toxic fertilizers and preserving precious irrigation water.

A sustainable organization seeks to reduce its ecological footprint, a regenerative organization seeks to increase its socio-ecological handprint by restoring the health of individuals, communities and the planet (see graphic below). In doing so, regenerative businesses can achieve greater financial performance and impact than their sustainability-focused peers.

Regenerative Leadership is integral for those interested in exploring and undertaking transformational change within our systems, organizations, their communities and their lives.  As OD Practitioners, we have an opportunity to make an impact and create a culture of collaboration, co-creativity, and contribution to co-create a regenerative future.

If you’d like to learn more about Regenerative Leadership, don’t miss our next GIODN Networking Event, Regenerative Leadership: The Unique Calling of our Times with Arielle Sullivan, Apr 26, 2022 01:00 PM EDT

About the Author:

Dr. Nancy Zentis is the CEO of Institute of Organization Development.  She is recognized as a leader in the field of OD with over 40 years experience.  She is the founder of the Institute of Organization Development, an award winning, globally recognized organization providing OD Certification Programs to support the professional growth of those who have passion for the field of OD.

She is the founder of, a global OD network, providing members with monthly presentations from experts in the field, and a monthly book club, where authors present their latest book.  GIODN offer members a variety of downloadable OD tools, a membership directory, blog articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos of past presentations.

She can be reached at


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