Six CEOs on how to become a net positive leader

3 minute read
Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman argues that to thrive today and tomorrow companies must become net positive – giving more to the world than they take. Courageous leaders are making this real. The People Space asked six such leaders what the most important trait of a net positive leader is and how leaders can develop it. Here is what they said
Sian Harrington
Tips on becoming a net positive leader
Pictured left to right: Ted Dhillon, Gareth Dinnage, Meera Watts, Mark Jankovich, Matthew Tomas and Phil Masiello

Skills and traits of a net positive leader:

1. Adaptability

Being adaptable is required when you aim to be a net positive leader. With new challenges arising every day and changing regulations, leaders must be able to quickly adapt to address issues and opportunities while also balancing operational goals and sustainability efforts. Net positive leaders who want to become more adaptable need to also ensure that their decisions and initiatives are effective. So many companies are claiming to be sustainable these days but are they making a positive impact? Tracking and measuring your organisation's initiatives is going to help you see where you’re making progress and where there’s room for improvement. This level of transparency and accountability sets apart true sustainability leaders from those who are merely greenwashing.

Ted Dhillon is founder and CEO of ESG data and stakeholder engagement platform FigBytes

2. Challenge your right to exist

Ambition to show that a different way is possible – one that benefits everyone, from customers and suppliers, to employees and our communities. Understand that the linear business model is dead and appreciate the opportunity to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. In order to think like this, you need to challenge your right to exist – what is your company’s contribution to society? Making more money and ‘stuff’ year-on-year is exactly how we arrived at this point… and that’s not good enough. We need ambitious leaders to create regenerative businesses that give more than they take.  

 Gareth Dinnage is MD of planet positive printing company Seacourt

3. Balance in life

The art of balancing is an extremely important trait any net leader should possess. Balance in life is everything. No matter if it's work, personal life or anything, if a person doesn't know how to keep everything in check without stressing over it, again and again, it can be a huge problem for their time management and decision-making process. Well, no one is born with this trait and I'll say baby steps are your way to go. No one can ace it in a day. Hence, making routines, indulging proper steps, setting up the priorities are crucial. Taking out time for everything is important for developing the art of balancing. 

Meera Watts is founder of online yoga company Siddhi Yoga

4. Collaboration

Collaboration is key. But leadership is about being honest about ‘knowing what you don’t know’ and creating a culture where your teams trust each other enough to express their opinions. Solving problems is always better as a combined effort. Create an environment of transparency and trust This helps fuel innovation, creativity and nimbleness amongst the business. Be very clear from the get-go that it doesn’t matter who you are in the company, all ideas are welcome and always give recognition where it’s due.

Mark Jankovich is CEO of eco professional cleaning products company Delphis Eco

5. Become a thought leader to maximise impact

Firstly, a net positive leader needs to consider success at an impact level, ie by asking 'how can I make the greatest positive impact here?’ They must then embed these values into society to promote a cultural shift. Think about your area of influence, become a thought leader and maximise impact by sharing your experiences and ideas. Be transparent, share your journey and collaborate. Remember that being net positive isn’t a USP, it’s what we all need to be doing. Finally, be vocal about negative leadership; it’s uncomfortable but important to be brave. We need to change the system.

Matthew Thomas is co-founder of outdoor sportswear company Dryad

6. Accountability

The most important trait of a net positive leader is accountability. To be net positive, we must take responsibility for our impact on individuals and the planet. Inclusivity, social responsibility and a desire to improve lives are at the heart of our operation. Our motto is “It Feels Good to Feel Good” and that is the backbone of our work culture, our products and our intentions for inviting more creativity, positivity and joy to the world at large. Leaders seeking to develop accountability need to take stock of how their decisions affect those who work directly with them, the environment and the consumer. To be a positive leader make sure that you are mindfully creating a positive work environment and an uplifting brand intention. 

Phil Masiello is CEO at plant-based superfood company
Uplift Florae

Published 30 March 2022
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