Regenerative Leadership: What it is (and Why it is Important for DeepTech and BioTech Startups)
By Samuel Wines
Regenerative leadership is a concept championed by thinkers such as Carol Sanford, Giles Hutchins, Laura Storm and Daniel Wahl that emphasises a holistic and transformative approach to leadership, where individuals and organisations aim to create positive and sustainable impacts on the environment, society, and the economy. It goes beyond traditional notions of leadership that focus solely on profit or individual success, instead prioritising regeneration, resilience, and long-term well-being. Think of it as applied Living Systems Thinking and Ecoliteracy in Business.
Regenerative leaders understand and embrace the interconnectedness of complex systems and work towards creating regenerative and thriving environments. They foster collaboration, innovation, and adaptability while considering the well-being of all stakeholders and the broader ecosystem1. Here are some critical aspects of regenerative leadership:
Regenerative leaders employ systems thinking, recognising that organisations operate within larger social, economic, and ecological systems. They understand the interdependencies and dynamics of these systems and consider the long-term consequences of their decisions and actions. For example, we love that places like CSIRO, Cicada Innovations, Jumar Bio, YILD, Planet Innovation and CoHort Innovation Space are operating and supporting translational research and innovation in Australia. From our perspective, the more, the merrier! Why? Because the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it becomes, allowing for a diverse range of pathways for innovators to bring their ideas to reality. Also, acknowledging our interconnectedness, we always want to do our best to work with, not against, the ecosystem to ensure we have a thriving bio-innovation ecosystem. Everyone is a potential collaborator!
A higher purpose beyond profit maximisation guides regenerative leaders. They align their organisation’s goals with broader societal and environmental values, aiming to contribute positively to the well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet. A classic example of this would be the work done over at our partners, Regen Melbourne, who are working hard towards co-creating a more regenerative future through initiatives such as downscaling the doughnut and the swimmable Birrarung.
Collaboration and Empowerment
Regenerative leaders foster collaboration, inclusion, and empowerment within their teams and organisations. They create an environment that encourages diverse perspectives, creativity, and the active participation of all stakeholders.
Innovation and Adaptability
Regenerative leaders embrace innovation and encourage a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. They welcome new technologies, ideas, and approaches to solve complex challenges and seize opportunities for positive change. For example, our transdisciplinary innovation hub is a prime example of an adaptive and innovative working environment designed to support and foster the next generation of bio-based or bio-inspired design and innovation.
Ethical and Responsible
Regenerative leaders uphold ethical values, integrity, and responsible practices in their decision-making processes. They consider the ethical implications of their actions, promoting transparency, fairness, and accountability. A classic one-liner from biologist and author of NI, Leen Gorrisen, sums it up nicely: ‘doing well by doing good’2. Like keystone species in an ecosystem that adds more value to the web of life than it subtracts. A business, too, can contribute to regenerating foundational pools of social, ecological and cultural capital3. Optimising for multiple forms of capital rather than just maximising money-on-money returns.
Inner, outer, and all-around work
A phrase often used by Carol Sanford, the Inner work refers to personal transformation involving self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and values-driven decision-making. It encourages leaders to reflect on their motivations, biases, and habits, fostering growth and resilience. Outer work involves implementing tangible change in the external world, encompassing innovative strategies, sustainable practices, and collaborative actions that positively impact our social and environmental ecosystems. The all-around work involves creating supportive, interconnected communities that foster collective transformation. It recognises that leadership isn’t solitary; it thrives within supportive ecosystems of shared learning and mutual growth. By acknowledging and engaging with these three dimensions, regenerative leadership cultivates not only sustainable organisations but also resilient communities and individuals, embodying the interconnectedness and continual renewal intrinsic to life itself.
Now we’ve got our bite-sized points of Regenerative goodness, let’s explore why regenerative leadership is crucial for deep tech and biotech companies.
How this Links to Technology
Deep Tech and Biotech companies are at the forefront of technological advancements and scientific innovations. Quite often, these breakthroughs can significantly affect our societies and the environment. 45 Their work usually involves cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering, which have the potential to radically reshape industries, transform healthcare, and impact ecosystems. In this context, regenerative leadership becomes vital for several reasons
1. Ethical Considerations
Deep tech and biotech companies operate in sectors that have profound ethical implications. They deal with sensitive areas such as privacy, genetic manipulation, and environmental impact. Regenerative leadership ensures that these companies approach their work with a robust ethical framework, emphasising responsible innovation, transparency, and stakeholder engagement.
2. Environmental Stewardship
Regenerative leadership promotes environmentally conscious practices and sustainability within deep tech and biotech companies. These sectors often consume significant resources and generate waste. Regenerative leaders can implement strategies to maximise their positive impact whilst minimising their ecological footprint by adopting circular economy principles and developing technologies that contribute to sustainable energy generation, energy efficiencies, or environmental regeneration.
3. Social Impact
Deep tech and biotech advancements have the potential to address critical societal challenges and improve human well-being. Regenerative leaders focus on creating solutions that have positive social impacts, such as improving healthcare access, addressing food security, inequality and diversity, and advancing renewable/rebuildable energy technologies. They tend to ensure that the benefits of their innovations are shared equitably and contribute to the betterment of society as a whole.
4. Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing
Regenerative leaders in deep tech and biotech foster collaboration and knowledge sharing within and beyond their organisations. They recognise the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, engaging with diverse stakeholders, including academia, policymakers, civil society organisations, and communities. This approach encourages cross-pollination of ideas, fosters collective intelligence, and accelerates innovation.
5. Long-Term Perspective
Regenerative leaders adopt a long-term perspective, recognising that the impacts of deep tech and biotech innovations extend far beyond short-term gains. They prioritise sustainable growth, consider potential risks and unintended consequences, and proactively address ethical, social, and environmental challenges that may arise.
6. Resilience and Risk Management
Deep tech and biotech companies operate in complex and rapidly evolving landscapes. Regenerative leaders build resilience within their organisations, anticipating risks, embracing adaptive strategies, and cultivating a culture of learning from failures. They balance exploration and exploitation, ensuring the agility and preparedness needed to navigate uncertainties.
To sum it up, regenerative leadership is essential for deep tech and biotech companies as it enables them to effectively address the ethical, social, and environmental complexities associated with their work. By embracing regenerative leadership principles, these companies can become drivers of positive change, fostering innovation, sustainability, and societal well-being while advancing scientific advancements and technological breakthroughs.
- Regeneration rising podcast
- Regen narration podcast
- Regen Melbourne
- Regen Projects
- Coalition of Everyone
- Regenerative Leadership Course
- Hutchins, G. & Storm, L. Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of Life-affirming 21st Century Organizations. (Wordzworth Publishing, 2019).
- Gorissen, L. Building the Future of Innovation on millions of years of Natural Intelligence. (Studio Transitio, 2022).
- Roland, E. C. & Landua, G. Regenerative Enterprise: Optimising for Multi-Capital Abundance. (2013).
- Wahl, D. C. Designing Regenerative Cultures. (Triarchy Press, 2016).
- Cotsaftis, O. et al. Designing conditions for coexistence. Des. Stud. doi:10.1016/j.destud.2023.101199.