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Green Economy Leadership: Navigating the Paradox

By Laura Bloomberg
Director, Center for Integrative Leadership

"Stretching the mind is hard. Once we've settled on a worldview that suits us, we tend to hold on tenaciously. New information is bent to fit, information that doesn't fit is discounted, and new views are resisted." Jamshed Bharucha, Professor of Psychology and Provost at Tufts University
In April 2010 the Center for Integrative Leadership and the Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy co-hosted the "Cross Sector Leadership for the Green Economy: Integrating Research and Practice" conference. As an earlier blog post described, the conference grappled with "leadership at the intersections": How ought government, the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and economic consumers work together to advance development of a green economy in ways that provide concurrent benefit to people, profits, and the planet?

The international experts convened for the conference confirmed for us what we'd long suspected: not only are there multiple perspectives on this; opinions on what we ought to do often stand in direct contradiction to one another.

So........we published conference proceedings and recommendations as a set of leadership paradoxes to present the apparent contradictions inherent in this important work. Consider these summary conference statements from green economy experts:

"Our current efforts at establishing a green economy are too diffuse and fragmented; this renders them economically irrelevant. We must set a focus (e.g., wind energy) and put our efforts there."
"When we focus on single source initiatives (e.g., wind energy) we lose the critical value of diversifying our efforts."
"We must set our sites on long-term impact goals or the work will be irrelevant.
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"When we set long term goals we lose a sense of urgency; to maintain a critical level of enthusiasm for the green economy we must focus on short term "wins" and immediate goals."
"Altruism will remain the strongest motivator in developing the green economy."
"Egoism has long been the driver in economic progress; the same will be true in developing the green economy."

The fundamental integrative leadership question here is really not long term versus short term or altruism versus egoism. The underlying question for leaders is: how and under what circumstances ought we to seek common ground and foster collective action to establish a viable future in a greening economy? Given that, who should be involved in helping to navigate the paradoxes?

Integrative thinkers and leaders, as Roger Martin (University of Toronto) suggests in his book The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, will examine and consider the either/or dichotomies and then just as likely reject their limitations in favor of exploring a third way through the paradox. Similarly, Jamshed Bharucha (Tufts University) speaks of stretching the mind to allow us to examine competing perspectives. Integrative leadership demands it of us.

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