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Posted in: thought leadership

17th February 2023

A call for principled leaders

By Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of The B Team

This essay featured in the February 2023 edition of The Catalyst, The B Team's monthly newsletter. Learn more and subscribe to receive leadership insights, advocacy opportunities and conversations between business and civil society leaders exploring a better way of doing business for people and planet.

During The B Team’s 10th anniversary year, I’m more interested in looking forward than reflecting on the past. In this next decade, what style of leadership is needed to build a truly inclusive, people- and planet-positive economy?

Our families, communities and rising generations deserve leadership that places humanity at the heart of everything we do. At The B Team, we believe this to our core; indeed, we see it as our purpose in this world. We challenge each other and ourselves to be better and model responsible business leadership — to prioritize the wellbeing of people and planet in the pursuit of profit. On the global stage, we advocate for economic systems change and new corporate norms.

Not every day is a success. Not every fight is won — far from it. Outdated leadership models, which promote extraction and exploitation over sustainability and equity, still enjoy sway over key levers of power. Change is slow, yet the scientific truth remains: we don’t have time to drag our feet. Nearly every CEO, labor leader, policymaker and nonprofit executive knows this.

The B Team’s advocacy focuses primarily on business, yet leaders everywhere are navigating the same interconnected crises: climate breakdown; nature loss; rising inequality, cost of living and mental unwellness; threats to democratic institutions; the consequences of Russia’s unjust war, now one year on. The application of leadership may look different from sector to sector, but principled leadership is needed across every sector and institution if we are to overcome our shared challenges.

I want to uplift the principles that unify B Team leaders and our efforts — sustainability, equality and accountability — because I believe deeply in their value far beyond our collective.

  • Sustainability. A healthy planet makes prosperity possible and permits businesses and communities to thrive. Together, we advocate for an urgent and just transition to clean energy. We fight to preserve the beauty and function of our natural world and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
  • Equality. We all have a role to play in respecting rights and charting an inclusive path forward. Equality achieved means gender balance and equitable representation in C-suites, boardrooms and at other decision-making tables. It means upholding workers’ rights to safety, fairness, dignity and a healthy environment. It means 100% human workplaces that enable everyone to flourish.
  • Accountability. The rules of our global economy are outdated, ill-suited for the challenges we face and, in many instances, unfair. Together, we advocate for a fundamental reset of these rules, prioritizing transparency in corporate governance, public policymaking and other institutions. Taking responsibility for our actions is a force for restoring trust and catalyzing belief in our ability to lead.

Across our anniversary year, I plan to use this newsletter in a different way: to communicate with leaders beyond the C-suite, ask tough questions and challenge the conformity and often siloed nature of these spaces, from business schools to board rooms to philanthropy. I’ve said it before and will say it again: This decade demands leadership that is inclusive, transparent and boldly collaborative — from everyone, no matter your sector or industry.

Along this journey, a handful of questions are top of mind. I encourage you to reflect candidly on how your leadership shows up in the world.

  • How well do you understand, measure and report the true environmental and social impacts of your organization?
  • How rigorously do you champion a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace?
  • In what ways do you embrace and promote a culture of transparency?
  • How do you involve stakeholders in strategic planning, dialogue and decision making processes?
  • How boldly do you collaborate beyond your organization? Beyond business?

Principled leadership is foundational to the long-term success of any mission-driven organization. If the preservation of our natural world matters to you, if you believe in securing a safe, sustainable and equitable future for all, then there’s everything to fight for and no (more) time to waste. It’s time to be ten times bolder!