Is Your Leadership Net Positive?
JULY 23, 2014
By Linda Fisher Thornton
Generating an intentional positive ethical impact is the successful ethical leadership of the future, and it’s already
here. The Forum For the Future describes it as net positive leadership – making a positive contribution to society and
leaving things better than we found them. This commitment represents a higher level of ethical leadership than just
preventing harm – we are preventing harm and adding value.
“The ambition of business has to change. From doing less harm to
becoming net positive.”
Net Positive: A new way of doing business, A Report by the Forum For the Future, World Wildlife Fund and
The Climate Group.
The net positive leadership concept is a natural extension of
our changing awareness of the purpose of leadership. In the recently
published book 7 Lenses, I describe how our understanding of the
purpose of leadership has evolved over time
from transactions to service and more recently to the greater good.
In The Guardian article “Can a business really be net positive, and if
so, how do we judge success?” Oliver Balch writes that “Any
movement needs its champions, and net positive boasts a coterie of
early cheerleaders, including Kingfisher and Ikea, Coca-Cola, Rio
Tintoand BT (on carbon).” As business leaders embrace the net
positive movement, Oliver explains, they may discover that it is
difficult to tackle becoming net positive in every aspect of the
business at once – leaders in the net positive movement start with
one area that is pivotal to their brand.
There is the danger that some companies will promote their net
positive progress in one area of the business while causing harm in
other areas. As explained by Steve Downing in “How net positive could turn out to be net negative” “practitioners of
net positive should confront the negatives in their policies and make them part of their story.”
An ethics award and an ethics violation don’t net out to equal good ethics.
One area of positive impact and one area of harm do not add up to net
“Net Positive” gives us new terminology for understanding the positive impact of our leadership. While it will be
challenging to implement, it provides us with a stretch goal that will make our leadership more impactful.