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Billy's Book Bag - February Edition

Three books Genii Earth recommends you consider reading and why.

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

by Rebecca Henderson

Published April 2020

One of my sustainability and culture colleagues, Heather Matthews, and I took on this book together to explore what reimagining capitalism would mean for leadership and culture in global organizations. This book delivered clear, inspiring, and well researched answers for us.

We explored the following questions:

What does this book tell us about the role of businesses in the transition to a sustainable future? 

Heather: Reimagining Capitalism asserts that business has a crucial role in the transition.  Governments and society cannot successfully transition without the business community’s support.  Business can drive positive sustainable change when considering how to maximize value to all stakeholders.  Rebecca Henderson takes the reader on a journey to understand how we arrived where we are, and she challenges how success is commonly measured with illustrations of businesses thwarting the “rulebook” and profiting by being sustainable.

Billy: This book is on-point in its ability to focus on the role of business in transforming capitalism to address pressing global challenges such as climate change, inequality, and social unrest. By transforming capitalism, she means changing the rules of the game.   Business can be the single biggest driver that can turn the tide on how business affects people and the planet. From shareholder value to competitor partnerships, Henderson flips the frame on how to view what it means to have a successful business in the 21st century. She advocates for strong accountability, where businesses take responsibility for their impact on society and the environment. She makes a strong case for businesses to engage with a broader group of stakeholders beyond shareholders, such as employees, supply chain vendors, and regulators to manage rapid change, assess risk, and influence a sustainable direction for a more resilient and inclusive business.

What are the qualities of leaders today  necessary to have businesses play the role we need?

Heather: Leaders need to lean into authentic, purpose-driven work.  There were many excellent examples of leaders helping their businesses and industry advance toward a more sustainable future.  One passage that stuck out to mewas about Mark Bertolini with Aetna, that summed up the following leadership quality: It’s “about exploring the boundary between purpose and profit – about choosing to do the right thing and then fighting hard to find the business case to make it possible.”  I also appreciated the description of Lipton Tea in which three unique business cases were created to support sustainable practices in their business.  I admire this tenacious leadership style.

Billy: Two other qualities that Henderson focuses on are inclusive decision-making and ethical leadership.  Making decisions with a wide variety of inputs creates engagement and expands possible solutions and innovations.  This feels essential for a sustainable future. Ethical leadership creates the kind of credibility that will be needed for building wide coalitions of diverse players such as supply chain partners, regional regulators, and global competitors who also need to move simultaneously to make real sustainable change in any industry.

What is the culture that supports this type of leadership development?

Heather: I love that Reimagining Capitalism highlighted so many examples of purpose-driven firms who were able to achieve sustainability progress and profitability.  Both are key for a sustainable business model.  I like the exploration of industry-wide cooperation, or “self-regulation” as well as effective government action.  Striking the right balance generates such inspiring results.  Businesses working in sync with governments foster development and generate results that neither can achieve alone.

Billy: Henderson makes the case for focusing on developing sustainability leaders from the ground up. Organizations need to focus on creating a culture of development that recognizes the value of cultivating leaders today for the future they want to see tomorrow. This fundamentally implies that leaders are not only hired in or born this way. They also need to be developed from the time they encounter the company, by sharing and demonstrating values through example and experience, not just a set of framed values on a wall.

Heather and I both fully enjoyed this book for its many examples of organizations in many industries who are changing the rules of the game. Bottom line: Don’t take a “wait-and-see” attitude when it comes to creating a sustainable business.  Those who wait will be left behind in the new game. If you aren’t developing a sustainable business model for people and planet, you won’t be in business for the long term.

Guest review by Heather Matthews, Sustainability Manager in the Chemicals Industry

Heather has 17+ years of success strategically leading the development and implementation of business initiatives to improve sustainability, efficiency and reliability, while optimizing costs and transforming company culture.


When Breathe Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi

Published August 2023

If you knew you would die within two years, or months, or days, how would this knowing change the decisions you make about how you live today? What legacy will you leave?

This story is a profound reflection on the anticipation of the moment life becomes lifeless, when breathe simply becomes air. Although we all know that our life will end, we live as if we have all the time in the world.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi is a memoir where he grapples with his own mortality, the meaning of his life, and the human experience of facing death. A 36-yr old neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Kalanithi reflects on his journey from being a doctor who treated terminal patients to becoming a patient facing his own mortality. Kalanithi, a brilliant writer and brain surgeon has the unique ability to express the inevitability of his death both through his medical training and his own terminal illness.

He offers each of us valuable insights for when we find ourselves at death’s door. The first one seems obvious but still, it eludes us in everyday life: He acknowledges that death is an unavoidable part of the human experience and considers its implications for his own life and those around him.

Kalanithi faces the reality of his impending death with amazing courage and dignity. He reflects on how his diagnosis forces him to reevaluate his priorities and goals in life.  He has us think hard about why it takes a terminal diagnosis to have us act on what really matters to us.  Breathe can turn to air at any minute, on any day.  What if we truly lived as if every year, month, day, is our last?

One of the most meaningful insights for me is how he searches for and finds meaning in the face of death. He reflects on the importance of pursuing meaningful experiences and relationships, even in the face of death, and finds solace, less in accomplishments, more in his connections with loved ones.

Through his own experiences as both a doctor and a patient, Kalanithi explores the complexities of medical decision-making, and illustrates the importance of compassionate care, often through experiencing the lack of it in the medical profession.

In writing his memoir, Kalanithi also grapples with questions of legacy and how he will be remembered after his death. He reflects on the impact he has had on others through his work as a doctor and writer and seeks to leave behind a meaningful legacy for his daughter and future generations.

This book is not for the faint of heart, as it explicitly explores the physical, emotional and existential aspects of death and dying. Yet if you feel squeamish about the thought of dying, I assert this book is a valuable read.  I found that in facing the idea of my own death, life becomes more valuable, more beautiful, more alive.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

by Brené  Brown

Published September 2017

I missed this book the first time around when it came out in 2017.  However, recently, in our never-ending quest for the leadership capacities that are most needed for the times we are in, this book came highly recommended. I have read other books by Brene Brown and found this one to be her most authentic work yet. And no surprise, “Braving the Wilderness” is, at its core, about the courage to be our authentic selves.

Brown explores themes of belonging, authenticity, and courage, which are highly relevant to leadership in the current societal context. Here’s what I found in the book regrading leadership for the times we are in:

Courageous leadership: In turbulent times, leaders need courage to navigate uncertainty and lead with authenticity. Brown emphasizes the importance of daring leadership, which involves being vulnerable, taking risks, and standing up for what is right, even when it’s uncomfortable or unpopular.

Building connection and belonging: In a divided society, leaders need to play an unprecedented crucial role in fostering connection and belonging among diverse groups. The ability to create spaces where people feel seen, heard, and valued for their authentic selves, is essential for building trust and fostering collaboration.

Embracing diversity and inclusivity: Effective leadership in today’s world requires embracing diversity and inclusivity and creating environments where people from different backgrounds feel welcome, respected and can contribute. Brown encourages leaders to challenge their assumptions and actively seek out diverse perspectives to create better outcomes.

Standing up for values: Brown invokes the idea of “the wilderness” because it can be scary, sometimes dark, and often solitary to stand up for values such as integrity, empathy, and respect, even in the face of opposition. Leaders need to have the courage to speak out against injustice and inequality and to create organizations and communities where everyone feels safe and valued.

Navigating conflict and disagreement: In a polarized society, leaders need skills in conflict resolution and dialogue facilitation to navigate disagreements and find common ground. Brown discusses strategies for engaging in difficult conversations with empathy and respect and for fostering understanding and connection across differences.

I believe these are critical leadership capacities to navigate the complexities of the times we are in. By embracing vulnerability, fostering connection, and standing up for values, we can all help create a more inclusive, empathetic, and resilient society.


Click here to learn more about Leadership Capacities for the Next Way


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