Conversations for a Civil Society: CWH for Leading Sustainable and Net Positive Organizations

Nov 18, 2023

“We’re not dreaming nearly enough.”   Mirjam Minderman


“Have conversations to challenge the dichotomy between long-term and short-term. If we don’t take both into account, there won’t be a short term.”    Lindsey Godwin


Lindsey Godwin and Mirjam Minderman were inspirational in their discussion of how to use your conversations and leadership to support sustainability and net positivity for your organization. Lindsey encouraged us to stop thinking either/or (e.g., we’re either doing good for the shareholders or good for the environment) and shift our thinking to both/and. Mirjam encouraged us to develop our systems thinking capacity to recognize unintended consequences of organizational decisions. There was great content in this conversation to support you in fueling conversations worth having in your organization. Both Mirjam and Lindsey shared very similar important leadership competencies (see below). Lindsey used the term “radical” in front of each word to underscore the importance of having these competencies be at the root of everything an organization does: radical inclusion, radical collaboration, and radical regeneration.

Below are some of the highlights that emerged in this Learning Lab. You can listen to their conversation on our CWH YouTube channel and you will find links and references to the resources they mentioned at the end of this article.

  • The perfect partnership between sustainability and AI. Whether you come from the world of sustainability or the world of Appreciative Inquiry, they are made for each other. Sustainability requires systems change and Appreciative Inquiry is one the best and most widely used approaches for whole systems change.
  • Ask questions that shift conversations up a level. Talk about mutually beneficial practices and what gives life to the whole, including the environment. Ask generative questions that shift people out of either/or thinking.
  • Talk about what you want. Shift away from fear-based rhetoric about what happens if we don't attend to the environment. Instead, talk about possibilities for the future that encompass care of the environment. Instead of threatening people with how bad it is going to be if they don’t act, invite them to dream about a possible future where flourishing is the norm.
  • Make the current possible future real and tangible. Ask questions that enable people to make connections between their product or service and what happens if climate change impacts their supply chain or their buyer market.
  • Make another possible future real and tangible: dream more. What does a green economy look like? What does radical inclusion mean for us? What do we want; what kind of world do we want to live in?
  • Broaden the training focus. In academia, the focus around sustainability and business is often focused on analysis and risk. Broaden that focus and teach people to use appreciative analysis and take into account the potential for creativity and whole systems change.
  • Engage your clients through inquiry. Start with questions about the issue they first present to flip and expand the scope of their awareness and thinking. Use "yes, and" to support possibility thinking.
    • Ask them, “What is worthy of your time and energy internally and externally (remembering, you are connected to suppliers and the environment in one way or another).
    • Invite people to dream, “What do you want, what do you want more of and what does that look like.”
  • Pause, breathe, get curious. When people resist expanded thinking around sustainability and responsibility, ask generative questions to build awareness, connection, and common ground.
  • Artificial reification that you can’t do good and be successful. Share the data and living examples of organizations that are doing good and thriving, outperforming others (e.g., Green Mountain Coffee Roasters). See resources below.
  • Think systems. When organizations act in ways that are beneficial to the external environment, it leads to good things in their supply chains and helps develop loyal customers.
  • Mirror Flourishing. Research is growing around the impact of doing good having a direct impact on organization success. The term mirror flourishing is being used to describe what happens when people or organizations focus on supporting flourishing outside of themselves, it generates flourishing within (for the person or organization). Focusing on a positive external impact has a positive internal impact. Research is showing why: customers become loyal advocates, employees increase engagement and commitment, creativity and innovation expand, new talent is attracted, and positive PR for the organization spreads bringing in new customers.
  • Change the focus. It’s not enough to just “do no harm.” Organizations need to intentional adopt a regenerative model (net positive, giving back more than they are taking).
  • Change the time frame of success. Recognize decisions can’t be just short term or long term. This is another example of both/and thinking. Have conversations to challenge the dichotomy. If we don’t take both into account, there won’t be a short term.
  • From Why should we do this to How do we do this? There seems to be a sea change in the sustainability conversation, especially among younger leaders, from “why should we do this?” to “how do we do this?” Young people, students, and a growing number of employees are expecting this change; they want to work for companies that align with their values. The best talent will go to those organizations that are inclusive, collaborative, and regenerative.
  • Who is the organization responsible to? In the US, responsibility to shareholders has driven short-term thinking, which is having a devastating impact. This is the reason to shift to both/and; in the long run there won’t be anything for shareholders when the company collapses due to short-term thinking. In 2023, the EU changed corporate policies to require big corporations to share the impact of their activities on people and the environment. This should increase awareness and change.
  • Leadership competencies. Mirjam’s team is working on a set of leadership competencies, coming soon! They fall into four categories: responsible leadership, effective business model, collaboration, and systems thinking. Lindsey’s recently published article, How Will You Choose to Lead?, identifies three leadership principles for net positive organization development: radical inclusion, radical collaboration, radical regeneration. 

Tips for Your Conversations: Lead from Any Level with a Few Generative Questions

  • What are your thoughts about sustainability?
  • How are you and your team already making sustainable choices?
  • What does net positive mean for us?
  • How would a greater purpose that aligned with your values influence your participation in the organization?
  • What can I read or watch to deepen my awareness around sustainability?
  • How are other organizations achieving net positive results?
  • How might I grow my leadership capacity for this Earthshot Moment? (See article below)

Special thank you to Lindsey and Mirjam for their time and expertise and all they are doing to make a positive difference in the world. Below you will find the resources they shared as well as their bios and how you can contact them!


Learn more from these resources

  • David Cooperrider and Lindsey Godwin (2022). “Our Earthshot Moment.”Organization Development Review, 54, No. 1. (On pg. 4 of the article, David and Lindsey summarize must reads for Earth Shot OD practitioners today.)
  • Lindsey Godwin (2023). “How will you choose to lead? Three leadership principles and practices for net-positive OD impacts.” Organization Development Review, Vol. 55, No. 3.
  • Aim to Flourish A treasure trove of business stories for good.
  • Conscious Capitalism  Stories, resources, and a community doing this work!

 Lindsey Godwin Is a professor, practitioner, and possibilitizer. She has a passion for helping individuals and organizations leverage their potential through strength-based change.  She has a master’s degree in conflict resolution, a PhD in Organizational Behavior, and she holds the Robert P. Stiller Endowed Chair of Management in the Stiller School of Business at Champlain College, where she also serves as the Academic Director of the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry. Her article on “Earthshot OD” with David Cooperrider was recently named one of the most impactful articles for the field of Organization Development. Lindsey is a sought-after international speaker, consultant, facilitator, and author is with us today.  She has to leave to get to class. [email protected]  Learn more about work happening around the world in Appreciative Inquiry at the Cooperrider Center 

Mirjam Minderman works at TIAS School for Business and Society, a top-ranked business school in the Netherlands. She is responsible for designing and implementing the school’s strategy concerning education for sustainable development.  She supports higher education for sustainable development through strategy development and implementation, process facilitation, training, education, and research. She uses Appreciative Inquiry to be more effective in this work and she is passionate about how strengths-based approaches can support both higher education and sustainable development. [email protected] ~ 



Sign up for our Free newsletter

Get valuable resources, information and events that spark curiosity and invite exploration into Conversations Worth Having.

You're safe with us. We will never spam you or sell your contact information.