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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.

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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 IkeaCoca-ColaRio Tinto and 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 positive business.

“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.

There is a very human side to the net positive equation that includes enhancing people’s lives and helping them grow. Take a moment to think about your daily leadership. Would the people and groups you lead describe it as “Net Positive?”


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