Category Archives: Climate Change & Green Business

The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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Research Finds That Green Spaces Improves Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 11.47.58 AMMore evidence that everything is interconnected and interdependent: A new British study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technologyexamined the impact of green areas in one’s living environment. It found that green spaces not only improved people’s mental health, but that the effect continued over time – even after people moved. However, those who moved back to more congested, less green urban areas, their mental health declined, measurably. The study was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved. The findings add to evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities — such as parks and gardens — could deliver substantial benefits to public health. The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and has used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.

Using data from over 1,000 participants, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas. Continue reading

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Why Does The Public Believe Political Falsehoods?

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 11.02.39 AMIn a recent New York Times column, Paul Krugman highlights the rise of politically-motivated, outright falsehoods that are increasingly accepted as truths by the public. They are tacitly supported by politicians who know better; and by the public, which tends to accept what it hears. He writes, “(people) rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.”

He asks, “..aren’t there umpires for this sort of thing — trusted, nonpartisan authorities who can and will call out purveyors of falsehood? Once upon a time, I think, there were. But these days the partisan divide runs very deep, and even those who try to play umpire seem afraid to call out falsehood.”

And, “Put it all together, and it’s a discouraging picture. We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark. And to the extent that there are widely respected, not-too-partisan players, they seem to be fostering, not fixing, the public’s false impressions.”

Discouraging, indeed. It’s also visible in the attack on scientific facts, especially the overwhelming evidence about man-made climate change, which some continue to deny outright, and question the validity of science, itself. Here’s the full piece.

 

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A Case Study In CSR

Screen shot 2013-03-04 at 1.51.45 PMThis is a guest post by John Friedman, head of communications for corporate citizenship for Sodexo. A thought-leader in CSR and sustainability, John has published widely in these areas, including The Huffington Post, and his work has been cited by Forbes and other publications. 

When any company or organization demonstrates that it is conducting its business in a way that benefits society, improves (or at least mitigates negative impacts on) the environment and is able to do so in a way that is profitable, it lives the values of sustainability and, in theory, everyone benefits. While smaller organizations may have it easier – in terms of getting buy-in and ensuring that practices support the desired objectives – they also struggle for financial resources. Conversely, larger multi-national organizations may (but not always) have more financial means but engaging a larger, decentralized workforce and a more complex supply chain can be difficult to say the least.

When big multi-nationals commit to sustainability they do so recognizing the challenge (although in my experience that is sometimes underestimated) as well as the massive opportunity to make a difference. The most successful companies, I have found, commit fully to the strategy based not on short-term market trends or a desire to ‘look good’ but rather based on their core and foundational values that have served them well for years. Staying true to the culture helps them to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that come up in the course of doing business. ‘Stay the course, because this is who we are’ is a stronger rallying cry than ‘this is the new way and we told you it would be rough.’ Continue reading

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Richard Branson Calls For A “B Team” Of Business Leaders

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Richard Branson’s ideas are always worth attention. Here, he calls for a “B Team:” A small group of business leaders who will campaign for reforms to make capitalism more oriented to the long term and socially more responsible. He’s always been on the forefront of ideas and actions that promote joining successful business enterprises with contributing to the social good. In this article from The Economist, he describes a new venture that he calls the “B Team:”

SLOWING down seems to be the last thing on Sir Richard Branson’s mind. Since turning 62 in July, the bearded British entrepreneur has as usual been making headlines around the world. On October 3rd he celebrated victory in a campaign to overturn the British government’s decision to strip Virgin Trains, of which his Virgin Group owns 51%, of the West Coast main-line rail franchise. The government now admits it got its sums wrong, as Sir Richard had claimed, and the bidding process will be rerun (see article). Recently Sir Richard has also been in the news for (among other things) urging Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to end America’s war on drugs; declaring his intention to visit Mars; and parking a mock-up of the new Upper Class bar from his transatlantic aircraft outside the New York Stock Exchange. From there he promoted his latest book (“Like A Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School”) and led a discussion with his Twitter followers. The subject under discussion was: “How can business change the world for the better?”

This last topic has become increasingly central to Brand Branson in the past few years—although social activism has been part of Sir Richard’s repertoire since he opened advice centres for students in the 1960s. Under Virgin Unite, its charitable arm, his corporate empire has become a leader in the booming business of “cause marketing” (aligning brands with charities). Continue reading

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Green Leadership: Learning It And Doing It

A previous post described what a green business leadership mindset consists of. I argued personal buy-in among leaders is essential to establish, communicate and enact sustainable and socially responsible practices. Here, I describe how leaders can learn to build that mindset, and how that underlies successful and innovative practices.

I see two linked pathways to developing and applying green leadership: First, acquiring and learning relevant facts and evidence-based understanding about emerging global and workforce realities. These require new actions for long-term survival and success. The second is leadership self-development, through self-awareness awareness and other sources of learning. Both must become part of the leader’s “DNA” in order for sustainable practices to be successful.

Two Pathways To A Green Leadership Mentality

Learning Facts and Information

This includes acquiring information: Documented research findings; related, science-derived data; and evidence-based understanding and interpretation of current environmental and workforce realities. For example: Continue reading

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Green Leadership — What Is It?

Politically motivated politicians continue denying man-made climate change and it’s devastating harm. They reject the need for alternative energy sources that could stem the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. They gasp when hearing the word “sustainability.” They block efforts to deal with these or other significant challenges. Nevertheless, many businesses and even the military are seeking solutions to these threats to our economy, way of life, and our national security.

But creating successful, sustainable practices and policies, and the long-term vision they require is complex. The above challenges are interwoven with vested interests of those seeking deregulation or new tax laws that enables continued profit for themselves, at the expense of the larger society. Investment in infrastructure or human capital is ignored.

Positive solutions call for “green leadership.” In business, successful, sustainable practices rest upon an internal foundation, a mindset of emotional and mental perspectives, values and capacities. This mindset helps create sustainable, growth-oriented practices that contribute to long-term security and development for all.

In this post I describe what a green leadership mindset consists of. Part 2 describes what it looks like in practice, and how leaders can learn to build it.

Business and Military Organizations Embrace Reality

To better understand the rise of green leadership, consider that climate change is recognized and being addressed by many decision-makers, despite the deniers. For example, The Economist and others recently focused on the melting Arctic, the sea level rise and ways to deal with long-term implications. Companies research and invest in alternative energy technologies, and receive federal support, though the latter is opposed by fossil fuel-funded politicians, including Mitt Romney, who has called wind and solar power “…two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative energy.” Nevertheless, research abounds. Companies continue to explore innovations for increasing solar energy efficiency, for example.

The military recognizes the national security threat Continue reading

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Business Leadership Programs Ignore the Key Ingredients of Success

Leadership development and executive coaching programs have become pretty widespread in companies and organizations today, and with good reason: Positive, effective leadership is essential for success within today’s turbulent work environment. Moreover, growing your leadership skills is also necessary for successful career development in today’s workplace, where nothing is guaranteed.

But there’s a problem with these programs: Many fail to help with three crucial areas: building personal growth through self-awareness and self-examination; learning the leadership actions that increase company success in the midst of a changing workforce and fluid environment; and then, learning to align the two.

The absence of programs that really help in these areas gets reflected in periodic surveys finding that people at all levels are unhappy and dissatisfied with their work and careers. They struggle with the emotional impact of negative, unhealthy leadership that appears stuck in a 20th century mindset of top down, command-and-control.

Executive development programs typically take you through questionnaires, various exercises and “tools” to build skills and resolving roadblocks or conflicts. Many of them provide important and useful help for strengthening leaders’ knowledge and capacity for greater effectiveness in their roles. Some are provided by large consulting organizations like Right Management; others by university executive education programs, such as Harvard’s or Wharton’s. Efforts have been made to evaluate the effectiveness and scope of coaching programs, as well.

But many of them miss, on the one hand, building the necessary self-awareness of your “drivers” as a leader or manager. That is, your emotional makeup, your values and attitudes; your personality traits, and your unresolved conflicts. You’re a total person, not just a set of skills performing a role.

On the other hand, the programs often fail to incorporate current knowledge about the changing workforce, as well as the link between sustainable, socially responsible practices and long-term business or mission success. Yet bringing these two key ingredients together is the vehicle for both a thriving career and organization. Let’s look at both:

Self-Awareness and Self-Examination
Personal growth and career growth go hand-in-hand, and are the foundation for successful leadership in today’s organizations. Most successful and satisfied executives, whether at the top or on their way up, practice some form of self-awareness and self-examination. They learn to align their personal values and life goals with the kinds of leadership practices that will promote growth and development at all levels.

Becoming self-aware and orienting yourself to self-examination involves your entire mentality – that mixture of your emotions, your mental perspectives and attitudes, your values and beliefs. It includes, for example: Continue reading

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Why Today’s Workplace Creates Emotional Conflicts

One of the most poorly understoodthough frequently experiencedrealities of work andcareertoday is that success often takes an enormous toll on people’s emotions and overall lives. It sounds ironic, I know, but it’s true. And to the extent it’s noticed at all, the downside of success is usually assumed to be understandablestressor work-life balance problems of modern lives.

But that misses the larger problem: Career success often generates a range of emotional conflicts that affect the person, job performance and ultimately the company’s success. Conflicts range from questioning the value and worth of the toll you pay along the path to success to more troubling problems. For example, feeling constrained by long hours, work that often lacks meaning, vigilance about political conflicts that can suck you in, and frustration withmanagementpractices. More serious emotional problems include anxiety, depression and chronic physical ailments. All of the above can be triggered by successful career advancement.

Though the problem is underrecognized, it’s widespread. Periodically anew surveyappears, documenting depression in the workplace and dissatisfaction with leadership. Other research confirms that demoralization rises when work isn’t very engaging; or when opportunities for continued growth and expanding competencies are too limited or blocked. It’s time we recognize the negative psychological impact that the management culture and the “requirements” for success can have on people and the organizations they work for. They exist at great cost to both.

When I investigated and wrote about career-related conflicts this a few decades ago I found Continue reading

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Gen X and Gen Y Workers Are Driving The New “4.0” Career

I often hear the following laments from younger and older careerists — about each other:

Younger workers: “These older people just don’t get it. They expect us to just fall into line, follow bureaucratic rules, and they don’t show us respect for what we know or what we can do.”

The older workers: “These young people just don’t understand how to function within an organization. They want recognition, promotion, everything before they’ve earned it, step-by-step, like we had to do. That’s not how reality is.”

They remind me of a couple who said about each other, “It’s not that we see things differently. It’s worse than that: We’re seeing different things!”

In a way, they are. Different career orientations are like lenses through which you view the world. In my recent post on the rise of the 4.0 career, I wrote that this shift is most visible among Generation X and Generation Y workers, but that it’s a broader movement as well, originating with baby boomers and the 60s generation who are now moving through midlife. But as the 4.0 career orientation grows, it’s also spawning the above differences in perception. In this post I describe the younger generation’s contribution to the 4.0 career transformation. It began before the economic meltdown and will continue to have an impact on organizations and personal lives in the years ahead, post-recovery.

To recap a bit, what I call the 4.0 career orientation includes but extends beyond the 3.0 career concerns that emerged in the last 20 years. The latter are about finding personally meaningful work and seeking a good work-life balance. In essence, the 3.0 careerist is focused on self-development. In contrast, the 4.0 orientation includes but also moves beyond those more personal concerns. It’s more focused on having an impact on something larger than oneself, contributing something socially useful that connects with the needs of the larger human community. The vehicle is opportunity for continuous new learning and creative innovation at work. The 4.0 orientation links with the movement towards creating successful businesses that also contribute to the solution of social problems. Continue reading

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Is Serving The Common Good An “Un-American” Activity?

One likely spin-off from the recent election will be a creeping redefinition of programs and policies that serve the common good as “un-American.” Some of the Tea Party’s most vocal members, including Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, and others have already suggested having a “conversation” about privatizing or phasing out medicare, social security and even abolishing the Department of Education.

So I’d like to move the “conversation” along and state outright that, yes, promoting the common good is, indeed, un-American. And, that recognizing it as such is a good thing. Here’s why: The Republican/Tea Party’s stated vision for “taking America back” is a doctrine of extreme self-interest and greed. It both reflects and fuels what I described in a recent post as a “social psychosis” in personal and public life.

This “pro-American” vision is maladaptive to the realities of today’s world and our own changing society. Self-interest and the pursuit of individual power are twin agents for subversively undermining a healthy, thriving society. But that vision is likely to be with us for some time, with potentially devastating consequences.

However, there’s also a rising shift towards serving the larger common good throughout our society. I described the evidence for this in a subsequent post. And it is, indeed, un-American, with respect to the extreme Republican/Tea Party doctrine.

That is, serving the common good goes against grain of thinking that Continue reading

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The Steady Rise of Serving the Common Good

In my previous post I wrote about a rising “social psychosis” that’s visible in three areas of our society. It’s likely to prevail for some time, but I think it’s like a wave that’s crested and will crash to the shore. The reason is that the “social psychosis” is a backlash against a steadily growing consciousness and behavior that refocuses personal lives and public policies towards promoting the common good.

By the “common good,” I’m referring to a broad evolution beyond values and actions that serve narrow, self-interests; and towards those guided by inclusiveness — supporting well-being, economic success, security, human rights and stewardship of resources for the benefit of all, rather than just for some.

It’s like a stealth operation, because it hasn’t become highly visible yet. But polls, surveys and research data reveal several strands of change that are coalescing in this overall direction. I describe each of them below, and they may appear to be unrelated. Yet I think they’re driven by an underlying perspective — that we’re all like organs of the same body, and the body doesn’t thrive if any of the organs are neglected or diseased.

It’s an awareness of interconnection of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards acting upon that reality in a range of ways. They include rethinking personal relationships, the responsibility of business to society, the role of government in an interdependent world.

A 21st Century Mindset

The rise of the common good reflects a sense of “global citizenship” and an obligation to be a “good ancestor” to future generations who inhabit this planet. In fact, it embodies behavior and policies that fit the needs for effective functioning — both personal and political — in our post-9-11, post-economic meltdown world.

That is, in previous posts I’ve argued that this new era of unpredictable change in a non-equilibrium world requires Continue reading

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Obama’s Handling Of The Gulf Disaster: The Psychology Behind The Criticisms

Criticism of Pres. Obamas leadership during the Gulf of Mexico disaster has been mounting in recent weeks. People are worried and concerned about the huge, unrelenting flow of oil and what it may do to our entire ecology. The Presidents press conference mitigated some of those criticisms, but many view his response as too little, too late. They ask why didnt he take command and speak to the nation several weeks ago?

A great deal of the criticism is justified, and its coming from both right and left.It includes not only his personal leadership but more broadly, the role and response of the federal government.

But I think theres another, additional basis for the criticism: The psychology of peoples fears when theyre confronted with such disasters, and how that shapes what they look for in a leader.

That is, the psychology of the criticism directed at Obama reflects something deeper than questions about BPs performance and/or untrustworthiness, given the cozy relationship big oil has had with the federal government. Its also deeper than debate over what governments proper role should be in dealing with this or other man-made disasters.

To explain, lets take a look at some criticisms coming from both the left and the right: On May 17, MSNBCs Chris Matthews erupted in anger atthe oil disaster. He railed about the profits BP reaps as it fails to fix it, but also criticized the Obama administration for letting BP control the disaster response. Calling this disaster capitalism, (from Naomi Kleins The Shock Doctrine) he questioned why the President doesnt just nationalize that industry and get the job done, adding that in China, they execute people for this.

Thats typical of Matthews sometimes over-the-top passion, but hes been making solid criticism of the President for, in essence, looking like an observer, standing on the sidelines, instead of getting in there and doing something.

Similarly, other critics have openly wondered why Obama hasnt shown more passion, like pounding the table, showing outrage; perhaps shouting.

Some conservative critics have Continue reading

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Climate Disasters And Your Mental Health

Its long overdue: paying attention to the mental health impact of climate change and other human-made disasters, like the oil spill thats begun long-term destruction of the gulf coast. Weve been neglecting the fact that humans are part of this vast, interconnected eco-system of Earth; that our mental and emotional lives can be damaged by the human actions upon our environment.

But gradually, were paying attention. Im not referring to us in the mental health professions here — In fact, weve been asleep at the wheel in that respect, and are now, finally, coming around to recognize that climate change and other disasters are more than interesting academic subjects for discussion and research; that we have a responsibility for direct action.

Ironically, awareness of such mental health consequences has been addressed by broader groups of scientists; non-psychologists or psychiatrists Heres a good, very recent example: Joe Romm, whose blog Climate Progress is consistently the best source of information and clarity about climate issues, has just put up a guest blog post on the human dimensions of oil spills, written by Drs. Thomas Webler, Seth Tuler, and Kirstin Dow. They write:

In the past two years, we have studied how oil spills have impacted every aspect of human societyfrom individuals psychological and physical health to the practices and beliefs of cultures and everything in between.

Among the areas they focus on in their guest blog post are the mental health impacts and the social, cultural and social justice impacts of previous oil spills. Regarding the mental health impacts:

Oil spills and spill responses can cause high levels of stress and psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress. The economic impacts on livelihood and family aspirations, anxieties associated with exposure to toxic chemicals, the stress of engaging in a large scale court battle, and the loss of valued landscape and ecological systems all contribute to stress on coastal residents and clean up workers.

And,

In Prince William Sound, people talked about feeling that a part of them died when the Exxon Valdez oil inundated the area. Dangerous levels of post-traumatic stress were reported among cleanup workers and residents in Alaska. The news talk shows today are already replete with people expressing sadness and anger about this event.

Their entire piece is well-worth reading its sobering and informative, as is another substantive report by The Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health. It presented findings regarding a wide range of health effects of climate change, including mental health and stress-related disorders:

Climate change may result in geographic displacement of populations, damage to property, loss of loved ones, and chronic stress, all of which can negatively affect mental health.

The most common mental health conditions associated with extreme events range from acute traumatic stress to more chronic stress-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated grief, depression, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, sexual dysfunction, social avoidance, irritability, and drug or alcohol abuse. The chronic stress-related conditions and disorders resulting from severe weather or other climate change-related events may lead to additional negative healtheffects.

Its a hopeful sign that some professional, advocacy organizations have begun addressing this issue. For example, both Physicians for Social Responsibility and Psychologists for Social Responsibility have described mental health risks from climate change to including increase in violent behavior, panic, group hysteria, depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, hopelessness and other symptoms.

Of course, the deniers will continue to disparage and, welldeny. Actually, when they are compelled to do that it may be a good indicator that public awareness of the mental health effects of climate disasters is growing. For example, Foxs Sean Hannitys recent ridicule of the mental health issues described in the Interagency Working Groups report For a slightly humorous take on psychology of climate change deniers and the consequences, see this piece that I wrote with Ev Ehrlich for the Huffington Post.

Needless to say, denying reality is never a good coping strategy, for the present or the future. And yes, thats a mental illness symptom.

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world, I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesnt work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in todays world.

In this post Ill explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction: The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesnt really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, thats like defining a happy person as someone whos not depressed. Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a persons life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures. Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by parents, psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other siblings at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

Its no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture. A good one is the popular TV show, The Office. It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well. They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that hes loved; or low-self worth in a woman whos unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her.Of course its critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some. Thats a good starting point for adult psychological health, but its not sufficient. A well-adapted member of a community of other children and siblings within a psychological world of parents is not the same thing as a healthy adult. Especially not within todays interconnected, non-linear world.

So without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, youre left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • Whats the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism always lurking in the background of your mind while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being thats the new path to adult psychological health. But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about whats needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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Becoming Sane….Part II

“What Happened To My Mental Health?”

In Part I of “Becoming Sane in a Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World,” Iwrote about why you need a new kind of emotional resiliency for success and well-being in todays world. Here, Ill extend those thoughts about resiliency to psychological health in general. Just as we need to redefine resiliency, I think we need to reformulate what a psychologically healthy adult looks like in this transformed world. Here are my ideas about that:

Throughout most of the last century, adult psychological health has been largely equated with good management and coping skills: Managing stress within your work and personal life; and effective coping with or resolution of whatever emotional conflicts you brought with you into adulthood and we all bring along some.

So, in your work that might include being clear about your career goals, and working your way up a fairly predictable set of steps to achieve power, recognition and financial success all the things that weve equated with adult maturity and mental health.

At home, it would mean forming a long-term relationship that withstands the power struggles and other differences that often lead to affairs or even divorce. You would assume that the healthy adult doest that via compromise at best, or disguised manipulation at worst. In addition, you would accept normal decline of intimate connection and vitality over time.

But the fallout from the worldwide upheaval over the last few years have turned all those criteria of health upside down. To be clear, its important to be able to manage conflicts that could derail your career or personal life. But doing that isnt enough to ensure future success, sanity or well-being in this turbulent and highly interdependent world we now live in.

Massive, interconnected forces within this globalized, unpredictable world add a host of new emotional and behavioral challenges to living a psychologically healthy, well-functioning and fulfilling life.

I deal with the fallout almost daily: People whove functioned pretty well in the past, but now feel as if theyre standing on tectonic plates shifting beneath them. Despite their best efforts, they struggle with mounting anxiety about the future of their own and their childrens lives, and confusion about their values and life purpose.

Theres the former Wall Street financial executive who told me hed always defined himself by making it through the next end zone in his career, working long hours to ensure financial success. Now, as his company and career crumbled, he found that in addition to sacrificing time with his family, he had sacrificed his health: He has diabetes and high blood pressure. Kind of a reverse deal-flow, he lamented to me.

And the management consultant, pressured to ratchet up her travel to keep her career on track. Id been coping with everything, I thought, she told me, though I dont like needing Zoloft to do it. Instead of her career becoming more predictable as she gained seniority, her career propelled her into an even wilder ride. Now I dont have enough time for my daughter or my husband, she said. What kind of life is this? . . . My husbands checked out, emotionally. And what am I teaching my daughter?

Or the lawyer, whod prided himself on eating what I kill, and Im a good killer. He told me he has more money than I ever dreamed of, but also says that, secretly, I hate what I do for a living. But whats the alternative, he asks, without looking like a dysfunctional failure if I opt out? After a failed marriage, he entered therapy and had begun to realize how his fathers unfulfilled dreams of success have impacted his own life when suddenly his father died. Im in a tailspin, he says; depressed and confused about what his own purpose in life is.

All of these people were on the kinds of life paths they expected would bring them predictable rewards. But counting on that linear upward climb is now hazardous to your mental health.

In fact, following that old path can make you more vulnerable to Continue reading

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The Psychology Of Public Policy

The other day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stirred up some interesting reactions. He said in a speech that Americans are faced with having to accept higher taxes or readjustments in programs like Medicare and Social Security, in order to avoid ever-increasing budget deficits that will be catastrophic.

Now I’m not an economist (see former Undersecretary of Commerce Ev Ehrlich’s blog for such matters). But I started thinking about Bernanke’s comments — and the reactions from some Republicans and assorted “anti-tax patriots” who came out with guns blazing (metaphorically….so far) — from a psychological perspective. I find some psychological attitudes and ideology about the role of individuals in society driving the reactions to what Bernanke raised. They’re visible as well in the angry, hostile response to the health care legislation and, more broadly, the fear and loathing of “government takeover.”

Here’s what Bernanke said:

“These choices are difficult, and it always seems easier to put them off — until the day they cannot be put off anymore. But unless we as a nation demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, in the longer run we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.” And, “To avoid large and ultimately unsustainable budget deficits, the nation will ultimately have to choose among higher taxes, modifications to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, less spending on everything else from education to defense, or some combination of the above.”

In The Washington Post story reporting Bernanke’s speech, writers Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomerypoint out that:

“…the economic downturn — with tumbling tax revenue, aggressive stimulus spending and rising safety-net payments such as unemployment insurance — has driven already large budget deficits to their highest level relative to the economy since the end of World War II. This has fueled public concern over how long the United States can sustain its fiscal policies.

The upshot of what we’re facing appears to be this: Our current way of life is unsustainable. So what’s a possible remedy, according to Bernanke and others? Raising taxes, not lowering them. Cuts in Medicare benefits. Raising the retirement age. And bringing rising health care costs down. To do any or all of that requires a different mentality about our responsibility and obligations to others in our society. And it’s not pleasant. That’s the psychology part.

That is, we’re highly attached to the ideology that we are and should be separate, isolated individuals; that each of us should look out for one’s own self-interest. And we define that largely by material acquisition and money. Hence, opposition to “redistribution” of wealth, even though that’s exactly what we do via taxes that support all the services that we expect society to give us. We also define our self-interest as psychologically healthy, mature, even; the hallmark of a succesful life. Those that don’t do as well are not my problem.

Except now they are: We’ve been hit with the reality that our world is so interconnected that someone else’s “problem” is also our own. Toconsider subordinating some of our personal wants and goals for the larger common good feels foreign and frightening. Yet that’s exactly what we’re faced with doing. It begins with shifting our mental perspectives towards recognizing that we’re all in the same boat — not just we Americans, but all of us in this global community. And it means stimulating the emotional counterpart of that perspective — the hard-wired capacity for empathy. And then, making the sacrifices that result from embracing the new realities. The economic collapse has made the need for those shifts very apparent. We’re faced with learning to sacrifice in ways that we’re not used to doing, in order to thrive as individuals and a society in the world as it now exists.

But such shifts meet with strong, ingrained resistance and denial. They’re fueled by unrealistic, almost delusional notions that pursuing self-interest at all costs will lead to success and well-being. So, for example, Republicans pounced on the suggestion of increasing taxes. They also went afterremarks byPaul A. Volcker earlier this week, who spoke very directly in favor of higher taxes. He said that the U.S. might have to consider a European-style sales tax, known as a value-added tax, to close the budget gap. He said “If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes, we should raise taxes.”

That’s a pretty direct, unvarnished statement of reality. But Republicans accused Obama of plotting a big tax hike, for nefarious purposes. ”To make up for the largest levels of spending and deficits in modern history, the Administration is laying the foundation for a large, misguided new tax, a first-time American VAT.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement.

Onward goes the struggle between facing reality and dealing with it, or not facing it….and still having to deal with it

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Welcome To The New “Real America”

In two recent New York Times columns, both Frank Rich and Charles M. Blow dug beneath the current surge of anger and right-wing extremism and came up with some penetrating insights about the sources of the outrage; insights that are also the tip of an iceberg: Both of their analyses reflect a broad, sweeping evolution within the mentality of men and women that’s been taking place beneath our feet for the last several years. Ill describe some of those broader changes below, but first lets look at what Rich and Blow describe.

Rich points out that the tsunami of anger today is illogical, in the sense that the health care legislation is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare. He also reminds us that the new anger and extremism predated the health care debate:

The first signs were the shrieks of traitor and off with his head at Palin rallies as Obamas election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since from Gov. Rick Perrys kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to You lie! piercing the presidents address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

Hes pointing out that major changes are occurring in the demographics of our country. These changes and others, concerning what people look for in relationships and in their careers — are beginning to have major impact on us psychologically, including our psychological health. For some, they generate tremendous fear that can give rise to hatred and aggression; a desire to take back our country.

Rich points out that:

Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans havent had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

Then, in a similar analysis, Charles M. Blow writes in his column:

Its an extension of a now-familiar theme: some version of take our country back. The problem is that the country romanticized by the far right hasnt existed for some time, and its ability to deny that fact grows more dim every day. President Obama and what he represents has jolted extremists into the present and forced them to confront the future. And it scares them.

Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bills most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. Its enough to make a good old boy go crazy.

Blow cites a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found Tea Party members to be just as anachronistic to the direction of the countrys demographics as the Republican Party. For instance, they were disproportionately white, evangelical Christian and less educated … than the average Joe and Jane Six-Pack. Blow points out that this is at the very time

when the country is becoming more diverse (some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be nonwhite), less doctrinally dogmatic, and college enrollment is through the roof. The Tea Party, my friends, is not the future.

Well said. Mounting demographic and psychological research are confirming and extending what Rich and Blow describe. In fact, several strands of change have been underway and coalescing into a changing psychology of people their emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values regarding work and relationships, and behavior towards people in need or who suffer loss. These are shifts within a wide range of thought, feelings and actions. Here are some of them: Continue reading

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Your “Life Footprint” And The 4.0 Career

In a previous post I wrote about the rise of the 4.0 career, and how it contrasts with earlier orientations to work. In brief, the 4.0 version is an emerging shift towards a broader vision of career success. It includes the desire for new learning, growth and personal meaning from work increasingly visible themes over the last few decades, and what Ive called the 3.0 career orientation.

Whats different about the emerging 4.0 career is that its an expansion beyond looking for greater meaning and sense of purpose through ones work. It also includes a desire for impact on something larger than oneself, beyond ones personal benefit. Its becoming visible in the pull men and women report towards wanting to contribute to the common good - whether its through the value and usefulness of a product or service.

The 4.0 career is part of the emerging new business model focused on creating sustainable enterprises. Its part of whats known as the new triple bottom line — financial, social and environmental measures of success.

In this and in future posts lll describe some 4.0 career themes and how men and women illustrate them. This is important because the transformations now underway in global societies, which became more dramatically apparent following the economic nosedive in September 2008, have tremendous implications for career survival and success. The unstable, unpredictable new world upon us makes the 4.0 career orientation the path towards both outward success and personal well-being in the years ahead.

As a step towards finding the 4.0 career path, consider this little historical nugget: Continue reading

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Awakening The Common Good In Our Self-Serving Culture

The eminent historian Tony Judt, author of the seminal work Postwar, about the dynamics of Europe since World War II, has written an important new book, in my view, Ill Fares the Land. The New York Times has called it a bleak assessment of the selfishness and materialism that have taken root in Western societies (that) will stick to your feet and muddy your floors. But the Times adds that Ill Fares the Land is also optimistic, raw and patriotic in its sense of what countries like the United States and Britain have meant and can continue to mean to their people and to the world.

In his review, Dwight Garner explains that Judt is describing the political and intellectual landscape in Britain and the United States since the 1980s, the Reagan-Thatcher era, and he worries about an increasing and uncritical adulation of wealth for its own sake. What matters, he writes, is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is, and he sees growing and destabilizing inequality almost everywhere.

Its heartening to see at least one public intellectual a vanishing breed lay out in a direct, forceful argument the accumulating toll of greed and self-centeredness that has dominated our recent political and social landscape. Judt describes these themes as elevated to a cult by Know Nothings, States Rightists, anti-tax campaigners and most recently the radio talk show demagogues of the Republican Right.

Judt observes, for example, that the notion that taxes might be a contribution to the provision of collective goods that individuals could never afford in isolation (roads, firemen, policemen, schools, lamp posts, post offices, not to mention soldiers, warships, and weapons) is rarely considered. Click here for the full Times review.

I think Judts theme about serving the common good is growing throughout our culture. Its increasingly visible, for example, in the recognition that humans are wired for empathy and for serving something larger than their just their own needs — many of which are socially conditioned to begin with and fuel self-centeredness and narcissism.

In that vein I wrote about healing our empathy deficit disorder in my previous post, and author Jeremy Rifkin has argued much more broadly and in great depth about the rise of an empathic civilization” in his major, well-documented new book.

I also see the awakening of interconnectedness and service to the common good increasingly visible in the rise of a new business model one that combines having impact on the common good as well as achieving financial success. The green business movement incorporates much of this emergence, as well as related trends towards sustainable investment, social entrepreneurialism and venture philanthropy. I would add to those the growing recognition of the need for a psychologically healthy management cultures, as well.

Interesting, also, in Judts book is his argument that the left and right have switched sides, in a sense. That is, he explains that today the right pursues radical goals, and has abandoned the social moderation which served it so well from Disraeli to Heath, Theodore Rooseveltto Nelson Rockefeller. He argues that its now the left that is trying to conserve the institutions, legislation, services and rights that we have inherited from the great age of 20th-century reform. For another interesting take on the reversal of the left and right from the 1960s to the present, see economist Ev Ehrlichs two-part essay on his blog, Ev Ehrlich’sEveryday Economics.

It sounds lame, but true: Were sure living through some interesting times.

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Healing Our “Empathy Deficit Disorder”

You may not realize it, but a great number of people suffer from EDD. And no, I don’t mean ADD or ED. It stands for Empathy Deficit Disorder.

I made it up, so you won’t find it listed in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Given that normal variations of mood and temperament are increasingly redefined as “disorders,” Im hesitant to suggest adding another one. But this ones real. It’s based on my decades of experience as a business psychologist, psychotherapist and researcher, from which I’ve concluded that EDD is a pervasive but overlooked condition. And it has profound consequences for the mental health of individuals and of our society.

Our increasingly polarized social and political culture over the past year has prompted me to post this — an expansion and revision of an article I wrote for The Washington Post a couple of years ago about our nationwide empathy deficit. It’s worse than ever, but ignored as a psychological disturbance by most of my colleagues in the mental health professions.

First, some explanation of what I mean by EDD: People who suffer from it are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from themselves. That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication failure in intimate relationships, and of the adversarial attitudes including hatred towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from one’s own.

Take the man who reported to me that his wife was complaining that Continue reading

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Vermont Proposes Creating A “Beneficial Business” Corporation

Now this is interesting: Legislation has been introduced in Vermont to create a new kind of corporation. Different from a non-profit, it would provide social good for the community, while returning gains to investors. In a Burlington FreePress article describing this legislation, Seventh Generation co-founder Jeffrey Hollender is quoted as syaing that the bill “provides Vermont with a very unique and important leadership opportunity.”

The FreePress reports that the legislation calls for new and existing for-profit corporations to elect status as a for-benefit corporation with the purpose, among other things, of creating public benefit. The bill, called the Vermont Benefit Corporation Act, defines “public benefit” as “a material positive impact on society and the environment, as measured by a third-party standard, through activities that promote some combination of specific public benefits.”

Will Patten, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, backs the measure, saying “It’s a no-cost, positive piece of legislation that might have an impact on Vermont’s economy.” Green Mountain Roasters is reportedly a prime candidate to become a benefit corporation, upon approval by two-thirds of shareholders, should the legislation become law. Click here for the complete article.

This kind of hybrid corporation makes good sense in this era of economic and organizational turmoil and change — one that calls for out-of-the-box thinking about ways to combine economic success and service to the common good. Increasingly, economists and others are observing that our institutions and their leadership vision are locked into 20th Century thinking and realities; and that new kinds of thinking and structures are needed to address the complex, interconnected issues facing societies and people today. Harvard’s Umair Haque, among others, has been addressing these issues in his writings.

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Behind the Obama Nobel Prize “Outrage”

I think the reasons suggested for the uproar over President Obamas Nobel Peace Prize miss a deeper issue. First, no one would dispute that Mr. Obama has not yet achieved the level of contribution to world peace that other honorees have. He, himself, acknowledged that. Critics of both right and left argue that the reward reflects an unhealthy cult of personality, and that his rock star status has overwhelmed better judgment. Some point to the Europeans apparent delight at sticking it to Dubya. And, needless to say, racism is part of the angry outbursts as well.

But theres a missing source of the outcry. Its probably less conscious; certainly less articulated. Its that the award gave a new focal point for mounting fears generated by a profound shift the world is undergoing on many fronts: The economic meltdown; global dangers and threats; the impact of climate change. Its an interlocking world, in which everyone has to figure out how to compete and collaborate with everybody else. And its a diverse world – not out there, somewhere, but right here in peoples community and workplace. Moreover, shifts in how people conduct their social, sexual and individual lives are visible all around.

In todays new era of tumultuous change, were shifting from an environment of old-style command and control, in private relationships, careers, and organizations, to collaborate and cooperate.

This wave-change, this new reality that the future has arrived, is very hard to digest for some. Im not referring, here, to the Fox crowd — the right-wing commentators and pundits. Most probably know better; and know whats going on throughout our society and the world. They may not like the changes taking place perhaps symbolized for them by a black man in the White House. But theyve chosen to exploit fears among segments of the public hardest hit by these massive changes. Theyre exploiting them for their own avarice and self-promotion. Continue reading

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Values and Behavior Are Evolving Towards Success & Service To Others

Great Nicholas Kristof piece in NYT about Scott Harrison’s Charity: Water http://bit.ly/yfRgm

I interviewed Scott for an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2007 and was impressed with his ability to put his business and media savvy and talents in the service of addressing a humanitarian problem.

Even more impressive and significant is his personal story arc: From an awakening out of a self-centered life; which led to an unexpected, almost serendipity experience; which led, in turn, to creating a successful venture — one thats having tremendous impact on people who are deprived of something as basic as clean water. http://www.charitywater.org

Im finding that people like Scott are emblematic of a growing evolution within personal values and behavior, today: Redefining success away from self-centeredness, greed and purely personal gain; and towards using your talents to serve the common good. My study of this evolution suggests that it reflects an emerging new definition of psychological health that fits the needs of our post-globalized era.

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Are We Capable Of Tackling Future — Not Just Present — Dangers?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote that evidence from brain research shows that the human brain systematically misjudges certain kinds of risks. In effect, evolution has programmed us to be alert for snakes and enemies with clubs, but we arent well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought.

If you come across a garter snake, nearly all of your brain will light up with activity as you process the threat. Yet if somebody tells you that carbon emissions will eventually destroy Earth as we know it, only the small part of the brain that focuses on the future a portion of the prefrontal cortex will glimmer. http://tinyurl.com/mqkq4c

In other words, we will tend to acknowledge a threat and react to it when we experience it as more immediate. But if it appears to lie in the distance somewhere, it doesnt have the same impact. In effect, our brain circuitry, from early in our evolution, makes us cavalier about future dangers, even if those dangers are horrendous in their consequences if not headed off by action that begins in the present. And even if the dangers were programmed to react to were relevant in an ancient environment, but minimally present in todays world.

Kristoff points out that all is not lost, particularly if we understand and acknowledge our neurological shortcomings and try to compensate with rational analysis. When we work at it, we are indeed capable of foresight: If we can floss today to prevent tooth decay in later years, then perhaps we can also drive less to save the planet.

I think there is even more encouraging evidence, beyond applying rational analysis. In additions and perhaps more importantly is the capacity to grow consciousness about our impact on the world, through our actions; and deliberately use our empathy which is also hard-wired, as brain research shows to initiate actions that support desired outcomes. Whether for our own lives or future generations.

For example, part of our early ancestry propels us to seek out multiple partners, because of evolutionary need to reproduce. (Of course, some of us continue to do that, repeatedly!) But acting contrary to that or any other impulse that may benefit your own self but hurt others well, thats a choice you can make, as your consciousness grows. The latter enables you to define what you value, why, and engage in actions based on conscious values that promoting and supporting life, not just your own.

The more our consciousness grows within us as a species, that, in turn, drives continued emotional, mental, and behavioral evolution. It leads to thinking about what your life impact is; or what you want it to be. Im reminded of something Samantha Power said in a college commencement address last year, Become a good ancestor

Now there’s a good principle to live by.

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Actually, We’re All World Citizens, Now….

Newt Gingrich says, “Let me be clear:I am not a citizen of the world.” What planet does he inhabit, then? Here on totally interconnected Earth, we’ve all become global citizens. That’s especially clear, since the economic collapse last Fall. The reality is that success and security depend on that awareness — and on actions that reflect it, in public policy, business and in individual behavior – especially since the economic meltdown.

It’s frightening that the GOP finds that so…well, frightening.

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Sustainable Leadership

We see an increasing focus by corporate executives on actions that promote sustainability. This is a positive development, but we need to focus on describing, promoting and teaching the leadership mentality, mindset, and perspectives that will support those actions throughout all levels of an organization. Otherwise it becomes dissipated or lost. A positive, supportive management culture is an essential ingredient, from the start. Too often, this is overlooked or neglected.

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Climate Change Denial

We need to understand the psychology of climate change denial. Much is driven by deep fears and helplessness in the face of new dangers. Or when confronted by new realities that subvert a mindset that all is secure and unchanging, and will remain so. We mental health professionals need to raise this to the public; help people recognize that awareness coupled with action can help mitigate helplessness and fear. That’s what gives you a sense of impact, of empowerment. My colleague Lise Van Susteren has written about the need for mental health professionals to deal with this in the Huffington Post:http://tinyurl.com/djnqzz

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