Coaching leadership teams and delivering leadership training for almost 10 years, I have always begun by asking “What do you, as a team, want to gain or learn from this intervention?”. It is always the same noise that comes back; interpersonal issues, ‘we need to sort out this problem person’, ‘we need to start performing better as a team’, et cetera. All perfectly valid, normal, organisational dynamics, but not the best use of time for executive team coaching and leadership training.

Peter Hawkins, in his new book ‘Systemic Coaching’, makes the point that the big banks that failed spectacularly in 2008 all invested heavily in expensive coaches and leadership training; where were those people when the economy was on fire? What on earth were they doing? As we stare into another economic catastrophe in 2021, it is time to change this conversation.

In 2021, my first question to CEOs is “Who are the Stakeholders that you serve?” This can’t just be shareholders; no sustainable business in the modern world works only for shareholders.

Stakeholders are our customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities they operate in. They are also the next generation, the unseen workers who provide infrastructure that supports us, and ultimately the ecological system that needs to sustain our children and their children. If we are not thinking beyond the balance sheet, we do not have a sustainable, ‘future fit’ business.

My second question is “How do we create value for all of these Stakeholders this year?” If we are only extracting value, rather than giving it back, we are certainly the problem rather than the solution.

Our challenge for CEOs this year is to identify how to grow a successful business by improving the lives of our Stakeholders today and tomorrow; this is Sustainable Strategy, and the fundamental challenge we all need to grapple with now.

The banking system corrupted the economy a decade ago through ruthless focus on extracting value from the world; hopefully, we have learned that responsible business has a crucial role to play in creating value for our Stakeholders, to balance the value we extract.

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