It probably seemed like a good idea at the time …

The newest trend in leadership development is for multinational companies to send managers to the Antarctic to learn about the environment and hone their leadership skills. If I was feeling charitable, I might call this misguided. However, the misguidedness that companies such as Coca-Cola, Kroll and BP (maybe they should change their slogan to Beyond Parody?) show, as reported in today’s Guardian comes at a cost of £ 16K (or about $ 30K or € 24K) per manager.

Where’s the problem, you may ask. Surely they used carbon off-sets? That’s the problem. Carbon-offsets are the 21st century’s plenary indulgences. Way back when, those who could afford to, paid their priest or bishop for absolution for their sins and thus ensured that they went straight to heaven instead of the standard stop-over in purgatory. It’s not reported if God got His cut.

Carbon-offsets and “antarctic leadership development” expeditions display fundamentally flawed leadership. A leader takes responsibility for their actions; they don’t simply salve their conscience by planting a few trees or sequestering a couple of kilos of carbon-dioxide. One challenge is how to rethink our behaviour,not just off-set it. Would it have been possible for managers to connect with the environment closer to home? Of course it would. Many of the participants were based in London or other European cities. There was no need to go almost half-way around the world to come face-to-face with the environment and environmental change.

The challenge for leaders (especially) in multinational companies is how to adapt the organisation’s culture and processes so that the organisation can run in a way that is as gentle as possible on the environment. Here is a kick-start for their thinking.

Perhaps it’s time for a latter-day Martin Luther to nail 95 theses on the door of BP’s corporate headquarters.

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