Leadership vs Management
The central theme of my latest book, The Green Executive, is that ‘green’ has been elevated from environmental management to business leadership. But what does this mean in practice?
The father of modern corporate leadership Warren Bennis famously said that leadership is ‘doing the right thing’ and management is ‘doing things right’. So leadership is about policy, direction and ambition, management is about delivery, systems and monitoring progress. The two are both essential – there’s no point doing efficiently what shouldn’t be done at all (to paraphrase another management guru Peter Drucker) and equally, there’s no point point in having a sustainability strategy if its execution flops.
When Bennis talked about “doing the right thing” he was talking from a business point of view rather than from a societal/environmental point of view, but his maxim applies perfectly. True corporate leaders understand that their business exists within society and the environment and not in an economic bubble. Here in the UK we have seen a 168 year old newspaper close because its leadership allowed deeply unethical practices to flourish. Tony Hayward of BP took his company to the brink because he didn’t understand he was responsible for the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, treating it as an internal problem to be managed.
But those are the stand out cases – many if not most businesses still think they can survive by doing business as usual with a bit of environmental management to keep the wolves from the door. But this is false security – these companies will fall victim to tightening legislation, rising utility costs, more pressure from customers, the bar being raised by competitors and losing out on recruiting the best staff.
On the other hand we have business leaders like Ray Anderson of Interface, Richard Branson of Virgin and Sir Stuart Rose (now ex-) of Marks & Spencer who want to lead huge businesses AND be one of the good guys. This takes leadership both inside and outside the business. When Anderson deletes profitable product lines because they aren’t compatible with Interface’s Mission Zero strategy, that’s leadership. When Nike and Apple left the US Chamber of Commerce over the latter’s stance on carbon legislation, they were showing clear leadership.
So that’s the question The Green Executive poses: are you going to lead on the environment or simply try and manage the consequences of not doing so?