What’s the X Factor in Sustainability Leadership?
I’ve often said leadership is the difference between the best and the rest in sustainability, but of course there’s leadership and there’s leadership. Management boffins sometimes categorise three different styles (in order of increasing effectiveness):
- Laissez-faire: no real leadership – organisation is allowed to drift;
- Transactional: business as usual with interventions only to fix problems;
- Transformational: visionary leadership with all resources focussed on meeting the vision.
If we apply that model down to the narrower field of sustainability leadership, it is clear that the big names – the late Ray Anderson of Interface, Sir Stuart Rose at M&S, Paul Polman at Unilever, Jeff Immelt at GE – you can see all the fingerprints of transformational leadership.
If that’s the best, then most of the organisations I come across are in the transactional level. They may have gained buy-in to launch a programme and get the CEO to write a bland introduction to the annual report, but there’s no drive from the top. Nobody is asking “Why aren’t we the best in our sector in sustainability?” Nobody is writing a big cheque. And they get incremental improvements at best,
The difficult bit of course is getting from here to there as it has to come from within the leader – here’s how I do it!