“I am convinced that the challenges of making the changes necessary to foster a thriving world will require a bolder, more enduring form of stewardship, supported by a set of competencies that build on a combination of inner and outer capability.”
The systemic nature of many of these changes calls on sophisticated approaches to leading organizations and the people in them. Agile leaders are able to navigate individual, group, and organizational systems to translate ideas and technical expertise into the desired actions. Leadership for change requires a strategic vision, day-to-day conversations, and a level of personal resilience and agility that can challenge even the most seasoned leader.
As a core faculty with Presidio Graduate School developing business and civic leaders, we have been challenged by over 750 MBA, MPA, and Executive Certificate students to develop their capacity to be leaders of sustainable enterprises. This requires a combination of academic training and personal development to embrace the complex, chaotic global environment to create the game-changing strategies, products and services, and behaviors that can support nine billion people in a thriving world. I am convinced that the challenges of making the changes necessary to foster a thriving world will require a bolder, more enduring form of stewardship, supported by a set of competencies that build on a combination of inner and outer capability. In short, I think sustainable leaders make choices based on seeing the world in the following ways:
“Leadership for change requires a strategic vision, day-to-day conversations, and a level of personal resilience and agilty that can challenge even the most seasoned leader.”
SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS LEAD “INSIDE OUT” AND “OUTSIDE IN”
Many leadership models focus on developing certain traits, skills, and competencies. Leading sustainability-focused change requires a different approach. Sustainability leaders must be more than just charismatic and inspirational to get their organizations to change. Sustainable leaders use an authentic mixture of “inside out” and “outside in” approaches, as well as personal resilience and courage, to challenge our culturally embedded ideas about what works.
Sustainable leaders come to their work along two main paths: they either have the responsibility for initiating sustainability-focused work thrust upon them, or they initiate these roles as “intrapreneurs,” engaging their organizations from a values-based conviction that change in this direction is necessary.
FOCUS BEYOND SHAME AND BLAME
In the past, most of our approaches to change have used threat in some form to motivate people. Leaders who use a positive view of what is working can build environments where people feel comfortable taking risks and practicing new behaviors. Asking people “what is working” generates an openness to change and fosters individual and group momentum. Leaders who are emotionally literate understand how to use their own experience to create the pathway for others to change and will inspire others to follow.
“Sustainable leaders create and work in the tension between aspiration and the current state, which requires them to use imagination and engagement to move their systems forward.”
EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
Sustainable leaders see systems of interaction, reaching out to create multiple partnerships across roles, functions, and industries. They are able to unite unlikely players, using the broad umbrella of “sustainability” to leverage change in many places. One of the most challenging requirements is to create shared accountability and adequate resources when no one group is responsible for “sustainability.” Leaders who see this web of connectivity in both business networks and personal relationships are able to build cultures of resilience and agility, seizing opportunities from unlikely connections, connecting innovation from one field to another.
CHANGE IS CONTINUOUS
Leadership is a relative position. Sustainable leaders create and work in the tension between aspiration and the current state, which requires them to use imagination and engagement to move their systems forward. The organization moves as fast as the leader is able to change, requiring repeated personal and professional reinvention.
Leaders who use a positive view of what is working can build environments where people feel comfortable taking risks and practicing new behaviors.
CONNECT TOP DOWN AND BOTTOM UP ACTIONS
Leadership makes a big difference. Leaders can set the tone for change with their vision and strategy and those leaders who are able to engage on all levels of the organization to shape a shared vision will tap the energy and innovation that exists at all levels of their organization. Strong organizations are then able to connect their internal culture to their external brand, creating coherence for employees and customers.
LEADERSHIP IS PERSONAL
Leadership development is personal development. Reaching the higher levels of sustainable organizational adaptation requires the leader and the employees to go through their own journey of awareness and change. Sustainability leaders see their role as stewards of their industry and begin to make decisions to shape the future in a way that promotes sustainability for whole ecosystems. When people connect their personal sustainability to larger and larger circles of impact, they can begin to see their personal actions make a difference.
Cynthia Scott, PhD, MPH, is the founder of ChangeworksLab, where she designs and facilitates workshops that promote sustainable leadership, high performance cultures, and innovative strategy. She is the co-author of 11 books, among them Leadership for Sustainability and Change, Getting Your Organization to Change, Rekindling Commitment, Take this Job and Love It, and Managing Change at Work. She is a Core Faculty member and teaches Sustainable Leadership at Presidio Graduate School, where she is dedicated to helping the next generation of sustainable leaders develop their capacity to grow high performance organizations.