Working with 40-60 leadership clients every year who are primarily senior technical experts (engineers, accountants, mathematicians, analysts and scientists, for example), with many leading sustainability agendas, including environmental, social and governance programs, has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the behavioural profiles and operating contexts of this client group.
Further, hosting hundreds of leadership coaching conversations annually, I have a unique perspective on what it requires personally of a sustainability leader to create lasting, positive impact where the following contextual challenges exist:
- The scale of the challenges spans the global, national, regional, industry, community, enterprise and individual levels, and everywhere in between – all at once. Smaller problems are always symptoms of larger ones.
- The challenges are truly ‘wicked problems‘ (Rittel, 1973), in that they’re organic, evolving, multidimensional and can never be definitively solved – and yet for our collective benefit, problems of sustainability remain worth tackling and shifting the needle in a positive direction.
- Multiple, diverse stakeholders hold interests that will usually be, to some extent, misaligned.
- Historically, the conversation has been about what we need to ‘stop’ rather than the creation and familiarisation of a clean, green, sustainable and profitable future.
- The solutions can range from simple to complex, individual to collective, zero cost to prohibitively expensive, typically challenging to implement in terms of mindset and habit change and are at various stages of maturity in efficiency and profitability.
- The financial actors can tend to make investment decisions based on short-term criteria, which drive perverse outcomes and strategic instability in the organisations and initiatives that require longer-term investments.
- Any ‘solutions‘ which are not collaboratively co-designed but are developed in isolation of the stakeholders required to deploy them, no matter how smart or effective, may be rejected or not fully implemented.
- The perceptions, habits and thought patterns of leaders, governments, educators, business/industry, community and financial market actors around sustainability are deeply ingrained in history and can be hard to shift.
Considering these complexities, sustainability change leaders feel a deep sense of purpose and urgency to act. Yet, most feel that progress is insufficient and slow, creating a palpable sense of internal chaos and often outwardly observable frantic activity amongst even the most conscientious change agents.
Sustainability change leaders are a special breed of value and mission-driven professionals operating in a wicked context. They, therefore, require specialised leadership skills that aren’t necessary for organisations selling widgets or services with a primarily commercial agenda.
If you’d like to be more effective in the leadership of sustainability change, the work begins with you and your effectiveness in this particularly ambiguous leadership context.
The solutions involve transforming your experience of sustainability leadership through leadership development, strategy, planning and building effective cross-boundary teams.
If you are a leader of good people doing good things in the world, let’s start a conversation about creating a bigger, more positive impact faster and with more personal satisfaction and ease.