Engaging for sustainability

“Can we move nations and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the Agricultural Revolution of the late Neolithic and the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries. Those revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and largely unconscious. This one will have to be a fully conscious operation, guided by the best foresight that science can provide … If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanity’s stay on the Earth.”William D. Ruckelshaus (1989) as cited by Meadows 2006


Even the greatest visions and the best of solutions are futile if not enough people take them up. In my experience, however, engagement often does not get the attention it requires – be it in the creation, or sustaining, of communities, collective action campaigns or multi-stakeholder initiatives. Yet, to sustain a sustainability revolution, we need many, many people to become actively engaged. Because change at a large scale comes about fastest in a web of relationships we need to engage others in our collaborative journey to sustainability.

How can we enhance the dimension of ENGAGEMENT? We do so when we develop our competence in the building of meaningful stakeholder engagement processes. Sustainable impact flows from processes which create trust and cohesion, invigorate network connections, and foster collective action which leads to tangible outcomes.

How do we know when we are successfully engaging?  We know when people commit, when they actively drive implementation without being managed, and when new people spontaneously ask to join the journey. In contrast, inspirations fade when un-sustained; relationships dry up when not taken care of; processes derail when stakeholders aren’t regularly brought back on board and a sense of ownership gets lost if people do not see results.


However, discovering the needs and benefits of stakeholder collaboration collaboration can also be a painful experience. There is an element to authentic engagement that cuts to the core of both the challenge and our pre-conceived ideas. Therefore, in order to authentically engage we often have to adjust our own vision, our strategy and our plan of implementation. To do so, we need openness to a change of path; we need to be able to hold a vision, yet to not hold it so firmly that other people cannot shape it. That is why engagement is more than enlisting followers or aligning people behind a goal. The goal itself may get refined so that we create a future that many own.

The COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP COMPASS distinguishes three roads to ENGAGEMENT. These are Process quality, Connectivity and Collective action.

Check back in with us next week for an exploration of Process quality.

This blog post looks at the dimension of ENGAGEMENT forming part of the Collective Leadership Compass. For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and  reviews on amazon.com, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change.

Categories: Engaging stakeholders authentically.


  1. […] The six dimensions of Collective Leadership compose such a pattern: FUTURE POSSIBILITIES, ENGAGEMENT, INNOVATION, HUMANITY, COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE, and WHOLENESS. Each dimension has its own dynamic […]

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