Collective leadership for sustainability

Collective leadership for sustainability is the capacity of a group of actors to deliver their unique contribution to a joint purpose collaboratively. High priority is given to the common good, and a balance is struck between the needs of people, profit, and the planet.

Leadership paradigms often refer only to individuals and the expansion of one person’s skills. Sustainability challenges, however,  require us to go beyond the individual and build the capacity of groups and systems to move important issues of common concern forward. In turn, this requires collective action, dialogue and collaboration.

Leading for sustainability is therefore not an act in isolation. A shift occurs from a self-centered consciousness to an awareness of the larger whole.  The Rio+20 summit in 2012 have made it clear that global challenges can only be addressed when the joint capacity of leaders to become catalysts for change is realized.

Do not, however,  develop false hopes of equality and alleviated power differences. Rather know that you have entered the field of collective leadership when – despite opinionated differences – people are prepared to join a collective learning journey toward a greater goal.

Everybody will contribute to the journey in different ways.

I believe the capacity for initiating, leading, facilitating and sustaining the construction of meaningful futures is within all of us.

If you find collective leadership at work, you most probably experience the following situation:

A group of people has in front of them a big challenge. They come from different background, they may have different expertise, and they may have different opinions on how to solve the issue.

They get into a conversation about the way forward and what to do to solve the issue.

The issue is so urgent that they can’t waste time blocking each other. They are aware that time is important and that they all have the responsibility to find a solution. In that way, they are very focused on an outcome, on driving change and on working toward a solution. At the same time, they are also aware that the best solution comes from difference and diversity,  from an exchange of different viewpoints – even of opposing each other on certain issues.

They use their time wisely and converse about the issue.

They carefully listen to what people are saying because they also want to listen to what is not said. Listening helps them come up with ideas, spot creative solutions, identify the innovative spots. And while they are talking it gradually becomes clear to everybody what the solution is, because it emerges out of the conversation, out of the differences, out of the diversity.

And finally they all drive toward the solution, within their particular area of responsibility, at their place, in their institution. And they stay connected, exchange and come together at a later stage to see how it went, to learn and to evaluate, what worked and what did not worked and how they have to take the next step.

Imagine what would happen on our planet if this way of acting for sustainability – and interacting with each other – expands and grows.

Our task is to make our inherent capacity for collective leadership more explicit, to bring it to the surface, to understand how it works.

It is time to empower many more people to lead collectively toward a sustainable future.


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

Categories: Allgemein.


  1. […] Recently I’ve begun to follow strategic advisor Petra Kuenkel on Twitter. I appreciate how clearly she articulates that the future of leadership is collective. Article: Collective Leadership for Sustainability […]

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