Why is a change towards sustainability so slow to realize within most companies?
Every change in an organization results from the choices made by dedicated people. Leaders are co-creators of an interconnected reality. There is hope that the leadership in global as well as local organizations will respond – out of a sense of interconnectedness and co-responsibility – to questions about human dignity, inclusiveness, and fairer distribution of wealth. In this way leadership might finally respond to the call for a sustainable world.
A leader in a prominent position is bound to be a mirror for an organization. He or she can be seen as an important knot in the energy flow of the system. The more focused and localized power is in an organization (hierarchical) the more important these knots become. In more devolved organizations the impact of singular personalities is relatively lower, however, the collective “way of operating” or “being” has a similar influence. In their way of being leaders set the tone which then becomes the basis for the music that is played in the organization.
Leadership based on lived values can change an entire organization, not so much because of what a leader does or does not do, but because of what heror his being resembles and therefore inspires in the employees.
There are numerous ways and paths charted out for leaders how to develop themselves, their humanity and the capacity of the organization they lead to contribute to sustainability. There are probably no recipes valid for everybody and no guaranteed step by step process how to achieve heightened personal growth.
What are the ingredients on the road to leading more consciously towards sustainability?
- The first ingredient is an attitude of continuous learning and the development of awareness. This can refer to the self as much as to systems, interpersonal, organizational or systems dynamics, and also the world as a whole. Awareness helps a leader to develop choice and flexibility, notice his or her own relativity and allows him or her to act in a more purposeful and effective way.
- The second ingredient and derived from the first, is the cultivation of the leader’s relationship with herself or himself. Self-knowledge, self-understanding, knowing what leads her or him to be and act in a certain way, and understanding one’s own mental patterns is the prerequisite for conscious interaction with others.
- The third ingredient, again derived from the second, is the cultivation of the leader’s relationship with others. Empathy, trust in others and vulnerability (here seen as the ability to share shortcomings) create an atmosphere, a tone which can become a supporting element in achieving the collective purpose.
- The fourth element can only be captured by the term “commitment to something larger than oneself”. This stands for the revelation of a leader that self-actualization is not actually the primary goal, but that contribution to a larger goal and responsiveness to what the world needs leads to a higher degree of personal fulfilment in the world than any achievement born out of the need for self-invention could do. The concern for life, humanity and the planet seems to almost flow naturally from a leader’s learning process if there is less emphasis on self-actualization.
- The fifth element is the willingness to expose oneself to checks and balances – the ability to stay in dialogue with one’s surrounding and stay open to feedback, changes of strategy. Adaptability is not only a survival strategy in today’s complex world but more likely ensures that our contribution has a constructive and positive impact o the world
- The sixth ingredient is the capability to follow-through, to not give up in the face of crisis and obstacles, but take them as an opportunity to learn. Sustainability, as all evolutionary processes is a winding road that requires faithfulness to the journey.
Leadership requires a balance between consciously acting as part of a network, yet also enacting the network, and the individual striving for improvement, willing to commit and invest one’s own capabilities in the best possible. It is all about more consciously taking part in collective co-creation.
A leader’s creativity does not only just show up in the implementation of a strong vision, but in the ability to foster and facilitate the collective thinking process that helps shaping and sharpening the vision.
This blog post looks at the question of leadership for sustainability. 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.