Business leaders as catalysts for change

Wanting to make a difference for a better world is probably the most widely suppressed desire in organizations and among senior leaders. Beneath the surface of many high performing top executives is a vague disappointment with the competitiveness of the corporate world, and an unexpressed deep desire to create more meaning, more connectedness, and more relatedness.

A senior manager from a multinational company told me “What I feel is that every person actually has a core that wants to serve … and it is more about uncovering it, because this gets silenced, cut off, nobody is asking for it, nobody is rewarding it in the company. You almost have to do it against all odds.” I believe that, deep in their heart, leaders want to improve the lives of others. If they only knew how, they would contribute to a better world.

The times of paralysis are over. There is a larger goal everybody can tap into. Sustainability leadership is on the agenda, yet many are afraid to make a move that pushes the comfort zone. Today, ten years further along in our global discussion on sustainability the answer is there – if we want to learn to lead better, we can place our leadership in the context of sustainability. Sustainability is a leadership task. It creates meaning. It creates a better world. Can we afford to delink leadership development and sustainability?

Is it even possible to separate the HOW of leadership from the WHAT FOR and WHERE TO?

Let us approach this from another angle. If we read a few annual business strategy reports from large international corporations we find a collection of the following issues:

  • “We need to build on connectivity and collaborate fast and efficiently to be able to adapt to volatile markets.”
  • “We need to innovate effectively across countries in a complex ever-changing business environment, understand different cultural contexts and make the most out of our diverse workforce.”
  • “We need to think globally and find quick solutions to local challenges making sure that the learning is distributed fast across the entire company.”

Are not these business challenges similar to sustainability challenges? We should integrate those things that belong together – leadership development and sustainability issues. Such integration would move our planet in the right direction and retain high-caliber employees who are searching for meaning in their work environment. It would also encourage more leaders to do the work that needs to be done – changing organizations toward sustainable business action

In the business world, leaders are still expected to be heroic individuals and often feel isolated at the top. But increasingly complex business environments, uncertainty of markets and an interdependency of challenges require new approaches to leadership development. Business leaders hold an enormous potential to contribute to the sustainability of our world if they shift their mind-sets. Often managers do not yet grasp the connection between their professional task and sustainability. Values need to be addressed and successful stories be told to inspire change. The path ahead requires the anchoring of sustainability at the core of business organizations and integrating sustainability skills building into the career journey of business leaders.

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, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change.

Categories: Accessing our humanity, Allgemein, Engaging stakeholders authentically, and Leading future possibilities.

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