Today’s organizations are increasingly expected to take responsibility for the ways in which their activities impact their customers and workers, the wider society, and the natural environment. Therefore, today`s business executives need to successfully guide their organisations through volatile economic times and deal with the topic of sustainability. The story is full of business executives who have failed to keep up with the development of societal norms and requirements. Which leads to a slow but sure death for the companies they lead.
Leadership is about envisioning and shaping the future. There is an urgent need in business today for a new type of leadership—one that makes the long-term sustainability of our world a top priority. Business executive must be able to communicate a future that employees and the organization believe in. The world needs leaders who understand the importance of people, planet, and profit. Business leaders have an important part to play in making the right strategic choices to create this sustainable future. The COVID19 pandemic has showed us that the world we live in is an increasingly uncertain place. In the wake of a global pandemic, economic downturn, the political institutions capable of addressing the complex transnational issues we all face seem to be fragile.
In this uncertainty of the global world, organizations are increasingly expected to take responsibility for the ways in which their activities impact their customers and workers, the wider society, and the natural environment—as well as delivering maximized profits for its shareholders. As if this was not enough, the private sector is expected to play a crucial role in the realization of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The achievement of the SDGs can only be achieved by heavily involvement of the private sector. Therefore, a leader must be able to balance between the priorities on people, planet, and profit. As well as respond to the concerns of multiple stakeholders, both inside and outside the organizations. Organizations, therefore, are in desperate need of sustainable leaders who can balance short-term and long-term priorities and create value for a variety of stakeholders.
Sustainable leadership requires a fundamentally different approach to selecting and developing leaders vs. the methods being used by most business organizations today. Some time ago I heard how corporate management in a company prioritized flying back and forth for only 2-3-hour meetings instead of prioritizing a video conference. This shows that it requires a change in mindset on the part of boards of directors to start operating according to this logic. Current human resources practices in large corporations typically adopt a more short-term outlook, which does not support sustainability. The winners of the future will be those companies that are proactively embracing inclusion, diversity, equality, and sustainability as a business opportunity instead of seeing it as a matter of compliance or a way to defend themselves against critical stakeholders.
The Covid 19 pandemic should be a reminder of the complex, transnational issues—pressure on natural and food resources, our ecological footprint and climate change, regional instability, security issues, access to healthcare and education, social disruption and technological change— cannot be solved by political institutions alone. Therefore, executives need to consider the parameter of people, planet, and profit to respond to the concerns of multiple stakeholders, both inside and outside the business. The world is in desperate need of sustainable leaders who can balance short-term and long-term priorities and create value for a variety of stakeholders.
A sustainable leader needs to look beyond immediate, short-term gains to see the role their organization plays in a larger context. They need to set strategies that ensure the delivery of results that meet the triple bottom line of social, environmental, and financial performance. This means fostering long-term relationships with multiple internal and external stakeholders to show concern for their interests, encourage their engagement and create value for them, motivated by the goal of corporate sustainability. The following eight leadership behaviours are needed for leaders to implement corporate sustainability and CSR and, thereby, create and maintain a sustainable organization (D’Amato et al., 2009).
The key competencies of sustainable leaders are to have a sustainability mindset—moving from “me” to “we”. Sustainable leaders need to have a strong sense of purpose to be able to contribute to something greater than themselves, that grows into a stronger sense of purpose and mission within the organization. They need to be oriented toward the long term. They feel an inherent motivation to meet the triple bottom line of social, environmental, and financial performance or “people, planet and profit. A sustainability mindset is the foundation and defining aspect of sustainable leadership and that two important aspects—having a strategic outlook and building networks of stakeholder relationships—are driven by this mindset. Sustainable leaders are adept at systems thinking and always will be aware that there is a bigger context beyond the immediate focus of the organization.
They need to have the intellectual flexibility to see the big picture, as well as the capability to analyse the details of a strategy and can shift perspectives quickly and frequently where necessary. Sustainable leaders can formulate a vision that inspires all stakeholders and can decide between competing interests. Sustainable leaders understand people across cultures; embrace inclusion, diversity, equality, and sustainability and build productive, long-term relationships with key stakeholders through dialogue, leading to concrete and positive results.