Developing leaders to shape a more sustainable future

Developing leaders to shape a more sustainable future
Published: 22 November 2019

Disruption and uncertainty are inevitable themes of our times and have created previously unimaginable challenges for business leaders. But disruption also creates opportunity and positive change. A prime example of this is the rising commitment from businesses to environmental and social issues. Increasingly, consumers want to know what the companies they engage with are doing to, with and for the world, and the demands on leaders to take greater accountability is growing. For many businesses, taking a proactive approach to managing sustainability involves stepping into unchartered territory, and requires senior leaders to think differently and develop new capabilities.

The traditional, siloed, structural hierarchy that evolved during times of stability does not have the fluidity to adapt to environmental changes and embrace ambiguity. If management teams are too far removed from the front-line consumer demands in their markets, the result is a lack of motivation to drive transformational change. Likewise, if traditional development frameworks do not equip leaders to navigate social as well as commercial challenges, they will not have the confidence and skills to be resilient within a volatile, complex and uncertain world. Nor will they have the ability to balance long-term transformation with short-term results.

Leaders need the courage and ambition to set more demanding targets for business and therefore catalyse the change that will shape the future. As a result, they need to be equipped with a clear sense of purpose as well as the necessary values, knowledge, tools and skills to be able to deliver change at the pace and scale required.

The common themes that emerge from our discussions with leaders who are at the forefront of the sustainability change agenda are:

Emotional Intelligence – leaders need to be aware of and address unconscious bias, be open-minded, inclusive and curious. They need self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, and empathy to successfully embed sustainability and authentic change within their organisations.

Articulating Purpose – communicating the organisation’s sustainability journey to internal and external stakeholders is an important statement of intent. Leaders need to be able to bring the vision and strategy to life in a way that makes it real, genuine and personal.

Collaboration – to deliver on sustainability targets, there needs to be buy-in from the whole organisation. It is important for leaders to realise that the best solutions to the immense challenges of sustainability will most likely come from collective knowledge and determination internally. Traditional boundaries, therefore, need to be broken down to unlock innovation.

Agility – is the right talent in the right place? By optimising talent across the organisation, leaders empower their teams, accelerate innovation and unlock greater value for the consumer. This may result in moving talent internally, bringing in external expertise to fill skills gaps, creating new roles, and building multi-functional teams that are given the autonomy to deliver.

Those businesses that are equipping their leaders with the right skills, and aligning social and environmental performance alongside commercial success, have realised tangible benefits. These include increased employee engagement, improved attraction and retention of talent, and positive brand perception. It is therefore imperative that the leaders of today and tomorrow are developed and invested in to manage the new challenges on the business agenda successfully, and shape a more sustainable future for all.

Katie Hart is responsible for hiring leadership positions for consumer goods businesses. If you’d like to discuss how reviewing leadership development or talent management strategy will benefit your business, you can contact her on 020 7367 0691 or email katie.hart@berwickpartners.co.uk

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