Organisations and their leaders are responding to increased influences from changing social, environmental and economic influences. No longer seen as simply “the right thing to do”, sustainability is now core to business impact and performance. Our IIC Partners, Swedish colleague, Karolina Sidwall, director at executive search firm Michaël Berglund AB in Stockholm explains what is meant by sustainable leadership and what cultural and behavioural conditions must be in place.
The concept of “sustainable leadership” appears in many contexts since working life has become increasingly complex and limitless. But what does it actually mean?
Sustainable leadership cannot be defined in a few words. Instead, it is “conditions and prerequisites, both at the organisational and individual level, to be able and willing to have a leadership role in modern society”. A sustainable leader is a person who is committed to leading their organisation in a way that promotes long-term sustainability on many different levels. Sustainable leadership is the key to achieving sustainability across the entire organisation. It is about constantly relating to who you want to be and what kind of world you want to help build – regardless of the type of business you are in.
Consequently, sustainable leadership is not only about being environmentally conscious – although that is an important aspect. It is also about being socially responsible and ensuring that the organisation operates ethically and beneficially for all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community.
To lead with purpose
A focus on purpose is one of the most important elements of sustainable leadership. Leaders committed to sustainability clearly understand why their organisation exists and how it contributes to the world. They are able to express this purpose to their employees, customers and stakeholders and work consistently to ensure that the organisation’s actions are aligned with its purpose.
Another vital element of sustainable leadership is a focus on innovation. Leaders committed to sustainability are constantly looking for new and better ways of doing things. It can be about finding more efficient processes, developing new products or getting involved in more meaningful ways. This focus on innovation ensures that the organisation constantly evolves and adapts to changing circumstances, an essential prerequisite for long-term sustainability.
Sustainable leadership also means being open and honest about the organisation’s environmental and societal impact. Sustainable leaders measure and report important sustainability metrics and are willing to take responsibility for their actions.
Finally, sustainable leadership requires cooperation and commitment to achieve the objectives successfully. As a leader, you need to work closely with your employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders to develop solutions that are beneficial to all. A sustainable leader is present, listens, integrates different perspectives and builds strong relationships based on trust, confidence and mutual respect.
In conclusion, sustainable leadership is a decisive factor in ensuring an organisation’s long-term success. It is no longer enough to avoid making mistakes; one is expected to proactively approach sustainability and make the right choice in every situation. The starting point is the common agreement you have already built about who you want to be and what you want to stand for in front of customers, owners and society.
IIC Partners is a top ten global executive search organisation, HRM Search Partners is the exclusive Ireland partner. All IIC Partners member firms are independently owned and managed and are leaders in local markets, developing solutions for their client’s organisational leadership and talent management requirements.