Begin with a VISION! - 5 Attributes of Sustainable Leaders
There is an awakening that is taking place in our country and around the world. Sustainability is no longer a “feel good” practice to be entertained occasionally, but it’s rapidly growing into a business standard and a way of life for most of us. Leaders of various organizations are embracing and implementing sustainable initiatives. It’s no longer a multinational corporation’s responsibility nor is it relegated to tree huggers and “green people” (not Martians) only. Sustainability is permeating ever entity. It doesn't matter if you're a church leader, a non-profit leader, multinational entity, or a solopreneur, if you are not engaged in sustainable activities you will be left behind. Now is the time to get on board and decide how to incorporate these principles into your strategic business strategy.
Not even the chaos and agitation prompted by the Trump administration has thwarted the need for leaders to surge forward and integrate sustainability practices into their businesses. In fact, the urgency has only intensified and accelerated. Sustainability, with its various definitions, is a business model, an adaptation, a paradigm shift, which involves making a concerted effort to take responsibility for caring for the planet, and people while making a profit. Sustainability means improving the quality of life for all life existing on earth.
What is a sustainable leader?
A sustainable leader has the vision for environmental stewardship. This means having insight and the foresight to ensure that the organization is not causing harm to the environment while growing the organization and increasing profitability. Sustainability leaders reduce organizational impacts on the environment through using less of the natural resources provided by the planet. They treat employees well by tending to their needs. This is demonstrated through fair compensation and investment in professional growth. More often, sustainable leaders are making provisions such as the development of breathable, healthy buildings. The payoff is tremendous. Some of the benefits are: employees overall health and wellness increases, they are more committed to their jobs and enjoy working so turnover is lowered, and the number of sick days is reduced. A healthy, green building is designed to enhance natural lighting through eco-friendly systems. It also includes ergonomically designed furniture, which reduces repetitive injuries. These buildings consist of balanced cooling and heating systems to extend the life of technology and equipment while improving the quality of life for the people who use them. The reduction of energy consumption, the development of sustainable green buildings, water conservation and the use of energy efficient products are incorporated as part of the business case for have a sustainability strategy.
Sustainable leaders have a global mindset and know what it means to be globally and socially responsible. They understand that because this way of thinking is not innate, social responsibility must be taught. This begins with the elimination of antiquated mental mind models. The bible says it so clearly in Matt. 9:17 that new wine isn't put into old wineskins. If it is, it will burst and destroy the new wine. Sustainability, or environmental stewardship is still a relatively new concept. Although corporations globally are making the transition from abusing the planet and people, there is much left to be done and It starts with leadership. In order to see transformational change in your organization, the vision for this change must be repeated, must be demonstrated and must be rewarded. If there’s an expectation for sustainable principles to be executed in an organization and for it to succeed, then sustainability needs to be included as part of an organization’s long- term strategy. Leaders recognize that to embed the concept of sustainability into the culture of the organization, there must be engagement throughout the organization. It is an essential decision to make if change is going to occur. The sustainable leader recruits staff and stakeholders, to help reinforce the vision for sustainability. The value of this strategy is implemented throughout the supply chain and the value of sustainability becomes a way the organization lives and how it interacts with partners around the world.
The business strategy must include sustainable innovation. Continuous sustainable innovation is the lifeline of an organization and is lead by the leader. Sustainability leaders are transformational leaders who create a culture within the organization that is beneficial for sustainable innovation.Leadership reinforces the standards and expected behaviors that nurture followers and endorse innovation. Followers, aka employees, are treated as trustworthy contributors to the organization recognized for adding value to the organization. The values and assumptions that are embedded within the culture of an organization determine how well change is accepted. Sustainable leaders are definitely change-agents!
A characteristic of transformational and sustainable leadership is ethical behavior. A display of ethical behavior is practiced and encouraged in the workplace both locally and internationally. The primary premise affiliated with corporate social responsibility (CSR) is ethicality. Corruption is at an all-time high globally. Illicit Financial Flow (IFF), a global undercurrent where illegal movement of money and capital occurs from one country to another, is sweeping through developing countries. Bribery, theft, tax evasion and other forms of corruption are pilfering underserved countries upwards of $1.25 trillion US making a case for the need for more sustainable leaders. So, what are the traits or attributes of sustainable leaders?
5 Attributes of Sustainable leaders:
They are strategic visionaries
They are culturally competent
They employ Environmental Stewardship- triple bottom-line: care for people, planet and profit
They are decision-makers
They are self-aware
A sustainable leader is a strategic thinker. He or she is focused on the long-term success of the organization and is focused on how to maximize resources, including human capital. These leaders understand there will be opposition to change. But they have the creativity, wisdom and insight to encourage the exchange of old wineskins for new ones as the sustainable vision is recognized as a win-win strategy for everyone involved.
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(1] Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Transformational Leadership and Organizational Culture. International Journal of Public Administration, 17(3-4), 541-554. doi:10.1080/01900699408524907
 Navigating the SDGs: A Business Guide to Engaging with the UN Global Goals. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.pwc.com/globalgoals