Why Strong Leadership is the Most Important Sustainability Tool

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

My interview with Michael Beer was a very rich one, indeed. Our conversation revolved around his latest book, Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value. Major takeaway: Higher Ambition is not easy. While there is certainly no magic pill, when done right, this type of leadership, that effectively repurposes business, reaps benefits well beyond the financials.

The 36 CEOs interviewed in Michael's book exhibit this type of leadership by engaging employees, embracing diversity, building valuable relationships, inspiring managers, and defining (in many cases redefining) what the company actually stands for.

To these leaders it is the right thing to do, but the reality is that if they want their companies to be around in the long run, they fundamentally know they must build trust and acceptance of employees and customers. It's a juggling act to be sure, and necessitates very tough decisions. But it works.

A few examples:

Michael BeerSouthwest Airlines under the leadership of Gary Kelly. He believes in incremental sustainable growth. 2 new cities a year. This way the company can monitor their growth properly and adapt accordingly. He hires the best top tier people who truly fit into the corporate culture of Southwest. The result is that fewer hard decisions have had to be made and fewer people have had to be laid off. (He doesn't lay people off in tough times.) Seems easy enough? It isn't. It's difficult and takes foresight, confidence, humility, and humanity to do it right.

British United Provident Association (BUPA) under the leadership of Val Gooding. Val has created collective leadership throughout the organization by being transparent, listening, and possessing a certain level of humility. Through her 360-degree feedback with managers across the business, she actively serves as a role-model for the type of behavior she wants. She also exposes her weakness. The sign of a true leader.

Higher Ambition cover• Standard Chartered under the leadership of Peter Sands. Sands basically realized that his company was going to go under if he didn't nurture employee's emotional connection with the company. He dedicated himself to nurturing the cultural community and it has worked. He also came up with the slogan "Here for Good". This spoke not only to his employees but also to his customers. Smart man.

Parting note: While I remain the eternal optimist, there is little hope for companies to fully embrace environmental sustainability if corporate leaders refrain from looking holistically at their operations. Without utter confidence in and dedication towards their employees, the company's mission and the long-term health of their company, stewardship will stay on the back burner.But when you read these stories you will have greater hope for the front burner. Seriously.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.

 

Compass photo via Shutterstock.