What we need, therefore, is to strengthen the societal context – though increased public awareness and customer activism – and the market context – through stronger public policy and price incentives. This is what leadership author Manfred De Vries calls the architectural role of leaders – and that is what we see the world’s leaders here in Copenhagen striving to do: to redesign the ‘rules of the game’.
Beyond the societal and market context, however, we also need to enable individual leaders to emerge – both as strategic navigators at the helm of their organisations, and as embedded catalysts at all levels of organisation and society.
We may ask: what types of leaders are we looking for to take us through the climate crisis? There are many theories on leadership styles and traits, but it seems to me that we will need all kinds of leadership to emerge. Times of crisis do call for heroic, charismatic leaders, but quiet, servant leaders are equally needed.
Many leadership traits will come into their own in the years ahead, as climate change intensifies and we transition to a low-carbon economy. We will look to leaders with an ability to craft a compelling alternative vision in the midst of business-as-usual, to think systemically about solutions in the midst of reactionary politics, to call for action in the midst of inertia and to foster hope in the midst of despair.
The good news is we do not have to wait for these leaders to be born. We at CPSL firmly believe – and we are supported by modern leadership research in this – that leaders are made, not born. For 20 years, we have been nurturing leaders to take on the sustainability challenge. Now their time has come, and we start to see them stepping forward, through initiatives like the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and the 1,000 CEOs that have committed themselves and their companies to the Copenhagen Communiqué.
It is true that it will not be easy; nor will all who tackle the challenge, succeed. But that is the challenge of leadership.
I started by saying that we need extraordinary leadership for extraordinary times, and I quoted Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. Now, I would like to end with something else he said, because I believe it captures some of the essence of what it means to be a leader for sustainability. He says, “I hope that the word integrity comes into that. I hope the word long-term comes into that. I hope the word caring comes into that, but demanding at the same time.”