Characteristics of Sustainability Leaders

Characteristics of sustainability leadersWith the years, leading sustainability has become more and more an intimidating task. More complex the issues, more complex the proposed solutions. And many open questions. How could one possibly expect business leaders to pursue the path of sustainability in times of economic turmoil and political uncertainty?

Where to put the focus in a global market place, dominated by emerging population-super-powers, such as Brasil, India, China? What kind of person does it take to maintain goodwill and a strong vision for sustainability?

4 Characteristics of Aspiring Sustainability Leaders

First of all, “leadership for sustainability is not something that can nor should be embodied by a sole heroic individual. Instead it is diffuse, pluralistic, collective, facilitative, and has more feminine attributes”, according to Nicolas Ceasar from Ashridge Business School.

He suggests four indispensable characteristics for anyone wishing to take a lead in sustainability: mindfulness, advocacy, holding discomfort and femininity.


As he explains in the Guardian, mindfulness essentially refers to staying aware of and paying close attention to the present moment, but also being aware of Einstein’s famous quote that “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind off thinking we used when we created them”.

This is particularly valid for the sustainability challenge, its questioning of the status quo (e.g. the infinitive economic growth paradigm) being disputed as fervently as ever.


Next comes advocacy, the ability to find the right arguments that are both in line with the sustainability agenda but still reach the audience.

Patience and Steadiness

Just as important are patience and steadiness, i.e. the ability to deal with difficult stuff over time and not be tempted to go for the quick (but less endurable) fixes.

Understanding, Collaboration

Finally, Nicolas Ceasar notes, displaying and using characteristically feminine attributes, such as cooperation, understanding and seeking union are required to bring about change for sustainability. Too big and complex are the problems for one person to solve.

Message to aspiring sustainability leaders:
Be aware of the difficulties, and focus on the possibilities. Sustainability promises to become increasingly central to how organizations operate as we move further into the 21st century.

For Donna Ladkin, professor of leadership and ethics at Cranfield University‘s School of Management, UK, “the message for those leading their organisations towards higher levels of sustainability is clear: be aware of the difficulties, but focus on the possibilities of this agenda. It promises to become increasingly central to how organizations operate as we move further into the 21st century.” (Source: Guardian)

Picture credit: Hitchster

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One thought on “Characteristics of Sustainability Leaders

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