Sustainability Leadership – Concepts and Definitions (1/4)

In recent years, the call for sustainability has become louder as established systems suffer heavy crises and threaten to collapse. More and more citizens now realize that the majority of their trusted financial, political and economic leaders seem to cause more problems than they actually help to solve.

At the same time, politicians, businesses and communities acknowledge that fast approaching climate change does not leave any room for status quo stagnation. Change is needed. Just, who will be strong enough to transform our thinking and acting? What kind of leaders do we need for the big turn towards more sustainability?

Sustainability Leadership Concepts and Definitions

The Sustainability Leadership Institute defines leaders as those who inspire a shared vision, build consensus, provide direction and initiate change to ensure successful outcomes. Especially in Western cultures, leaders often rely on their charismatic ability to persuade their followers, so that they engage in actions to bring their visions to life. Despite of the fact that there exists no single accepted definition of what leadership is traditional theories and approaches include:

  • The trait approach focuses on personality and social traits, physical characteristics – stressing what the leader is rather than what he does.
  • The contingency approach looks at the style of leadership most effective in particular situations.
  • The path-goal approach defines the relationships between a leader’s behaviour and the subordinates’ performance.
  • The situational leadership approach believes that leaders evolve out of situations.
  • The transformational leader cultivates employee acceptance of the group mission and the servant leader’s purpose is to meet the needs of the people he or she leads.

However, many leadership researchers, including Amanda Sinclair from Australia, believe that leadership as a concept has failed us. In her opinion “leadership has become captured by models from business that perpetuate heroic stereotypes and narrow measures of success, while alienating significant parts of the population who might otherwise seek to make a leadership contribution”. Sinclair advocates the need to reconstruct the concept of leadership and to look for it in new places. But where?

Read Part 2: Sustainability leadership – lessons from indigenous cultures

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