New leadership requires new skills. Effective sustainability leaders need to keep their organization focused on achieving its core vision while dealing numerous, sometimes contradictory, demands and pressures, warns Doppelt in Leading Change Toward Sustainability: A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society (2003, Greenleaf Publishing).
At the same time successful leaders inspire and mobilize employees and stakeholders to embrace change as a significant learning opportunity.
For Fullan (Leadership & Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action), leadership not only has nonlinear systemic effects but may also create learning experiences, cultures and practices that move beyond the formal curriculum or specified targets.
He considers creativity as a defining characteristic of such leadership encompassing the ability to formulate new problems and to transfer learning across different contexts, the ability to recognise that learning is incremental and involves making mistakes, and the capacity to focus attention in particular direction.
Characteristics of Successful Leaders in Knowledge Society
Five essential components characterize successful leaders in the knowledge society: moral purpose, an understanding of the change process, the ability to improve relationships, knowledge creation and sharing, and coherence making.
The knowledge society we currently live in expects from sustainability leaders – be they from learning institutions, business or the community – to be attuned to the big picture, sophisticated conceptual thinkers who transform the organization through people and teams, writes Fullan. According to him, five essential components characterize successful leaders in the knowledge society: moral purpose, an understanding of the change process, the ability to improve relationships, knowledge creation and sharing, and coherence making.
Senge (1990) expands this notion, adding that such new leadership roles require new skills, namely:
1. Building a shared vision
- Encouraging personal vision
- Communicating and asking for support
- Visioning as an ongoing process
- Building extrinsic and intrinsic visions
- Distinguishing positive from negative visions
2. Surfacing and testing mental models
- Seeing leaps of abstraction
- Balancing inquiry with advocacy
- Distinguishing espoused theory from theory in use
- Recognising and defusing defensive routines
3. Systems thinking
- seeing interrelationships
- moving beyond blame
- distinguishing detailed complexity from dynamic complexity
- focussing on areas of high leverage
- avoiding symptomatic solutions.
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Read Part Four on leadership for sustainability – emotional intelligence
Back to Part Two on what sustainability leaders can learn from indigenous cultures
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