One of the things crudely distinguishing ‘sustainability’ leadership from standard leadership as it is thought about and studied is that whereas conventional leadership is judged by how it has created success for the group being led – most frequently a company, an institution or an army – leadership for sustainability is judged against external, almost moral factors*. Have we slowed down the rate at which we are disrupting ecosystems, depleting resources, displacing communities etc.
Leadership may be an odd concept to start a comment about consultancy: the goal is set, the vision owned, and the consequences felt by the client. But it is put into context by these couple of thoughts. Firstly, that some of the most satisfying and successful ‘leadership’ occurs when ideas put forward are taken on and owned by, even accredited to, others. Secondly, that consultants build options into the future for clients, analyse what is plausible and what is not. In this sense, they are given the role of technical navigators, sounding pilots, geographers. But however much the discipline rests on dispassionate analysis, the landscape is at least in part a social one of concepts, sentiments, obligations, relationships, feedback. The paths that consultants map out construct as much as plot the future.
Step out again, once more. What do you want from a consultant? When you can’t do it all the work yourself, sometimes you want mechanical competencies, a trusted human computer to spit out analysis. But sometimes, you want to work with other souls who can contribute to the vision you are building: partners, though perhaps temporary and specific.
Partnership leadership is very understudied: but in what analysis there is, there is the thread that partnerships based on authentic relationships are both very tricky and also the most promising site for transformative leadership: pointing resources and efforts towards higher group goals that lead, in an almost investment-style logic, to future shared benefit.
We are carving out a world in which successful businesses (which contribute productively to the world, provide meaningful employment, enrich lives and environments). To do so we need to be partners and leaders, establishing authentic relationships, and draw together out of the mush of the future the most beautiful and accurate maps for clients. We are judged by not just whether our clients are successful but whether we have helped them tread beautifully on the earth.
And yes, of course, we need to be excellent at the whole lot: innovation, framing, technology, social prediction, coalition-building, contributing to wider agendas…
*Note elsewhere about the similarity between the roles of sustainability and spiritual advisors to the corporate kings of this world
This note is fed by last year’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development. If you have work for me in any of these areas, please get in touch.