Sustainability is considered increasingly important to businesses today that face multiple challenges such as environmental crises, globalisation, cross-cultural working, digitalisation and economic uncertainty.
More and more organisations are examining their core purpose, and measuring success not only in terms of profitability and growth, but also in terms of the impact they have on the environment and wider society.
To become a successful sustainable business, organisations often introduce corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. These may focus on minimising environmental impact or building links with local communities. However, to become truly sustainable, the principles of sustainability need to become deeply embedded across the organisation.
Leaders need to not only become role models for sustainability, but also to encourage others across the organisation to share responsibility for building a more sustainable business, too.
Creating a sense of purpose and meaning encourages employees to give their very best on a day to day basis. It provides a reason to come to work and a cause of which people can be proud. It can also create competitive advantage in an era of commoditisation.
Shared purpose, direction and values are all important elements of connected leadership. This type of leadership marks a pronounced shift from the old model of hierarchical command and control towards a new style of leading through influence. It relies on effective communication and connection across the organisation based on a consistent set of assumptions and beliefs.
The critical connections we see emerging for organisations in the 21st century start with an organisation having a clear direction and sense of overall purpose so that leaders can engage others and create a culture of collective achievement.
This creates an experience for an employee that is both inspiring and focused on doing the tasks associated with the purpose well, which creates an experience for customers that can be superior to your organisation’s competitors, driving loyalty and advocacy in the marketplace.
In the world of social media and instant news, this effect is often played out on a global stage, exaggerating the effect of the connections. Great employee and customer experiences have the potential to go viral and really boost your reputation. Poor practices can of course also good viral and cause great damage – another reason to focus on becoming more values-led and sustainable.
A connected organisation starts with its leaders and how they influence others to create and nurture connections, both at the strategic level and locally in every team across the organisation. Leaders are key to creating connected, sustainable organisations, and ultimately to achieving superior reputation and organisational performance.
Leaders need to move away from acting as individuals in isolation and instead collaborate laterally across organisations, so that everyone can work with a consistent set of assumptions. The organisation’s direction and values need to be planned and implemented in a joined-up way, with leaders working together to achieve a consistent shift in approach. For this reason it can be helpful to use the term ‘leadership’ rather than ‘leaders’ in internal communications, as it needs to be a collective as well as an individual act to change the way an organisation is lead.
The most sustainable form of influence is mutual, where each person involved listens to and is open to influence from the other. Mutual influence promotes collaboration, trust and a sense of shared goals that builds stronger bonds between teams across the organisation.
It’s important that you also reward behaviour that is in line with a more sustainable set of values. If you encourage and reward people who do not live your organisation’s values you undermine those values and through your actions tell people that results are more important than how they were achieved.
Developing a more connected style of leadership and sharing responsibility more widely across your organisation can help to make your business a more sustainable one. This is good news for your employees and the communities you operate in. It can ensure you have a more positive impact on society and the environment. It can also help to secure your long term success.
Affiliations to: Alison Tickner, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Cirrus. You can connect with Alison and share your opinions and feedback by writing in: firstname.lastname@example.org.