Nuancing the debate around corporate responsibility leadership

There’s lots of debate about what leadership means in sustainability.

It must be one of the most over-used words out there.

A reader wrote to me recently suggesting that given CEO tenure is so low (3-5 years) then actually the conversation should be much more about middle and upper managers who stick around for longer, than about CEOs.

The discussion about embedding is not new of course, but the comment did make me think that it’s time to separate out what we mean by ‘leadership’ much more. Into two camps.

One is individual leadership. Which matters as a catalyst to make sustainable thinking happen in business. Its important, vitally so. Even if its often hard to absolutely define in the corporate responsibility arena.

The second, which is arguably even more critical, is corporate leadership. This is when a company embeds sustainable thinking (note I do not say progress, given the early stages of progress in business) into mid and upper management to the point where no CEO could disregard it.

I’d suggest we all spend far too much time talking about the first camp, and not enough on the second.

We spend more time than we did on embedding. But the cult of the omnipotent business leader that has afflicted anglo-saxon capitalism perhaps means we place too much emphasis on leaders beyond their role as catalysts.

This report might be of use for further reading.

It’s not free, but what is, that really lasts?

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