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Featured: Sustainable leadership for a sustainable future

In recent years, mounting social pressure has contributed to a significant shift in the type of leadership seen across organisations.

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the impact businesses have on the triple bottom line, it’s important for those at the top to embrace sustainable leadership.

To find out more, Dr Joanne James, Director of Executive Education, and Dr Jenny Davidson, Executive MBA Programme Director, both from Newcastle University Business School explore the conversation.

What does sustainable leadership look like?

Dr Davidson explains “Sustainable leadership is all about adopting a responsible approach to the way that we lead, stopping to think about the wider impact of our actions on society and the environment. This might mean considering our wider stakeholder group, the natural systems within which we are operating and their limits.

“It’s crucial to begin by exploring and understanding how our individual roles might contribute to tackling global challenges such as climate change and gender inequality and in doing so, to recognise the value that our individual actions might bring. Responsible leaders are always looking up and out beyond their role, organisation and sector.”

How can leaders use the UN Sustainability Goals as a framework for professional development? 

Dr Davidson explains “Tackling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can feel daunting as an individual. Our Executive Education programmes offer a unique opportunity to link individual development with these goals.

“We do this initially through an exploration of individual values and purpose alongside an exercise to help individuals to understand the SDGs before creating a tailored plan to tackle the SDGs material to each individual.

“Linking individual values and a focused approach to tackling the SDGs provides purpose and understanding for individuals and helps to make sense of how personal and professional priorities link to global issues.

“We use a process of moral reflexivity throughout our programmes to revisit, revise and evolve each plan. Our approach has been developed in partnership with NetPositive and as well as linking SDGs to personal development, it enables us to measure the impact of our programmes against the SDGs.”

How is leadership education changing and what is Newcastle University Business School’s approach to it? 

Dr James explains “Leadership education for the future of work recognises that we are working in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous contexts (VUCA). Leadership is not a position or an individual person but a series of practices that enables collaborative action towards a common mission. Continuous learning and collaboration with others is central to these practices. As a result, the educational journey for every individual is unique depending upon their context.

“Our role as educators is to create a process where we present models and frameworks in such a way that students can reflect on the utility of the theory in relation to their organisational context and their own practices.

“Our aim is to reflect our regional ecosystem within our cohort so that all sectors and business types are represented creating a robust network of regional leaders who can collaborate beyond the boundaries of the programme.”

Find out more about Newcastle University Business School’s Executive Education programmes.