Five takeaways from the Leadership in Sustainable Business Course

By Fiona Stephenson

As a relative newcomer to the realm of sustainability and to the Sustainable Business Network, I wanted to complete the Leadership in Sustainable Business Course in order to acquire some much needed know-how.

Alongside our Membership Co-ordinator extraordinaire and leader of The Now Crowd, Holly, and some of our amazing SBN Members, I packed myself off to the course.  I am pleased to say after five days of intense learning spread over five weeks, facilitated by David Savage, I have so many new leadership tools at my disposal. I’d like to share five of those with you.

  1. You must have a clear vision and clear sustainable goals for your business.

Have you ever tried to put together a puzzle without seeing the picture on the box? If the overall picture isn’t made clear, it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to put the puzzle together. If people don’t know what they are striving for, they cannot meet expectations. Your vision is a lighthouse on the horizon for people in your organisation. While it’s far away, it’s a beacon for orienting them as they sail sometimes rough and uncharted waters.  While on the course I learnt how to define my vision by constructing concise and clear vision statements. This made it easy to communicate sustainable values and goals that people can understand.

  1. Great leaders lead collaboratively.

Leaders cannot exist in isolation, nor work alone. Great leaders lead collaboratively. A collaborative leader is less about controlling and more about inspiring others to work together as a team to achieve a common goal.  The Leadership course provides tangible tools in building Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Aspects of EI include self-awareness and self-management, in order to build social awareness and social facilitation.  These are important tools in being able to lead authentically. Once we are able to establish our authenticity as a leader, we are then able to effectively influence and empower people to feel valued, safe, and autonomous in their work. Without collaboration across an organisation and sectors, no traction in sustainability can be made.

  1. You do not need to be the smartest or the best, you just need to show up.

Great leadership doesn’t ask that you already occupy a powerful decision-making position, it doesn’t demand that you be an incredible orator or are an expert in your field. You don’t even need to be the most persuasive person either. What you need to do is to show up and be willing do the work.  No-one is an expert in everything, which is great news! This means you do not have to know everything in order to be a great leader in sustainability. By recognising the knowledge and talents of other people, you empower them to deliver to their strengths. In Otto Scharmer’s trail-blazing work on leadership, he shifts the focus away from the individual and towards the bigger context of which we are all a part. “We are instruments for bringing a new type of reality into being,” he says. In that light, what matters most is our agency to fulfil a larger purpose.  This is what the Leadership course has shown me – you don’t need to be the best. You just need to show up, be present, and be willing to do the work.

  1. This work however, does require bravery.

The challenges of the present moment are dark and troubling. We’ve never been capable of greater destruction, of inadvertently tipping the scales against ourselves and our future possibilities. There is an urgency about the work that needs to be done and we need to be brave and speak up about it. Our founder and CEO Rachel Brown often tells us, “we must be brave – if you don’t stand up and speak about sustainability issues, likely no one else will.” For sustainability advocates, practitioners, innovators and leaders, forging the way forward is never an easy task. Inevitably, we are going to meet resistance.  The resisters generally fall into two camps – those who deny environmental concerns exist, and those who say the problem is too big to do anything about.  This Leadership course gives us the tools to navigate our way around the nay-sayers and mobilise those who are willing to join the sustainability journey.

  1. You don’t have to solve all of the world’s sustainability problems.

As leaders in sustainability, we are forced to ask the tough questions… How do we bring about a safer, saner future? How do we begin? It can sometimes feel overwhelming. But there is really great news, you don’t have to solve these problems alone, in fact, we don’t have to solve them for the world, or for New Zealand. Our job is to show up, do the work, be present, empower others, and be brave – audaciously brave.  We keep doing that, over and over again and change WILL come about for good. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leadership is exactly that: a journey into changing yourself.  This is what the SBN Leadership in Sustainable Business Course is all about and it’s a truly wonderful, life-changing and powerful journey into yourself.

By Jess Paul, Membership Communicator

The next Leadership in Sustainable Business Course will take place in March 2019. To register interest, contact Sam McGlennon: sam@sustainable.org.nz