Leading Green is delighted to announce a new Sustainability in Action leadership course for Environmental Management, EHS and Sustainability professionals.
Obtaining Top Management Support (a new 1 day course)
22 – 25 January 2019
Getting across the board buy-in for sustainability in organisations can be difficult. Progressing strategic actions that create visibility for and awareness of sustainability, both inside and outside the organisation will require top management support. When seeking to change an organisation’s sustainability culture, their support – which must also require their participation and involvement, may be the most important success factor before you start!
Top management support is the critical success factor when progressing a business sustainability agenda.
This one day course sets out a strategic pathway that aims to supports you
self-assess the degree to which a sustainability framework is embedded across your organization, helping you understand your company’s progress, and
where to prioritize your efforts (1/2 day).
The second half of the day sets out a toolbox of tips and tactics to help win support, participation and involvement from the CEO and senior leadership team,to identify opportunities to support your CEO’s journeys to embed sustainability, and to increase the visibility of for sustainability initiatives within your organisation.
The course focuses on your day-to-day activities and your organisations direction of travel. It follows an established pathway, used successfully within several Business Schools and international organisations. The course’s objective is to help you personally:
Advance your organisation further along the path from environmental management/EHS to sustainability
Self assess progress year on year
Introduce your sustainability agenda to senior management
Increased your corporate visibility
Align Sustainability with the Corporate Plan, and
Demonstrate value and win support.
The Courses will be held during the 22nd – 25th January 2019 in Birmingham (2 days); Sheffield (1 day) and Lincoln (1 day).
This 1 day course is designed to align with IEMA’s CPD requirements for environmental professionals, with elements of the course corresponding to requirements within IEMA’s Sustainability Skills Map.
For further information, delegate rates and details contact: Ross Marshall at email@example.com or view the Training page.
Supporting Business Leaders implement Sustainability in Business
Ross Marshall has over 25 years experience of senior level Corporate Environmental Management & operational Sustainability within the Power, Water & Government Sectors. He is involved in the accreditation of environmental professionals for IEMA.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business training & consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.
While you may think that sustainability leaders rush like knights in shining armour from organisational crisis to crisis, or constantly correct flaws in operational culture, many seek to balance their ethical leadership skills and approaches with careful pragmatism and problem-solving skills in advance of issues becomming critical corporate concerns. The focus is always on the long-term leadership and business growth that sustainability can bring to the business, rather than the shorter term management of day-to-day risks.
This blog seeks to set out a few tips on how to think more like a sustainability leader in business building on your environmental management skills.
Whether you are new to the role and have never implemented a new operational policy, or even if you consider yourself a corporate CSR wizard. There are still a few brainstorming principles that you should with before any proposed initiative goes public. Taking the time to strategise will pay significant benefits as you eventually shape, form and ultimately deliver a sustainability solution. A solution that clearly communicates to the business, its sector or society what you are trying to achieve in terms of business sustainability.
1 Ask yourself: What is the purpose of the initiative and what will it achieve for others?
It may surprise you to learn that sustainability professionals are at their heart system thinkers and problem solvers, or if not solving a problem, then raising awareness of issues as opportunities for future change, advancement or beneficial re-alignment in the businesses. So the first place to start when laying the foundations for a future initiative is to give your proposed initiative a clear and simple business success objective. This way, later in the project, if you hit a roadblock, obstructions or find yourself confused by the direction it is taking, this objective can serve as your overarching target to help you shape the route to achievement or solution selection.
If you’re implementing a new process or policy, or seeking investment within the corporate planning cycle, your objective should be bold and inspiring to those that you want to influence or support you in making the initiative a reality, yet ultimately pragmatic. Be careful in making it so bold that it starts to detach itself from business reality or value. Sustainability initiatives in business should always be grounded in commercial reality or purpsoe, or possess a comprehensible logic path that inspires an alteration in overall business strategy. The expected organisational and business benefits of your initiative must be clear, set out succinctly and supportable.
2 Ask yourself: What already exists around me?
The next step, despite how excited you are to start implementing your initiative, is to make sure you have undertaken some local research and consultation. Go out and talk about the issue with operational contacts, managers and with those who hold the keys to implementing the solution. This provides an opportunity to gauge what skills, ideas, initiatives and future asset/maintenance investment plans are ongoing. Forming a network of future participants, supporters or the identification of future blockers, will help you evaluate what +ve or -ve issues will be raised or the assets that need to be/can be adapted to suit. When researching solutions, it provides a clearer idea of other technologies, approaches or concepts that those more familiar with operational management issues can buy into and support. Remember it is about achieving the final objective of business improvement, not whether your preferred solution is better than an alternative suggested by others. You may have the right idea but companies operate on subtle inter-personnel communications and influence pathways, and it is the internal political battles that deliver change and which you need to win to ensure the longevity of your initiative.
Take note of the suggestions, proposals and even offers of help, so that you can use these ideas when plotting out the structure of your initiative when you decide to really push the ‘go’ button.
3 Ask yourself: What business problems am I trying to solve?
This step involves asking yourself further questions to help create a clear leadership briefing paper or proposal for your initiative. It also helps you streamline the intent of your proposal. Yes, it must have a clear business sustainability element to it, but it must also have readily identifiable long or short-term business benefits when viewed from other perspectives. Unfortunately in business life – ‘because it is green!’ is sometimes not a good enough argument to initiate change! Below are the types of questions to ask yourself:
What is the problem I am trying to solve?
Here, you seek to identify both the long-term and short-term challenges that the business faces, and what you are trying to solve through your initiative. In the case of carbon emissions, the problem is not only the global impact of carbon, but locally the focus may be more strongly focussed within Procurement on the current cost of energy provision. In Planning – the long-term rise in energy costs, or in Marketing how energy use is to be reported in supply chain carbon calculators, or in the C-suite the organisations reliance on a 3rd party for a key production input, or competition for that resource in future production. Reflected through the worldviews of other colleagues, it still amounts to carbon emissions. The lesson to learn is how others associate or view the same issue!
Who will benefit from the Initiative?
When starting to plan out an initiative or sustainable change in operational culture, it is important to consider who your internal (and increasingly the external) audience is, and what their current or future needs will be. Having already engaged many internally on the issue you should have started to formulate ideas on how to shape the initiative for greatest success, what solutions will others buy into, or what objections still remain to be overcome, and how these can be turned around.
What would the business want the solution to look or feel like?
Instead of focusing on the aesthetics, process or ultimately maximising the sustainability of the solution, remember that sustainability leadership is all about ratcheting up the overall sustainability performance of the business. Often as long as the business is moving forward steadily on its sustainability journey – then that is a win in itself! Be prepared to sacrifice 20% of your initiative if its still delivers 80% success. Don’t lose the initiative entirely through unreasonable expectations on others, their worldview, their lack of support. Their worldview and the immediate pressures they are under will strongly influence their decision-making and buy-in.
It is always worth spending time considering the emotions that you want your initiative to elicit – a sense of pride in the business, ownership for a solution, buy-in to participate or even just acceptance and compliance with the new direction if it means minimum disruption. .
4 Ask yourself: How will I roll this out?
Now that you’ve outlined the key business objectives and benefits of your initiative and have built a supportive network internally, it’s time to decide how you will roll it out. If it is outside your immediate budgetary allowance, then at this point it can be advisable to approach the key decision makers, those who will ultimately decide on the labour, investment or even operational space for change and ask them directly for advice and for help by sketching out their preferred route through the corporate jungle.
As they think through the issue and outline a proposed route, you can gain satisfaction in watching their mental buy-in to the initiative and its alignment with their preferred worldview of how best to move your objective into business operations and ultimately into a more sustainable corporate culture.
An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an
organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in
other words, engaged. These engaged employees are more productive and better
Many organisations are seeking to integrate environmental compliance and
management processes into their ways of working, and several are attempting to
drive sustainability into their cultural DNA!
To achieve this, they are enlisting a new group of employees – the environmental
or sustainability specialist – as change managers. Many are having spectacular success in
altering the organisational beliefs, ways of working and the mindset of their
organisations. In the course of which
they deliver a new lease of commercial life in their sectors and marketplace, but
others are failing as they become dispirited with entrenched leadership attitudes,
lack of accountability and on occasion evidence of organisational acceptance of
illegal or unethical practices.
No company is perfect and on many occasions the change management
activities that are required to embed sustainability issues and thinking into organisations
can feel like draining the Atlantic Ocean with just a recycled Starbucks coffee
cup for help! That is why I was
surprised in one recent mentoring session on how dismayed a young sustainability
adviser was with her career choice.
No one said entering the environmental profession would be an easy one
or a free pass to career success. You
are after all trying to bring in a new mindset into business before the
traditional mindset impacts too severely on the lives and prosperity of people
and their environments! The challenge
and the excitement of the role and ultimately why you are here in these
positions are why most of us get out of bed each morning.
We analysed some of the problems she faced and then took them apart to
examine the specific issues that were causing her so much grief in detail:
Some were clearly based around her lack
of experience and could be rectified through training and development coaching;
Some were based simply around her lack
of misunderstanding of how the industry operated and could be rectified through
the identification of a suitable internal mentor to be a guide and someone she
could bounce her future ideas off in advance, and
In one scenario it was clear that she had
mis-communicated badly her case to a group of managers. She had used technical jargon familiar to
sustainability professionals but new to the audience and lost them. She hadn’t aligned her case close enough to
corporate outcomes to interest them and as a result had made an unpersuasive argument
for change. These again could be
rectified through further coaching and mentoring.
But in a couple of situations the issues were clear and the challenges
she faced significant. Despite her best
endeavours, there were several key sustainability issues where she felt that
her efforts were being purposely disregarded, where the context of sustainability
claims were being manipulated for greenwashing/marketing purposes without organisational
evidence. Whilst these indicated a lack
of responsible leadership or management in those above her, ultimately our conversation
had to address a cruel set of question that only she could answer:
Had her contribution as an employee hit
a rough patch on these issues that she could work through with time and support?
Could she live with the unethical or non-environmental
behaviours and with time correct them?
Had she reached a performance plateau in
how far she could take this company in terms of her own sustainability vision against
the willingness of the people within the organisation to change?
Was she still excited by the role – or
was it time for someone else to take up the reins and try it their way?
Should she move on and find a new
Ethics and strong values underline an environmental or sustainability
professional’s career choice. Many of us
remain optimistic and holds an altruistic view on how business can work in economic
and social partnership with the rest of society for the economic betterment of
all. Your work is integral, not only to
how you see the world, but how your chosen sector or employer actively improves
their environmental or sustainability performance into the future as core business
So, when your employer makes headlines for the wrong environmental reasons
or continues to act in an unsustainable manner contradicting its stated polies should
you look for a new role with a new employer? To figure that out, you need to closely
examine your emotional relationship with your work and with your employer:
Do your employers continue to act in
the knowledge of the social and environmental impacts they are accountable for?
Where is the redline before they will seek
to correct the issue?
If the issue blows up due to regulatory
or negative publicity, will you be innocent of any wrongdoing or culpability?
Dependent on your answers you may not need to leave, many companies
weather small environmental scandals and they are often a golden opportunity to
enhance changes in behaviour – simply put don’t waste a crisis but be aware of
how such situations could damage your reputation.
At the end of the day and to repeat the starting paragraph – An
organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full
of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words,
engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.
Ultimately you must consider your own job satisfaction, your well-being,
career prospects and future development if you stay. If the company’s actions (or inactions)
violate your moral and professional code of conduct, then you may need to take
a professional stand and move on.
If you do decide to leave, be ready to answer the obvious question ‘Why did you leave your last employer’ from the next HR or recruiting manager. Prepare an answer in advance that acknowledges the organisational risks you identified, the actions you sought to take for that organisation’s benefit, how you personally felt your values and ethics were being compromised by the management responses received and seek to distances yourself from their behaviours. Turn it back on the recruiter as a first step in what sort of professional they are hiring – How would this company deal with such an issue? It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. In addition we provide a confidential mentoring and coaching services to new and experienced professionals seeking to enhance thier performance and skill sets.
‘EIA Project Managers focus on project targets and processes, EIA Leaders focus on project outcomes’
I believe this to be one of the fundamental mindsets that leaders in EIA possess, and a factor that helps them move up a tier in the profession. The right leadership in the environment of today’s project management world is crucial to providing a clear path and vision for attaining organizational as well as sustainability goals. In the EIA and infrastructure development world, it is also about creating agile teams with S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals backed up by effective team management skills to execute desired outcomes effectively and to become more agile in their approach in handling uncertainties within IA and its related assessments.
As a EIA leader you are ultimately measured on one thing — the results that you deliver within the project scope. Given this ultimate measure and its wider importance to local communities and society in general, it is vital that you are outcomes focussed from the start (pun intended!).
So what are the key benefits of being an outcome focussed EIA Team Leader? As I see it there are 5 key benefits.
If you are crystal clear what you want and where you want to take the project, issue or project team during the project, it becomes much easier to communicate it to those that you are interacting with or leading. If you can communicate an inspiring vision for the future, you are much more likely to get project managers, engineers and team members to support you in translating this into design options and ultimately reality.
Benefit 2: Time
No one has ‘too much’ time in projects, it is a rare luxury in our or any profession involved in infrastructure and construction. It is how we use that time that makes the critical difference. When you are outcomes focussed, you spend your time on those areas that are likely to leverage the greatest benefits for yourself as a leader, for the EIA and for the wider project.
Benefit 3: Big picture
It is all too easy, especially in times of project challenge to become obsessed with the detail and trivial stuff. During these periods it is easy to lose sight of the big picture – reducing residual impacts and promoting sustainable development. Being outcome focussed helps you remember the big picture and what you want to achieve for the project, the project team, for your organisation and for you personally as an advocate of sustainable development.
Benefit 4: Planning
They say that failing to plan is planning to fail. If you are clear about what you want to accomplish, it becomes much easier to plan what you are doing, when you are doing it and how you will achieve it. When you sit down to work out EIA priorities you can simply ask yourself – ‘will this move me closer to the outcome I want?’.
Benefit 5: Results
EIA Leaders that focus on the outcomes get more done and as a result deliver better EIA outcomes for society. As you achieve one result, it will act as a reinforcement and motivation to achieve more – this helps start and reinforce the leadership cycle within you.
The take away message — Being outcomes focussed can lift your EIA performance and your own brand of EIA leadership to a new level. So start considering the formal and infomal roles that EIA leaders fulfil in projects and what steps can you can personally take to re-focus on outcomes?
At Leading Green, our approach to environmental leadership mentoring & training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. We run the only EIA leadership course that has been accepted for delivery by the Internation Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) at thier annual conference.
Two monthas ago I posted a Linked In article identifying how fighting natural disasters is increasingly becoming ‘business as normal’ for some industries faced with increasing climate change impacts. The case study concerned the Pacific Gas and Electricity Company (PG&E) and their mounting liability ($billions) arising from wildfires linked to network infrastructure.
It was with regret that I read that PG&E had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US after being brought to its knees through mounting liabilities for wildfires and the deaths of over 100 people.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas killing as many as 60 people, and caused damages as high as US$180 billion across government bodies, businesses and property owners. In addition, the hurricane shut down, damaged or destroyed Texas energy operations and related businesses. The final bill was estimated at up to 1% of US GDP.
The point in my original article was about how smart organisations, especially infrastructure asset management businesses, are starting to take real note of sustainability risks, notably Climate Change and Megatrends, and had started to incorporate them into thier Enterprise Risk Management portfolios, particularly via futurecasts (looking forward) across various anticipated scenarios. This approach integrates well with marketing and business planning activities where an open commercial mindset is applied. It tests future business strategy, assumptions and investment, but just as importantly it can uniquely identify redundant processes or future ‘stranded assets’.
Asset heavy state and private businesses, often effectively monopolies in terms of the business and customer base are most at risk of encountering this risk. Why? because thier comprative size, thier longevity, lack of real competition, and at times leadership complacency that significant competitive barriers to entry exist can lead to a false sense of security.
Stranded assets are assets that suffer from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations or conversion from ‘asset’ to ‘liability’. Stranded assets can be caused by a variety of factors (climate change, policy transfer or societal concern) and are a phenomenon inherent when a company starts to focus internally rather than externally in its search for innovation, market intelligence and forgets to repeatedly ask itself ‘Why do I exist?’. Rapid technology or sociatal value changes in several technology sectors are evidence that it can happen across many market and service serctors. Leaving previously successful companies behind newer entrants, leaving them asset heavy and effectively market redundant in a previously regarded secure sector. Stranded assets can pose a significant risk to shareholders, organisations and the communities within which that business operates as it can effectively wipe out a business’s commercial viability as the balance sheet tips over towards liabilities and the investment call required to catch up with competitors becomes unsustainable as debt. Many coal based supply & generation resources, and other hydrocarbon-based indutries, now have the potential to become stranded through climate change as the world engages in a fossil fuel phase out.
For the financially minded it can be summarised quickly as a once valued asset that is not performing well in the marketplace but which must be kept on a financial statement in order to record a loss of profit!
A recent report by the NGO Climate Tracker outlined that the increasing competitiveness in renewable energy costs and the price drop in energy cost to consumers will leave $60 billion of coal burning plants in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines ‘stranded’ within 10 years. In Indonesia alone it identified $34.7 billion of stranded assets if policies were brought in to meet the goal of the Paris climate agreement to restrict global warming to less than 2°C.
Sustainability Scenario Analysis
Sustainability Scenario analysis is a useful starting tool for forecasting the potential liabilities and implications of sustainability issues, megatrends and in particular climate change on a business’s asset management strategy, its future investment scenarios and operational practices as a business and as a leadership tool through which to stimulate longer term scenario and strategic thinking. At a leadership level it starts to prompt a movement away from the concept of the ‘effeciency of the existing process’ towards a more sustainable ‘effectiveness of the future outcome’.
This blog is part 1 of a longer discourse on sustainability strategy in business and scenario analysis
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.
Organisations cannot expect a responsible leadership and sustainability culture to be built for them by EHS and EMS teams without the active involvement and participation of thier leadership teams
In any organisations, the strengths and values of responsible leadership and sustainability must sit within the beliefs and worldviewa of its individual leaders. Their influence on other employees will then be determined by the collective responsibility they exhibit and ultimately how these messages and actions are perceived by, have influence on and ultimately change wider organisational culture.
As a leader you can work hard to cultivate a strong leadership culture around yourself – it may be personally satisfying, but ultimately it means nothing in today’s business world if it doesn’t have a positive impact on organisational culture. We have become aware of or experienced the ‘crash and burn’ hire – the candidates who promise everything in the interview room but fail when presented at the operational cliff face! Having a positive impact on organisational culture is one of the most in-demand skills that responsible leaders can possess, especially when it is tied into a leadership culture that encompasses business sustainability or transformation leadership skills.
Your personal leadership culture is not only what you believe internally, but often what people close to you perceive and react to. If the two perceptions aren’t in alignment, then your effectiveness in the role will be limited. To progress in responsible leadership and sustainability those around you must have trust in the strength and validity of your inner beliefs, the transparency of your behaviours in this area and how well you communicate this worldview. Your own personal WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) dilemma – if you cannot inspire trust, accountability, direction and inspiration in yourself as a leader. It will only be the power inherent in the post that you hold that deems you ‘a leader’ in the eyes of others! So, building a leadership culture around yourself can be a successful and empowering enterprise, but it needs critical self-reflection in ‘who you are’ and ‘what you believe in’.
In combination with the other ‘leaders’ around you, the collective leadership culture will set the organisational culture for the business. Research has shown that the degree to how embedded this perceived ‘leadership culture’ is will have a positive or negative impact on business longevity, adaptability, sustainability and how well senior leadership teams are able to act as a responsible manager and the extent to which they can work collectively for the benefit of the organisation.
If the leadership culture is too skewered towards the independent actions of its respective leaders, then you run the risk of a leadership culture composed of self-deluding peacocks each following independent agendas.
If it is too skewered towards a dependent leadership culture, then you run the risk of ‘group think’ and the deluding belief that only those around the board room table are responsible for existing practices, patterns of behaviour and leadership interactions.
Building a strong leadership culture lies in building in balance with:
a diversity of personal characteristics, beliefs and worldviews (if you only employ engineers or accountants, don’t be surprised if they are logical and enjoy analysing complex problems but struggle in tuning their behaviours to the needs of others during CSR discussions)
a positive adaptability to changes outside the organisation (a willingness to change and adapt the business to address marketplace changes or customer values)
, a desire to integrate their diverse skills collaboratively towards business outcomes (can they perform as a team!), and
creative enough in their own persona to promote or inspire others to join them in any future direction the organisation takes (i.e. brave enough to face up to challenging situations and to take others forward with them)
Why is this important?
The organisational culture of a business reflects the beliefs and values that have built up within its employees – from the top to the bottom over time. It reflects the freedom to operate that all employees need when they act in the best interests of the collective as opposed to the individual. Staff are ‘inspired’ either to do their work or more positively by the value in which they feel their work is held. This has a significant impact on efficiency and organisational performance. As all good leaders know, it isn’t about you, it is about them! If they are inspired by positive leadership set within an inspiring organisational culture then their personal well-being, attitude, approach to customers, behaviours and (ultimately for those organisations who wish to retain skilled employees) their longevity in employment will be improved.
Without inspiration, without direction and without positive
leadership – staff will adjust their work patterns to a level that allows them
to operate within the leadership cultures that they find themselves.
Why risk your inspiration on a leader who only
reflects on his own position within the leadership?
Why work hard for a leader who fails to hold
others accountable for poor performance?
Why seek system thinking from a leader whose
judgement, design and thinking is poor?
Why follow the vision of a leader you don’t trust?
In seeking to act both as a ‘leader’ and a ‘leader of others’ you must understand the relationship between organizational culture, your individual (and collective) leadership behaviours and their outcome on business performance, sustainability, staff satisfaction and retention.
To help you in this, I recommend that you reflect on the following three leadership insights:
extent is the organisational culture having a positive or negative impact on sustainability
Is our collective
leadership culture helping us to achieve the sustainability strategies that
have been set?
I need to address internally and who do I need to challenge openly to change
The last question as always is the most difficult to answer, but it is the one with the greatest self -reflection and desire to act as a leader!
In the late ‘80s I entered the Power Industry. I was tasked with helping ScottishPower set up its first environmental team. There were no rules, little supervision and precious few guidelines on ‘how to get green done’. My MD’s first words to me were on the rabbits at the bottom of his garden – no doubt a fascinating topic to this new breed of non-engineering employee!
Soon after this I was working with one of the older mechanical engineers on an air dispersion model for a proposed waste-to-energy plant. I used an early ADMS computer programme, he achieved comparable results on the back of an envelope! I was bemoaning my lack of experience in this area and the difficulties I faced relating the result to potential dioxin dispersion, and how I would incorporate the results into the Environmental Impact Assessment.
‘Experience’ he gently said, ‘Experience is only gained through facing up to your lack of experience!’ A great lesson from a highly intelligent and modest man.
Now after 25 years’ experience in environmental impact assessment, management and sustainability I find myself addressing 3 common themes again and again with new sustainability and environmental managers during mentoring discussions:
1. You don’t have to
‘The more you know, the less you know’. As you grow in confidence and knowledge the questions get bigger as new areas open, new linkages are found, and solutions open further avenues of mental exploration. No one person can ever understand the complexity of ‘the environment’ – for heaven’s sake we don’t even possess an internationally recognised definition for the word. We must accept that often what we face is novel, specific to that location and has a mass of intangibles tied up with it.
You must come to accept that in some areas you will alays remain a ‘professional generalist’ – able to cover a wide spectrum of environmental topics, expert in some but only touching the surface of others.
What’s the solution – learn to ask others for help! It isn’t weakness it is a strength that will pay back dividends if managed carefully. I have worked with many great environmentalists and engineers on a large variety of complex large infrastructure and sustainability management projects. I have been thrown into stakeholder bearpits, investment board meetings and national emergencies such as flooding, food & Mouth epidemics and terrorist incidents. There is no previously written guidebook on how to manage, but the best possible approach is to surround yourself with, or have access to, those that can add to the jigsaw solution. If you don’t know the answer, the best route is always to say either ‘I don’t know but I will find out and come back to you on that issue’; ‘Do any of you know the answer to this’ or ‘Can you engineer me a better solution with these outcomes’.
Rather than losing trust by displaying ignorance, it builds trust as you solve complex problems as a team, your colleagues comes to realise that they are dealing with a professional who understands the risk in, and limitations of, their knowledge, is prepared to say so honestly and work with others co-operatively to find a solution. The worst thing you can do is bluster or pretend that you fully understand all the parameters of the dilemma. No one expects you to know everything. Relax. And ask open questions that may stimulate the answer through others. Try it!
2. My problem is unique.
I have seen young managers work themselves into a state
because they feel that they are the only one at this coalface. The organisational culture is unique, the
problem is unique and hence the solution must be unique. They feel that the problems they face are so
specific to them, so much so that external advice or options will not help.
What is the solution
– You can internalise a problem and hope that your mental skills set can find a
solution, or you can externalise a problem and gain help? Whichever route you take the responsibility
for solving the problem remains with you and must be ultimately owned by you as
the leader. Personally, I often enjoy
switching into an external mindset when debating problems and potential
solutions, I want to hear how others think about the issue, what they suggest
and what experiences they can bring to the table. I also data mine externally looking at how
other organisations have addressed the issue to gain ideas. I then go back and work through the new
information, sifting for ideas and a solution that fits before taking the
decision to press forward again.
As Tom Lehrer in 1953 so aptly put it about the secret of being
a successful mathematician:
‘Plagiarize! Let no one else’s
work evade your eyes
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
So, don’t shade your eyes but plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’!”
This has helped me find solutions to laying underground electricity cables in water pipeline technology, decision making models via the car industry, and ecological answers in hardware shops. Keep your problem-solving radar active and never let a good idea pass you by!
Your responsibility ultimately lies in making the decision on
how the organisation progresses, you can’t duck this, and the decision risk should
always remain with you as the accountable leaders. You can make decisions via committee but
watch out for group think and consensus through banality. The most appropriate approach is often to
cast widely, listen to what others have to say, challenge their assumptions
(try playing the Devil’s Advocate in conversations) and ultimately select the
one that you can confidently deliver on through your abilities, resources and organisational
3. Are you following your ideas at the expense
of working for the best interests of the organisation?
have seen young professionals run into a mental wall when their goals are
dashed through organisational inertia to change. I have experienced it myself at times, and it
can set you back mentally and physically when an organisation refuses to change
its preferred ways of working.
Then is the time to take a good long hard look in the mirror … were you following your own preferred agenda or in the best interests of the organisation. Had you planned sufficiently, had you sold the idea to others, sufficiently and ultimately would it have added value? I have seen environmental and general managers pursue microcosm agendas that no one else in the organisation believes in or understands. As a Case Study, a previous Director who fixated on the cost of biscuits served in meetings whilst his division’s budget was cut… we wanted strategic changes, he wanted Rich Tea biscuits.
have on occasions advised environmental managers to look hard at their priorities,
not only through an environmental lens but also what it will mean in terms of
enterprise risk management, the corporate plan. Internal budgets, brand and
stakeholder benefits. Incorporating
these factors into your sustainability agenda helps prioritise action, expands
your organisational worldview, forces you to seek input from others and to
understand how their cog spins in the corporate machine and who they interface
What is the solution – Ask yourself whose sustainability agenda are you working on and what is the desired outcome? Is it your own preference, added value for the organizations or the world? These objectives are not either/or options they interact, but there are trade-offs, and ultimately your focus must be on the operational, economic and sustainability of the organisation that employs you. That doesn’t mean that you say ‘yes’ to everything. You are there after all to bring through cultural change management towards a more sustainable operating business model. But in organisational life there are often trade-offs that need to be considered, and these may require you to put aside your personal sustainability agenda for the moment and get stuck into the priorities of others in the business. Similarly pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will not be in the best interest of a company if no one understands its value, instead a more strategic, leading-but-not-agitating approach may take you further. Whatever your agenda, the preferred legacy is that your colleagues adopt the initiative into their personal worldview, live it and hopefully pass it on others – that is success in sustainability leadership book!
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.