Embodied v Operational Carbon


Lindsay on Leadership

Is a new kind of leadership required to drive decarbonisation in organisations?
LINDSAY HOOPER: When we look at what’s going to be needed to really drive the
decarbonisation that’s needed – not just of organisations but of whole economies – there
are some particular leadership challenges that we need leaders and leadership to be able
to respond to. And you’ve been exploring some of those in this programme.
But if we look at those through the lens of leadership, we see that we need change – not
just within organisations; this is not just a regular organisational change strategy, this is a
transformation of the business, but also transformation of whole sectors, whole
geographies, whole value chains. So we need leadership that can influence change over
complex systems.
We have the challenge – or the opportunity – of huge innovation. So linked to that
transformation that requires, you know, huge at-pace transformation of what we do and
how we work. So that creates a new expectation and need of leadership.
We also are in a context when we’re having to step into the unknown. So we’re having to
make big decisions, big bets, sometimes in uncertain conditions. We don’t have all the
information or all of the evidence that we might normally have for the kinds of decisions
organisations need to take. So we need leadership that can operate in that context of
And then finally, when we look at what are the measures of good leadership, what’s an
outcome of good leadership, that’s also changed. It’s no longer enough just to deliver, you
know, great returns to shareholders or to be well-ranked in the ratings. Those are great,
but it’s not enough if we’re not delivering what’s needed according to the science. So we
need leadership that is accountable and holds itself accountable to delivering that kind of
So it’s not completely new. It’s absolutely, you know, holding on to, making the most of the
brilliant leadership we already have. But it’s also recognising the leadership challenges that
lay ahead and preparing to really step up to foster, cultivate the kind of leadership needed
to respond to those.
What key capabilities do leaders need to drive decarbonisation in their
HOOPER: Firstly, you need to understand the system. So you need systems thinking.
You also need to be in touch with the context. You need to know what’s happening, be
sensing the trends, the patterns, the opportunities to be able to intervene.
You also need the analytical capabilities to be able to work out where are the points of
leverage that are worth pursuing. There’s a huge range of opportunities to collaborate, but which are the ones that we’ll really see results, because we can’t do everything.

And then, once you’ve identified those opportunities for influence, you need to find ways
of influencing, engaging that don’t rely on you being a great hierarchical leader. So that
requires leadership that can engage with and understand different perspectives. Be able
to work with people, even if their interests potentially are in tension with your own, to try to
find that common ground. To be a brilliant communicator, brilliant influencer in that context.
If we look at the next challenge – the need for innovation – so of course, you know, being
a brilliant, creative, innovative entrepreneur, but also enabling others to be able to do that,
to creating the conditions that foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the organisation.
It’s also challenging yourself to be willing to unlearn and think in new ways.
Sometimes when we work at the most senior levels within a business, very senior leaders
will see their role to protect the business against forces of change. Sometimes it’s the very
business model they’re protecting that is the problem. So they need to be willing to reframe
and think in different ways and see the world through the lens of what’s needed rather than
take a protectionist view. So the need to be able to make decisions when you don’t have
all of the data and all of the insights that you might need.
So sometimes that is around the technicalities of changing your decision-making
frameworks or changing the kinds of sources of data that you might use. But I think it also
requires courage. So often we have leaders in businesses saying, yes, I know we need to
act, but we’d rather be a fast follower than a leader. But if everybody takes that position,
we never move forward.
And then finally, just as leaders holding ourselves accountable for the impact of our
leadership, are we really delivering the results we need? And be willing to go back, think
again, do things differently if we’re not getting those results.
What approaches and strategies should individuals adopt to cultivate these key
leadership competencies?
HOOPER: Firstly, it’s really important to recognise that no individual is going to encompass
all of these or embody all of these. We need leadership across organisations. We need
teams that collectively have these strengths. So we need to, as individuals, recognise what
our strengths are and be aware of the strengths and the diversity of other approaches and
other leadership around us.
But when it comes down to you as an individual, and how do you build the kind of
competencies that you might need? And that’s very personal as well. It may be, given that
you’ve chosen to come on an online course, this is your preferred way to develop
yourselves. If you want to develop your leadership capabilities or your influencing
capabilities, you may choose to go on another online course that’s very targeted at
developing you in that area. Or you may learn through doing and you may want to, you
know, get stuck in, start taking action, but do so in a conscious way where you’re reflecting
and learning, perhaps journaling or finding a peer who might be going through that same
journey themselves so you can compare notes, talk through, recognise what you’re
experiencing and kind of bank that learning as you go. Or you may find a mentor who’s
been through this before, who’s faced some of the challenges you’re facing. And help get
them to work with you, to support you. Ideally someone who’s got a diverse perspective,
so you’ve got something to learn.

So there’re a whole range of ways that we can develop ourselves. But I think it’s about
being self-aware about who we are and how we can most be effective and work out what’s
the very best way for us to develop ourselves.
Are there any examples of organisations or individuals who have led, and are
leading, this transition particularly well?
HOOPER: It’s really important to recognise that there are a whole different range of ways
of leading. So if you look at some of the people that we might commonly identify as leaders,
or perceive to be leaders, in relation to decarbonisation, we might look at senior business
leaders, people like Paul Polman, who’s the former CEO of Unilever. He created a space
for business leadership, but he created a space in business. He normalised it – or played
a role and contributed to normalising it – within business so senior business leaders could
talk about their commitment to decarbonisation in a way that didn’t make them sound like
they were tree huggers. He made it acceptable to not just wait until you finished working in
business and then put something back in a philanthropic way. It became a boardroom and
executive-room conversation.
But alternatively, we look at someone like Elon Musk. He’s had a huge impact as a leader
through being an entrepreneur, through disrupting the automotive sector.
On the other hand, there are leaders who are activists. There are individuals who keep
bringing the challenge, who bring the pressure, whether they’re outside the business, like
the schoolchildren protesting in the streets, extinction rebellion in the UK, Greta, who’s
become a global icon. But increasingly we’re seeing that pressure from activists within the
Often when we’re talking to businesses, one of the biggest drivers for them to change is
their employee expectations. So never underestimate the impact you can have as a voice
alongside a range of other voices, pushing for change. And then there’s the role that
individual leaders can play as facilitators. So, often they’re not the people whose names
you’ll know, but they’ve done a huge amount of work behind the scenes to facilitate others,
to design a process, to line up a whole series of decisions, to bring people along so that
they can get the organisation to make a big commitment.
So when you’re looking at examples, maybe look at the enabling conditions. Don’t only
look at the individual and think what role did they play. Recognise there’ll be people around
them that played a role.