The leadership needed to drive the net zero transition

Leadership refers to the formal, earned and informal positions given, with associated power, to a relatively small group of people in an organisation to direct the group and resources. Given the scale and the urgent pace of change needed to decarbonise whole industries, leadership cannot be left to a small number of individuals with formally recognised leadership roles in an organisation. Regardless of where individuals sit in an organisational structure, they can influence their colleagues, teams and the wider strategy of their organisation through leadership. Many will have the opportunity to direct team members through their everyday actions (leading by example) and the way they manage the systems and processes directly in their control (CISL, 2019).

Business action can drive wider societal transformation by developing and harnessing new innovations, exploring new ways to meet the challenges and needs of society and by promoting new consumption patterns and lifestyle aspirations. In this set of notes, we will consider how leadership can drive the transformation needed to decarbonise organisations, sectors and the global economy. We will also explore the essential approaches and individual leadership capabilities needed to achieve a net zero goal.

Organisations need to be proactive, as opposed to reactive and adaptive, in order to change and work towards a net zero future. Business leaders (such as executives, heads of department and team leaders) should cultivate leadership across their organisation and equip employees with knowledge and leadership capabilities. This is particularly important with regards to decarbonisation, as sustainability practices and strategies cannot exist in a silo; instead, leaders should facilitate collaboration across teams and departments to engage all employees. Leveraging diverse perspectives, backgrounds and strengths of individuals across the organisation empowers individuals and encourages wider leadership at all levels (CISL, 2018). It is important to focus on building collective capacity instead of individual leaders, when developing leadership within an organisation (Razetti, 2019).

Leadership that delivers holistic value for business, society and the environment should exemplify the following:

  • Guidance by purpose: Business success needs to be aligned to the delivery of positive outcomes such as decarbonisation, as well as a commitment to transform economic and social systems at the speed and scale necessary.
  • Ability to cultivate the necessary values, thinking and practice: Leaders should continually develop the necessary values, thinking tools, knowledge, attitudes and skills to deliver transformation at the pace and scale necessary.
  • Reflective and adaptive behaviour: Leaders need to be continuously learning and should be accountable for their decisions. This includes implementing targets that have been set and monitoring, measuring and responding to progress.

(CISL, 2018)

In Video 1, Lindsay Hooper, the Executive Director of Education at CISL and author of the report Rewiring Leadership, outlines the type of leadership required to drive organisational transformation in relation to decarbonisation. She also discusses some of the key capabilities of effective leaders and provides some guidance as to how individuals can cultivate and develop these skills and competencies.