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Leadership for Sustainability

Richard Little

The narrow scientific rationalism that brought us mass production, market economics and global warming also gave us scientific management. Notwithstanding decades of rhetoric about empowerment and engagement, thinking about leadership and management is still dominated by crude instrumental managerialism – the reduction of human beings, born free, to the status of expendable resources. Until there is a significant change in the practice of leadership in business, and in the way we conceive of employee engagement, the transition to truly sustainable business will be half-hearted, faltering and fatally slow.

Only a few years into the new century and there seems to have been a general shift, one long awaited by some, in the way people think of the earth, its diminishing resources and the likely consequences for future generations of the West’s way of life. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be much let-up in the cacophony of consumerism or the primitive drive for growth. You can still read huge chunks of the business press without finding a word about social justice or sustainability; the global business default
was set at growth at all costs before the current credit crisis and it will probably revert to the same model in due course.

A lot is changing, but not enough or fast enough. Something has to give before the order of change matches the urgency of the threat and that something, I believe, is the most fundamental characteristic of the corporation: its leadership, with the way leadership is conceived and developed.

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