Do you work with or for people with similar values and purposes to your own? I am going to hazard a guess that if you do, then you feel fulfilled in your work. Impact has a purpose: to help create organisations worth working for. Our values involve around the term sustainable innovation, with leadership being the main driver for sustainable change.
As a PhD researcher, I use evidence-based analysis to create new research that will enhance our learning in the world of leadership and to create action that will benefit us all. Part of this research has illustrated that the power of ‘we’ outweighs the power of ‘me’. Let me explain; social identity theory posits that we feel a stronger sense of togetherness and belonging when we surround ourselves with people who have similar attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. These are people that we can easily identify with. However, when we encounter individuals that we find it difficult to identify with, we can easily fall into the trap of stereotyping, exaggerating differences and similarities within and between groups. Without thinking, we seek the negative aspects of the ‘out-group’ in order to enhance our own self-image and that of our ‘in-group’. A group could be the organisation you work for or the team/division that you work with on a daily basis or outside of work the group of friends you a close with.
So, what has this got to do with sustainability? Sustainability is the largest challenge businesses have to face now not just the future. It is on every CEO’s desk, the only difference is in where they have it in their order of priorities. Research has shown that more people than ever believe that creating a sustainable world is the top priority. If we are part of this group of people who share this powerful attitude and opinion – which many of us are – then we can naturally view others who do not share this view in a negative light. In this way, the groups we belong to are both a help and a hinderance.
Environmental challenges are normally marked by this in-group/out-group dimension. Such intergroup tensions are reminders of the powerful influence that social contexts and different groups can have on attitudes, beliefs, and most of all, actions. More specifically, our relationship to a particular group – as well as the relationships we see between groups – influences our attitudes on sustainability and the choices we make.
Here is some helpful advice: explore what your organisation and others are doing in regard to sustainability. Find out what you are passionate about and connect with others who are interested in the same things. Share your thoughts and ideas with others in your organizational group(s) – you might find that they want to join your new group and create positive change in the sustainability field. It isn’t all about big changes; even just a small shift in the mindset of those you work with or for is valuable, with the potential to lead to a wider movement.
Leadership is vital to embedding actions within a group. But leadership doesn’t have to come from managers or senior leaders; anyone can take leadership action. It just takes courage to move out of the social in-group to create a new group where the norm is to be sustainable. Social identity theory offers a helpful theoretical lens through which to examine sustainable attitudes and behaviours and to think about how to make pro-sustainability the best in-group anyone could be part of. Start by leading the groups you’re already part of in order to begin the conversation.
Stuart Kelly is a Performance Psychology Consultant at Impact UK. You can connect with him here.