Leading with purpose for sustainable change

Leaders need to be ambitious and commit to change – insights from the first Leadership Impact Festival run by the Henley Centre for Leadership.

The first Leadership Impact Festival in June was run by the Henley Centre for Leadership, bringing academics, global Henley alumni and the business world together. It is vital these groups continue to work together to reimagine leadership and make firm commitments towards building leadership impact. Here, a few overarching themes that emerged from the Festival to inspire further dialogue, change, and momentum.

In everyday workplaces, we need to stretch our leadership thinking and practice to co-create sustainable impact for our constituents and networks. When discussing leadership tensions and ambitions, one thing was clear - it all starts with us. Leaders need to be the ones driving sustainable impact.

Leading with ambition

Achieving the right balance between short-term gains and long-term socially responsible practices is a conundrum that organisations have been facing for a long time. Now, the time is (overly) ripe to tackle this challenge. Getting this balance right is essential for better performance – and not at the cost of current and future generations. Environmental and social justice cannot longer be an ambition of leaders, but an obligation on everyone’s agenda. It is an ethical imperative and now – a business imperative. To successfully consider and act on long term considerations without caving to the short-term pressures, leaders much be courageous, resilient and b old.

Addressing leadership tensions

To build this more sustainable future, there are leadership tensions we need to be acknowledge and address as leading practitioners and academics. Conversations and commitments during the day highlighted, there is an “Us” in leadership. Let’s not outsource leadership involvement and responsibility to a few individuals or let’s not claim ourselves individually always the leading role. Leadership that makes a difference to core societal issues is a multiple people process with a number of responsible and driven people – leadership s “Us”. So what is in the way? The constant tension is between pressures to permanently make right and consequential decisions while not letting that bolster the ego of a manager too much. Related to that, concerns were raised that too often the dark side of leadership goes unquestioned in businesses and so undermines the true essence and integrity of leadership beyond. Dr Manfred Boudreaux-Dehmer rightly challenged us: “We see these dark behaviours, but are we confronting these?”

Leaders committing to make change happen

Talking about a future ideal for businesses and leadership is no longer enough. We work with business leaders at the Henley Centre for Leadership to make commitments, holding ourselves to a higher standard – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because the sustainability of our society, communities, and consequently our businesses depend on it.

We nurture bold ideas for future leadership, and help make those sustainable outcomes that make a drastic impact on business and society a reality. At the festival, attendees distilled their conversations and reflections into one concrete idea, which they committed to incorporate into their own leadership practices. A commitment to make change happen.

Some committed to fundamentally rethink the role of a leader and understand better their spheres of influence; to foster a collaborative leadership model to help solve world problems, and to use their voice to continue to develop leadership capability to support turnaround.

The nexus of impact and change lies in our leadership thinking and practice. Leadership today centres around the notion of ‘us’, ‘communities’ and ‘humanity’. Nevertheless, as Dr Anino Emuwa critically reminded us, we must be mindful of who we consider ‘us’ when engaging and practicing leadership.

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