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Businesses Failing to Develop Leaders Equipped for Social, Environmental Threats

Are businesses ready to respond to the existential threats posed by social and environmental issues such as wealth inequality and climate change? Not yet, it seems. A new report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has found that businesses need to “develop leadership to respond to the unprecedented changes brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or miss out on the opportunities presented by new technologies and innovations.

Expectations for businesses have continued to grow; the slow pace and reactive nature of government regulations have shifted more responsibility to corporations. Consumers increasingly want companies to take responsibility and deliver positive outcomes for society and the environment. Rewiring Leadership: The future we want, the leadership we need argues that recruiting, training and incentivising individuals to succeed in this context will be crucial.

The report highlights the important role of Human Resources (HR) and Learning and Development (L&D) teams. It suggests that organizations will need to cultivate leadership at all levels and embrace diverse and complementary strengths and approaches in order to respond to global challenges and achieve continued business success.

“Effective leaders for the future will be motivated by a purpose that aligns commercial success with delivering positive outcomes for society,” said Lindsay Hooper, CISL’s Executive Director for Education.

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“Many businesses recognise this and understand the need to respond to and, where possible, shape the changing context in which they operate,” she continued. “Yet at the same time companies are not systematically equipping their people to do so. For businesses to be successful in reconciling sustainability with profitability, we will need to see a significant shift in the development of leadership capacity. That means new collaborations spanning HR, L&D, sustainability and executive teams, and with an investment in leadership capacity right up to Board level.”

Rewiring Leadership outlines a framework to equip business leaders and cultivate the necessary leadership. The Cambridge Impact Leadership Model, developed by CISL, was designed to help businesses develop a more ambitious, purpose-led leadership to shape the future economy. The model suggests that leadership must be built on thinking, values and practice to deliver on the organization’s purpose. This could involve: developing the contextual insight, mindset and knowledge base necessary for innovating new forms of commercial and societal value; developing the values, sense of agency and worldview consistent with achieving purposeful leadership; and nurturing the leadership practices, specific skills, and the personal resilience to experiment and deliver results in line with purpose. Continual reflection, adaptation and accountability will also support the delivery of required results.


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