Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

The virtuous circle effect

Published on June 5, 2015

Part 7 of 7 in the series: Sustainability Leadership Competencies

This is the seventh article in a seven-part series on Sustainability Leadership Competencies. In this wrap-up post, I encourage organizations to consider the competitive advantage of adding these five competencies – three skills and two knowledge areas – to their existing leadership competency model. Practiced together, systems thinking, external collaboration, social innovation, sustainability literacyand active values will position the firm for decades to come.

Every company needs strong leaders at its helm. But what made leaders successful in the past may not equip them to be effective in the future. Current and future leaders will need a host of new skills and competencies to address the intensity of the many economic, social and environmental challenges over the next 10 to 20 years.

The five leadership sustainability competencies do not necessarily define what makes people and firms successful today but they anticipate the competencies that will be critical for success tomorrow. They are deemed the top talent investments companies should make to foster commercial and societal success for the long term.

The business benefits of doing so include:

  • improved ability to anticipate and manage risks
  • increased innovation and opportunity identification
  • early access to new markets with sustainable products and services
  • enhanced problem solving and more effective decision-making
  • greater ability to respond to changing economic conditions, and
  • improved employee attraction, retention and engagement. 

Linked competencies create momentum

The five competencies identified through this research are highly interlinked. One set of behaviours reinforces another set, creating a virtuous circle whereby one competency enables and enhances the others in a mutually beneficial fashion. The essential nature of the five capacities and their interdependence is illustrated in the following diagram:

Systems thinking -> reveals more instrumental relationships -> opportunities for strategic collaboration -> social innovation which is enhanced by -> systems thinking and seeing a system from different viewpoints -> sustainability knowledge helps prioritize strategic investments and embed sustainability -> values-based self and system awareness -> fosters open mindedness and enhances ability to collaborate -> social innovation, etc.

This interdependence suggests that leader competency models should reflect all five attributes to ensure a balanced and effective result. Organizations that recruit, select, develop, incentivize and deploy talent with these characteristics will reap business benefits and realize more harmonious communities within the ecological carrying capacity of the planet.

Progress toward embedding sustainability

As organizations move along the sustainability path, they continuously embed sustainability deeper into their human resource systems, corporate purpose and business models. Boards, executives, sustainability managers and HR talent management professionals are encouraged to add these skills and knowledge areas to their leadership competency models to define and drive high performance. Companies can use these competencies to enhance the talent pipeline and develop the next generation of leaders and the organizational capacities to steer corporations toward a sustainable future for all.

The chart below shows a typical maturity path organizations pursue. Use this tool to inventory your progress on this path.

Eager to know more?

  • If you’re keen to dive deeper into the qualities you should consider when recruiting leaders and building leadership teams, you can read the full report here.
  • If you’re interested in global insights on the top attributes CEOs and their successors will need to protect and create shareholder value through the pursuit of sustainability and CSR, you can read the guide here.

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