The best businesses have always understood the importance of culture and employees and ethics. Now leaders are recognising that there are broader social, economic, environmental, and ethical factors directly affecting how they operate - and that these must be a part of their business strategy. This fundamental shift in the context of business is being driven by a number of factors including widening societal expectations of business and the limitations of our ecological systems to sustain our current ways of living.
One indication that these issues are being taken seriously by business is the article in the May 2007 on-line edition of the McKinsey Quarterly entitled "Investing in Sustainability" about the growing importance that investors are placing on sustainability. Early investment approaches used negative screening to simplistically screen out "sin sectors" such as tobacco; more recently investors have used positive screening to identify "best in sector" companies. Now there is a growing recognition that sustainability issues are central to the creation of long term shareholder value and that sustainability has to be integrated into business strategy alongside other traditional elements such as fundamental financial analysis.
As coaches, we need to be able to help our leadership clients engage with strategic sustainability issues such as these. Of course, our clients generally know far more than we do about their sector, organisation etc and don't expect us to provide that knowledge and expertise nor to be able to develop a sustainability strategy for them. What they can reasonably expect from us is that we help them explore what the wider social and environmental issues facing their business are, identify and engage with the three or four long-term issues that will really affect corporate profitability, and determine their role in bringing these to the organisation's attention.
To do this, we need to be able to help our clients work simultaneously with the global and the local; have the capacity to embrace the views and interests of multiple and conflicting stakeholders; hold in mind multiple and conflicting ideas, emotions and possibilities; be able to tolerate ambiguity and 'not knowing'; perceive and think systemically; and operate with conflicting ways of framing reality. And, if we are to help our clients develop these capacities, then we need to have developed these capacities within ourselves! I will be returning to this topic when I've worked out some of the answers. :)