Leadership in the face of global challenges

Economic instability, climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity are hugely complex global challenges to organisational viability.

In the diagram below I show in simplified form how some of these factors interrelate and impact on business.

What’s not in the diagram, is human quality of life, which is affected by all of it.

Integrating business with society & the natural world

That human survival depends on the natural world with its finite resources is obvious, though this fact is often ignored in our greedy ultimately insatiable quest for consuming ever more stuff.

What should also be obvious is that business and society need each other. Successful businesses need a healthy society: education, health care and equal opportunity are essential to a productive workforce. At the same time a healthy society needs successful organisations to provide the goods and services that meet people’s needs, create livelihoods, and enable good standards of living. The mutual dependence of business and society implies that both business decisions and social policies must follow the principle of shared value.That is, choices must benefit both sides.

[For more on this read: Porter & Kramer, Strategy & Society: The link between competitive advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility, Harvard Business Review OnPoint ‘Make Green Profitable’ Spring 2010]


I see the role of leadership as having a sophisticated awareness of these interdependencies, and responding responsibly to global challenges to generate net positive value for business, society and the natural world: win-win-win.

Leadership is about taking responsibility for co-creating environments conducive to life thriving, where people can excel in their own ways and working practice seeks to have a benign or restorative impact on the natural world.

Leadership competencies

In a previous post I outlined the set of competencies and qualities that equip people to thrive in fast-changing, uncertain and complex working environments.

Some of these competencies are especially critical for good leadership:

  • Ability to consider the impact of decisions and actions from multiple perspectives
  • Strategic thinking
  • Feeling empathy for others
  • Sense of social & environmental responsibility
  • Negotiating win-win solutions
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and for your role in what’s happening
  • Matching your words with actions
  • Modelling the behaviour you wish to see in others
  • Acknowledging one’s own mistakes to others
  • Holding others to account
  • Challenging others in supportive ways
  • Helping others feel comfortable with change
  • Telling compelling stories

Leadership is abut stepping up, and there’s no greater challenge than finding ways for humanity to have good quality of life, equitably, within the limits of our planet’s resources.

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