Clare Melford: Inspired Leadership – Towards a Sustainable World

By Clare Melford, International Business Leaders Forum

Inspired Leadership – Towards a Sustainable World

The number of Americans who believe that the free market economy is the best economic system is in free fall, a recent poll from GlobeScan shows.

Tracking opinions from 2002 and across 25 countries, the poll shows that many emerging economies now surpass the USA in feeling positive about the free market system! Americans rated it higher eight years ago (80%), but that positive support has nose-dived in light of recent events to 59%.

It is clear from the startling decline of trust in the free market shown by this survey, that the type of business leadership that led us into the 21st century will not be sufficient to lead us safely through it.

Doug Miller, Chairman of GlobeScan said the poll suggests that American business ‘is close to losing its social contract with average American families that has enabled it to prosper in the world’ and that ‘inspired leadership will be needed to reverse this trend’.

We say ‘yes’ to the concept of inspired leadership – but inspired to do what?

IBLF believes that business leaders who are inspired to help build a sustainable world, and who can demonstrate an authentic personal commitment to managing their businesses for long-term sustainability will be the ones who reap the trust dividend. Those who demonstrate they care about the long-term viability of the communities in which they operate will be rewarded with the trust of those communities.

The relationship between business and society – often described as its ‘license to operate’ – cannot be managed through risk-mitigating CSR and philanthropic activities alone. Something bolder and more courageous is now demanded of our business leaders.

Understanding ‘New Business Leadership for a Sustainable World’ is a key priority for IBLF. What do we mean by this? Senior business leaders have a key role to play throughout their spheres of influence, from core business to public policy, in rethinking their companies’ relationships with society and taking action to rebuild trust.

But change begins with the individual. It is crucial for senior business leaders to engage personally with these issues and to take up leadership in new ways to address them. We need leaders – and Boards and owners – who are ‘sustainability literate’ (take a look at Sara Parkin’s book on the subject), really understand the urgency of the complex issues facing society and who are inspired to develop new business models. On top of this, they need the personal capabilities to lead in a business environment where business interests are intimately connected with those of society.

But business leaders cannot operate alone. Many of these issues can only be tackled in partnership with leaders from civil society and government. Leaders need safe spaces, with the right people in the room, where they can engage in transformational conversations that create change.

If we can achieve this kind of inspired leadership, then we have a chance of reversing the trust deficit.

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