Building a Better World Through Sustainable Leadership

LeadershipSustainability Officers
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Clarke Murphy
June 18, 2020
2 min read
LeadershipSustainability Officers
We are leading the charge within our industry to reduce racial inequalities by calling for a commitment from leading search firms.


At Russell Reynolds Associates, we know that business leaders have the power to change our world. We should no longer think that maximization of stockholder returns is the sole reason for a business to exist, nor that it should even be the most important goal. There is a growing urgency for business to strike a new balance between profit and purpose and for leaders to play a role in creating a better, more resilient and more sustainable planet for all.

This is not just about your environmental footprint or how green your operations are. It is about fundamentally striving to do the right thing by all stakeholders. It is about how you treat your employees, how you engage your customers and how you interact with your local communities. At its core, it is the belief that business can help solve the systemic social and environmental challenges that hang heavily over our world.

Over the past weeks and months, many of us have seen or heard about the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Their deaths have shined a spotlight on the injustices and racial inequalities that still exist around the world—iniquities that play out across all levels of societies, from race-related violence to inhospitable work cultures to engrained biases in hiring practices. And as I wrote in my recent open letter on this topic, now is the time for thoughtful action that creates an inclusive world where no one is left behind.

Improving the way the world is led

So, what are we doing to help? At RRA, our purpose is to improve the way the world is led. One way we strive to do this is by helping leaders adopt more sustainable and inclusive business practices. We know that despite much goodwill, many struggle to deliver tangible action on the ground.

Research shows 92 percent of CEOs believe integration of sustainability will be important to the future success of their businesses. Yet our own analysis shows that in only 4 percent of executive and non-executive role specifications was sustainability experience or mindset an actual requirement.

To help leaders chart this course, Russell Reynolds Associates partnered with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) to answer an important question: How can organizations make sustainability core to the DNA of their leadership teams? We share the answer in our joint research paper, which sets out the unique characteristics that leaders must possess if they are to make sustainability core to their cultures and leadership frameworks.

Beyond this, we are leading the charge within our industry to reduce racial inequalities by calling for a commitment from leading search firms to agree to a set of guiding principles that will shift the balance at companies around the world toward equity. We have meaningful partnerships with the 30% Club and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. And we have worked hard to increase representation of Black professionals and other minorities in the leadership ranks of corporations worldwide through the adoption of inclusive selection and recruitment methods that analyze core competencies without bias.

A defining issue of our time

We recognize that our legacy—as a firm and as leaders—no longer depends solely on balance sheet performance, but our willingness to help build a better planet for all. At this pivotal moment, identifying and developing sustainable leaders is one of the most critical levers for solving today’s challenges. We will only make progress if we have great leaders at the helm who are willing to challenge the status quo and make the long-term sustainability and resilience of our world a top business priority.

This is not a conversation for tomorrow. It is a conversation for today. It starts now.