The Undeniable Case for Sustainable Leadership

Divides and Dividends Global Research Report


The business case for sustainability is undeniable. Leaders who bridge the divides that threaten our global societies will yield significant triple-line dividends.

How ready are leaders to grasp this opportunity?

To find out, Russell Reynolds Associates carried out a major global survey, collecting responses from 8,594 employees and next-generation leaders and 907 C-suite leaders in 11 growth and mature markets.

  • What are the environmental, social and economic divides that leaders should solve?
  • How ready are leaders to advance the sustainability agenda?
  • What are the critical challenges that are hampering progress?
  • What practical actions should leaders take to deliver lasting value for people, planet and profit?
Divides and Dividends report


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The resulting global study, Divides and Dividends: Leadership Actions for a More Sustainable Future, is unprecedented in its scope and scale. It examines how a cross-section of the global workforce views, experiences, and prioritizes the most important challenges affecting society, businesses and employees.

Five key themes emerged:


1. Macro, Micro and “Me”

What are the most critical environmental, social and economic issues that business leaders can help solve?

Climate change. A global pandemic. Racial injustices. Economic disparities. Where should leaders focus attention?

Our research shows C-suite executives and employees agree on the big issues most affecting the future of society. But opinions diverge when it comes to the most important issues affecting individual companies and workplaces.

Leaders must keep focused on both macro and micro issues when developing sustainability strategies—or risk disenfranchising their employees.


2. Brand Motivation versus Value Creation

What is motivating organizations’ sustainability actions?

Organizations’ sustainability actions are largely driven by brand management concerns. But a brand-first strategy is unlikely to result in lasting changes for people, planet and profit—and could lead to accusations of greenwashing.

Our research shows that leaders who recognize that sustainability is a critical lever of value creation will make the biggest strides forward with sustainability in the next five years.


3. The Say/Do Divide

Are leaders doing enough to combat climate change?

Actions always speak louder than words. Yet when it comes to environmental sustainability, what CEOs say they are doing is markedly different from what employees see them do.

Despite C-suite leaders citing climate change and pollution as critical issues, next-generation leaders and employees are not always seeing meaningful action.

At best, organizations have a perception gap that needs managing. At worst, they are falling short of the bar that employees consider real action.


4. Next-Generation Leaders at the Vanguard

Who is driving organizations’ sustainability efforts?

Next-gen leaders have emerged as the engine room of sustainability action. They are in the trenches, overcoming barriers and yielding results.

Whether motivated by personal passions or delegated responsibilities from their C-suite line managers, these up-and-comers are driving sustainability into the heart of the business.

Organizations looking to accelerate their sustainability agenda should find ways to further empower and reward their future executives for delivering sustainability action.


5. Leadership + Culture = Impact

Do leaders have the skills they need to pivot their organizations towards a more sustainable future?

A changing world requires businesses to change along with it. That change must be led from the top. This is more than a matter of policy and process. It is a matter of leadership.

How equipped are leaders to take on this challenge? Our research shows leadership has become a key obstacle to change. Many executives lack the soft skills needed to navigate complexities, change cultures and galvanize action on sustainability.




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