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Change starts at the top: CEO, Russell Reynolds Associates on Sustainable Leadership

 


People Matters | September 1, 2020



The People Matters article, “Change starts at the top: CEO, Russell Reynolds Associates on Sustainable Leadership,” featured Russell Reynolds Associates CEO Clarke Murphy​ in a Q&A session where he shared why sustainable leadership is now a vital business imperative that is increasingly recognized by stakeholders worldwide. The article is excerpted below.

There is now a significant opportunity for boards and C-suite leaders to place sustainability at the center of corporate purpose and strategy. To identify how organizations can make sustainability central to their organization’s culture and leadership, Russell Reynolds Associates and the UN Global Compact carried out in-depth interviews and background analysis which resulted in ‘Leadership for the Decade of Action​’ report. 

In this exclusive interaction, Clarke Murphy, CEO, Russell Reynolds Associates (New York) shares his views on why sustainable leadership is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a critical business imperative, increasingly recognized by all stakeholders around the world. With over 25 years of experience in the recruiting industry, Clarke has led notable CEO and Board of Directors searches. 

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Your career trajectory is very extensive and interesting. You have worked in multiple countries and held ten different roles over the years. When you look back, how have these experiences helped you grow as a leader?

Understanding different cultures and having to adapt to nuances of different business practices has probably been my greatest education in growing as a leader. Patience and listening in certain times and situations, yet fast decisions and agility in others. Plus learning the difference between the two! We talk a lot about the learning quotient in our firm — being able to continuously learn so we serve clients better in a changing world— and that has been so true for me in growing as  leader. And the best learning, at least for me, came from the mistakes I made or wrong assumptions I made — so I learned the hard way! Also, to remember that in a new role or new country, the first tour is the listening tour. When you think you already know the answer before you listen, that is where the danger lies. Gather perspectives, hear the history, ask good questions and challenge the thinking, but go away better educated than when you arrived – you make better long-term decisions.

According to the Leadership for the Decade of Action study by the United Nations Global Compact and Russell Reynolds Associates on the characteristics of sustainable business leaders, ‘Sustainability is a leadership imperative. The time  to act is now’. How would you define sustainable leadership and why is it an imperative today? 

Sustainable leaders understan​​d that business is not a commercial activity divorced from the wider society and environmental contexts in which it operates. Rather, these leaders believe that to be successful in the long term, they must innovate and manage simultaneously across commercial, societal and environmental outcomes. Finding and developing sustainable leaders will be vital for companies that seek to survive and thrive in the post-COVID-19 era, as pressure mounts from all stakeholder groups to respond to changing societal values, concerns about climate change and increasing economic and political instability. The criteria for commercial success is changing in response, and the businesses that successfully navigate this transition will be those that meet the needs of as many people as possible, utilize as few resources as possible and engage with and respond to as many of their stakeholders as possible.

What are the key traits/attributes of sustainable leadership and what do these leaders do differently?

Our research with the United Nations Global Compact, “Leadership for the Decade of Action,” reveals an urgent need for transformational business leaders who look beyond near-term profits to make​ the long-term​​ sustainability​ and resilience of the world a top business priority.

To identify how organizations can make sustainability core to the DNA of their leadership teams, Russell Reynolds Associates and the UN Global Compact carried out in-depth interviews and background analysis on a group of close to 60 sustainability pioneers – CEO and board members from across continents and industries with a notable track record of focusing on and making progress towards sustainability goals in tandem with commercial results.

Our analysis defines the characteristics, actions and differentiating leadership attributes that fuel sustainable leaders’ success. At their core, they are differentiated by a “sustainable mindset” that business is not a commercial activity divorced from the wider societal and environmental context in which it operates, and that to be successful in the long term, leaders must innovate and manage across commercial, societal and environmental outcomes. Leaders with a sustainable mindset align all aspects of running their organizations with these core values and beliefs.​​

To read the full article, click ​here, and jump to page 30.