Insights

Leadership Skills and Qualities for a Net Zero Economy

In September 2020, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate reported that businesses and local governments had doubled their commitments to reaching net zero emissions in the previous year.

This included efforts from businesses like LafargeHolcim, who became the first global building materials company to join ‘Business Ambition for 1.5°C’ and tech giants Microsoft who committed to going beyond net zero to become ‘carbon negative’ – removing all historical emissions by 2050. Ford also committed to reducing its C02 emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

For business leaders, this signalled a significant shift in how organisations will operate, whether they made net zero emission commitments or not. Boards, CEOs, and executive leadership are facing unforeseen challenges and are required to keep up with a pace of change not seen by their predecessors.

The risks are now more keenly felt. Those who fail to rise to these challenges will not just face reprovals from the public and industry bodies – their business may fail to survive into the next decade.

Andrew Barraclough

As part of our ‘Talent for Net Zero’ series, I spoke to Andrew Barraclough, Group Design Director at construction and property services firm Wates, about what he thinks the leadership skills and qualities required to achieve a net zero society will be: “Senior teams and decision makers are having to learn a new lexicon and set of behaviours, with a greater focus on technical skills and challenges. That’s not just about what “net zero emissions” really means for our business, but what are the technical solutions that will get us there, and more importantly, what can we expect to face on the road ahead.”. Andrew admits “Leaders can’t be expected to know all the answers so they must bring in the right people with the right expertise and learn from them.”

Lousie Kjellerup Roper

This is echoed by Louise Kjellerup Roper, CEO of the business advisory firm Volans. “The best CEOs are comfortable knowing that they don’t know everything” she adds. Drawing on her experience of advising leaders on the ‘road beyond the road ahead’ Louise urges CEOs to “Open up your vision by experience and try to bring diversity into your thinking. Hire people that are different to you and better than you and be the person that creates space for others.”

Most leaders face their challenges armed with a clear strategy and vision, so telling them to embrace the unknown can feel counter-intuitive at first. The solution is to ensure they have clear, ambitious targets. Once the goal is defined, they can get on with what they do best – working out how to get there. In a video for the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group Metro AG’s CEO Olaf Koch and Interface’s President, Nigel Stansfield, professed to not knowing how they might reach their ambitious targets. He also said he didn’t know what the next decade might look like. The key, he stressed, is setting clear targets and an overarching vision in order to inspire the innovation to reach these net zero targets.

Showing humility and vulnerability like this is a form of emotional intelligence that will be increasingly important for tomorrow’s leaders, and a quality we at Granger Reis look for when placing executive roles. Many will be forced to plunge themselves into the unknown and set targets for themselves that they don’t know if they can meet. Emotional intelligence will be a critical component to how a leader communicates with their employees and inspires them to join its journey of transformation.

As the skills required to lead change, so will the face of leadership. Andrew Barraclough notes “I think we can expect to see generational leapfrogging in C Suite and executive leadership. Already we are seeing many young leaders stepping up with innovative solutions and inspiring those around them in a way true leaders should. Traditional hierarchies are fast becoming a thing of the past and we should welcome the opportunity for a new generation of leaders.” Leaders will also be increasingly drawn from different backgrounds and genders, as organisations look to broaden the experience and expertise in their leadership functions as they tackle a fast-changing set of challenges.

Reaching a net zero emissions target by 2050 will require strong leaders who can mobilise and inspire action at all levels of society. For business leaders, this means showing qualities that were previously never associated with ‘strong’ leadership: humility, vulnerability, transparency, emotional intelligence, and giving space to those that know better or those that inspire others. Because unless others are brought on a shared journey, leadership will be completely ineffective.

Talent for Net Zero

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