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Review: Sustainable Leadership diagnostic tool


Graham O’Connell reviews a new diagnostic tool called Sustainable Leadership, which allows you to self assess your social responsibility levels.

Title: Sustainable leadership Questionnaire

Author: Roy Howells

Publisher: Management Learning Resources

Price: £5.25 (A facilitator guide is also available at £22.50)

Reviewer: Graham O'Connell

Campaigner Jonathan Porritt recently wrote about the 'Perfect Storm' of environmental and economic collapse. Whatever you views on the specifics, there is no doubt that the challenge for leaders at all levels will be, in future, to think global and act local. Unleashing the capabilities of individuals to meet organisational goals is one thing, harnessing that to simultaneously address climate change is another.

In a new diagnostic tool, called Sustainable Leadership, you are able to self assess your social responsibility levels as well as your ability to tap into the potential of others. It is an interesting concept: testing your most strategic and visionary capabilities alongside how you empower others.

I got hold of a copy from the Centre for Sustainable Leadership to test it out. At first glance it is like many other of these instruments – 80 questions which map on to a four quadrant grid. Using it on myself it worked well in reflecting back what I’d expect; though I clearly need to work on my personal vision, which is one of the four dimensions. The other dimensions are Encouraging Management, Enquiring & Enterprising Employees and Ethics & Environment.

Using it with a senior manager was really revealing. He fell into the ‘opportunist’ category (I’m no fan of labelling, but these are no worse than most) which means he is highly effective at managing teams to get organisational results but he lacks an ethical foundation, which has led him into to some questionable sustainability practices. And he is not even a banker. He went away more aware and fired up to make some changes.

The real key was the subsequent discussion which was both rich and productive. The instrument is clearly billed as a springboard for such discussions, not as a psychometric magic wand. You don’t need to be accredited to use it but I would suggest that you would benefit from having a reasonable grasp of both leadership and sustainability issues if you are going to use it effectively with others.

So, is it any good?

I think so. Although I have known the author, Roy Howells, for many years, I wouldn’t blanch from being critical if I thought it was not up to the mark. It is not one of these vogue ideas that has been spun just to capitalise on our current concerns. It is an honest and genuine attempt to bring sustainability into the mainstream of leadership thinking.

Admittedly, the idea of sustainable leadership has been bandied around in educational circles for a few years, but there it has gained little traction. This tool, however, is straightforward and accessible and suitable for use in pretty much any public, private or third sector environment.

It is a useful addition to the rather crowded market of leadership models and diagnostics. It won’t be enough on its own to enable us to prevent that perfect storm, but if we are to weather it and survive, maybe all of us need to increase the size of our leadership footprint and put sustainability at the heart of what we do.

The Sustainable Leadership diagnostic tool is available through

Graham O'Connell is head of organisational learning and standards at the National School of Government.


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