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Emotional Intelligence and Flexibility: Leading to Serve in the Pursuit of Sustainability

Implementing a sustainability agenda is fraught with numerous challenges, requiring adept and flexible leadership. Daniel Goleman's research on emotional intelligence (EI) highlights the crucial role EI plays in determining the effectiveness of various leadership styles and their impact on organisational climate.

The Role of Authoritative Leadership in Sustainability

Among the leadership styles identified by Goleman, the authoritative approach has the most positive impact on organisational climate. Authoritative leaders mobilise people towards a vision and inspire them to participate in a journey rather than merely issuing directives. This leadership style is particularly suited to addressing the multifaceted challenges of sustainability, which demand visionary thinking, the ability to engage stakeholders, and a compelling narrative that aligns with long-term environmental and social goals.

Coaching Leadership: Fostering Innovation and Growth

While authoritative leadership creates a conducive environment for sustainability initiatives, coaching leadership is vital for developing the team's long-term potential. Coaching leaders focus on nurturing their team members by encouraging innovation, empathy, and self-awareness. Goleman notes that this style is particularly effective for fostering the skills and mindset necessary for sustainable practices. By promoting a culture of continuous learning and personal growth, coaching leaders help their teams adapt to the evolving demands of sustainability, driving long-term change.

The Need for Flexibility in Leadership

Flexibility in leadership is crucial for advocating and implementing a sustainability agenda. Goleman's research suggests that no single leadership style is universally effective. Leaders must be adept at switching between styles based on the situation. For example, the coercive leadership style, which demands immediate compliance and can negatively impact organisational climate, may be necessary during crises requiring swift, decisive action. In sustainability contexts, this might apply to urgent environmental threats where rapid response is essential.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the foundation that enables leaders to be flexible and effective. Leaders with high EI understand their own emotions and those of their team members, allowing them to adjust their leadership style as needed. This adaptability is crucial in promoting sustainability, which involves navigating complex, often conflicting interests and finding balanced solutions that consider long-term impacts.

Deep Understanding of Sustainability Principles

Effective leadership in sustainability also requires a deep understanding of sustainable development principles, encompassing economic, social, and environmental dimensions. Leaders must stay informed about the latest research, trends, and technologies in sustainability to make informed decisions. This includes recognising the potential trade-offs and synergies between different sustainability goals and communicating these effectively to stakeholders.

Fostering Collaboration

Sustainability challenges are interdisciplinary, requiring cooperation across sectors and disciplines. Leaders must be skilled in building and maintaining collaborative networks, ensuring that all voices are heard and solutions are co-created. This collaboration is essential for developing comprehensive strategies that address the complex nature of sustainability issues.


In conclusion, leading a sustainability agenda requires a blend of emotional intelligence, flexibility, and a thorough understanding of sustainable development principles. Leaders must inspire and engage their teams, adapt their leadership style to the situation, and foster collaboration among diverse stakeholders. By developing these skills, leaders can navigate the complex landscape of sustainability, driving meaningful change and contributing to a more sustainable future.


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