Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 112, Issue 3, pp 369–384 | Cite as

Leadership for Sustainability: An Evolution of Leadership Ability

  • Louise Metcalf
  • Sue Benn


This article examines the existing confusion over the multiple leadership styles related to successful implementation of corporate social responsibility/sustainability in organisations. The researchers find that the problem is the complex nature of sustainability itself. We posit that organisations are complex adaptive systems operating within wider complex adaptive systems, making the problem of interpreting just in what way an organisation is to be sustainable, an extraordinary demand on leaders. Hence, leadership for sustainability requires leaders of extraordinary abilities. These are leaders who can read and predict through complexity, think through complex problems, engage groups in dynamic adaptive organisational change and have the emotional intelligence to adaptively engage with their own emotions associated with complex problem solving. Leaders and leadership is a key interpreter of how sustainability of the organisation ‘links’ to the wider systems in which the organisation sits, and executing that link well requires unusual leaders and leadership systems.


Sustainability Corporate social responsibility Complexity 


  1. Alvesson, M. (2011). Leadership and organisational culture. In A. Bryman, D. L. Collinson, K. Grint, & B. Jackson (Eds.), Sage handbook of leadership. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Angus-Leppan, T., Metcalf, L., & Benn, S. (2010). Leadership styles and CSR practice: An examination of sensemaking, institutional drivers and CSR leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 93, 189–213.Google Scholar
  3. Antonakis, J. (2003). Why “emotional intelligence” does not predict leadership effectiveness. The International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 11, 355–361.Google Scholar
  4. Antonakis, J. (2004). On why “emotional intelligence” will not predict leadership effectiveness beyond IQ or the “big five”: An extension and rejoinder. Organizational Analysis, 12, 171–182.Google Scholar
  5. Antonakis, J., Ashkanasy, N. M., & Dasborough, M. T. (2009). Does leadership need emotional intelligence? The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 247–261.Google Scholar
  6. Arrow, K. J. (1951). Social choices and individual values. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Barker, R. A. (2001). The nature of leadership. Human Relations, 54(4), 469–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barney, J. (1986). Strategic factor markets: Expectations, luck, and business strategy. Management Science, 32, 1231–1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1990). Transformational leadership development: Manual for the multifactor leadership questionnaire. Consulting Psychologists Press: Palo Alto, California.Google Scholar
  10. Basu, K., & Palazzo, G. (2008). Corporate social responsibility: A process model of sensemaking. The Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 122–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Beddoe, R., Constanza, R., Farley, J., Garza, E., Kent, J., Kubiszewski, I., et al. (2009). Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: The evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions and technologies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(8), 2483–2489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bennis, W. (1984, August). The four competencies of leadership. Training and Development Journal, 15–19.Google Scholar
  13. Black, J. A., & Boal, K. B. (1994). Strategic resources: Traits, configurations and paths to sustainable competitive advantage. Strategic Management Journal, 15, 131–148.Google Scholar
  14. Blake, R., & Mouton, J. (1964). The managerial grid: The key to leadership excellence. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  15. Boerner, S., Eisenbess, S. A., & Greisser, D. (2007). Follower behaviour and organisational performance: The impact of transformational leaders. Journal of Leadership & Organisational Studies, 13(3), 16–26.Google Scholar
  16. Brown, M. E., & Trevino, L. K. (2006). Ethical leadership: A review and future directions. Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 595–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Brown, M. E., Trevino, L. K., & Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 97(117), 134.Google Scholar
  18. Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  19. Campbell, J. L. (2006). Institutional analysis and the paradox of corporate social responsibility. American Behavioral Scientist, 49, 925–938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cavaleri, S., & Seivert, S. (2005). Knowledge leadership: The art and science of the knowledge-based organization. Burlington, MA: Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann.Google Scholar
  21. Churchman, C. W. (1967). Wicked problems. Management Science, 14(4), 141–142.Google Scholar
  22. Collis, D. J. (1991). A resource-based analysis of global competition: The case of the bearings industry. Strategic Management Journal, 12(winter):49–68.Google Scholar
  23. Cramer, J., van der Heijden, A., & Jonker, J. (2006). Corporate social responsibility: Making sense through thinking and acting. Business Ethics: A European Review, 15(4), 380–389.Google Scholar
  24. Crossan, M., & Hulland, J. (Eds.). (2002). Leveraging knowledge through leadership of organisational learning. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Crook, C. (2005, January). The good company. Economist, 37, 41–31.Google Scholar
  26. Crossan, M., Vera, D., & Nanjad, L. (2008). Transcendent leadership: Strategic leadership in dynamic environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(5), 569–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dasborough, M. T. (2006). Cognitive asymmetry in employee emotional reactions to leadership behaviors. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 163–178.Google Scholar
  28. De Dreu, C. K. W., & Van Kleef, G. A. (2004). The influence of power on the information search, impression formation, and demands in negotiation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 303–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. De Hoogh, A. H. B., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2008). Ethical and despotic leadership, relationships with leader’s social responsibility, top management team effectiveness and subordinates’ optimism: A multi-method study. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(3), 297–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. De Souza, G., & Klein, H. J. (1995). Emergent leadership in the group goal-setting process. Small Group Research, 26(4), 475–796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. DeGroot, T., Kicker, D. S., & Cross, T. C. (2000). A meta-analysis to review organisational outcomes related to charismatic leadership. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 17(4), 356–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dobbins, G. H., Long, W. S., Dedrick, E. J., & Clemons, T. C. (1990). The role of self-monitoring and gender on leader emergence: A laboratory and field study. Journal of Management, 16(3), 609–618.Google Scholar
  33. Dörner, D., & Kreuzig, H. W. (1983). Problemlösefähigkeit und Intelligenz. Psychologische Rundschau, 34, 185–192.Google Scholar
  34. Ekvall, G., & Arvonen, J. (1991). Change centered leadership: An extension of the two-dimensional model. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 7(1), 17–26.Google Scholar
  35. Fiedler, K. (2001). Affective states trigger processes of assimilation and accommodation. In L. L. Martin & G. L. Clore (Eds.), Theories of mood and cognition: A user’s guidebook (pp. 85–98). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Foddy, M., & Crettendon, A. (Eds.). (1994). Leadership and group identity as determinants of resource consumption in a social dilemma. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Forgas, J. P. (2001). The affect infusion model (AIM): An integrative theory of mood effects on cognition and judgments. In L. L. Martin & G. L. Clore (Eds.), Theories of mood and cognition (pp. 99–134). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Forrester, J. W. (1961). Industrial dynamics. MIT Press: Cambridge Massachusetts.Google Scholar
  39. Foster, R., & Kaplan, S. (2001). Creative destruction. New York: Double Day.Google Scholar
  40. Frooman, J. (1999). Stakeholder influence strategies. The Academy of Management Review, 24(2), 191–205.Google Scholar
  41. Funke, J. (2010). Complex problem solving, a case for complex cognition? Cognitive Processes, 11, 133–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Gemmil, G., & Oakley, J. (1992). Leadership: An alienating social myth? Human Relations, 45(2), 113–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. George, J. M. (2000). Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. Human Relations, 53, 1027–1055.Google Scholar
  44. Gleick, J. (1998). Chaos. London: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  45. Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. (1995). Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader–member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective. Leadership Quarterly, 6(2), 219–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Gray, B., & Wood, D. J. (1991). Collaborative alliances: Moving from practice to theory. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 27(1), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hambleton, R. K., & Gumpert, R. (1982). The validity of Hersey and Blanchard’s theory of leader effectiveness. Group & Organization Studies, 7, 225–242.Google Scholar
  48. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hazy, J. K. (2006). Measuring leadership effectiveness in complex socio-technical systems. Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 8(3), 58–77.Google Scholar
  50. Heath, R. (2002). Can people predict chaotic sequences? Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, 6(1), 37–54.Google Scholar
  51. Herbert, B. (1999). Decision making and chaotic sensitivity in humans. Unpublished Honours thesis, Department of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Australia.Google Scholar
  52. Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1974, February). So you want to know your leadership style? Training and Development Journal, 1–15.Google Scholar
  53. Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1982). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources (4th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  54. Hobbes, T. (1651, 1985). Leviathan. Penguin Books: Aylesbury, England.Google Scholar
  55. Holland, J. H. (1995). Hidden order: How adaptation builds complexity. Reading, MA: Perseus Books.Google Scholar
  56. House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The GLOBE study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  57. Ireland, R. D., & Hill, M. A. (2005). Achieving and maintaining strategic competitiveness in the 21st century: The role of strategic leadership. Academy of Management Executive, 19, 63–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Jackson, B. (2005). The enduring romance of leadership studies. Journal of Management Studies, 42(6), 1311–1324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Jackson, B., & Parry, K. (2008). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Jonas, E., Schulz-Hardt, S., & Frey, D. (2005). Giving advice or making decisions in someone else’s place: The influence of impression, defense, and accuracy motivation on the search for new information. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 977–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Jonas, E., Schulz-Hardt, S., Frey, D., & Thelen, N. (2001). Confirmation bias in sequential information search after preliminary decisions: An expansion of dissonance theoretical research on selective exposure to information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 557–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Keller, T. (2003). Parental images as a guide to leadership sensemaking: An attachment perspective on implicit leadership theories. The Leadership Quarterly, 14, 141–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Khuntia, R., & Suar, D. (2004). A scale to assess ethical leadership of Indian private and public sector managers (Author Abstract). Journal of Business Ethics, 49(1), 13–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Kickul, J., & Neuman, G. (2000). Emergent leadership behaviours: The function of personality and cognitive ability in determining teamwork performance and KSAS. Journal of Business and Psychology, 15(1), 27–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Klein, G. (2008). Naturalistic decision making. Human Factors, 50, 456–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Klein, G., Orasanu, J., Calderwood, R., et al. (Eds.). (1993). Decision making in action: Models and methods. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Google Scholar
  67. Learmonth, G. P., Smith, D. E., Sherman, W. H., White, M. A., & Plank, J. (2011). A practical approach to the complex problem of environmental sustainability: The UVa Bay Game. The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 16(1), 1–8.Google Scholar
  68. Levinthal, D. A. (1997). Adaptation on rugged landscapes. Management Science, 43, 934–950.Google Scholar
  69. Linnenluecke, M. K., Russell, S. V., & Griffiths, A. (2007). Subcultures and sustainability practices: The impact on understanding corporate sustainability. Business Strategy and the Environment. Retrieved from:
  70. Lipshitz, R., Klein, G., Orasanu, J., et al. (2001). Taking stock of naturalistic decision making. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 14, 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Lockett, A., Thompson, S., & Morgenstern, U. (2009). The development of the resource based view of the firm: A critical appraisal. International Journal of Management Reviews, 11(1), 9–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Lord, R. G., De Vader, C. L., & Alliger, G. M. (1986). A meta-analysis of the relation between personality traits and leadership perception: An application of validity generalisation procedures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71(3), 402–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Lord, R. G., & Maher, K. J. (1991). Leadership and information processing: Linking perception and performance. Boston: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  74. Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2005). United Kingdom: An explicit model of business–society relations. In A. Habisch, J. Jonker, M. Wagner, & R. Schmidpeter (Eds.), Corporate social responsibility across Europe (pp. 51–66). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  75. Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 33, 404–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. McElroy, J. L. (2006). Small island tourist economies across the life cycle. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 47(1), 61–77.Google Scholar
  77. McKelvey, B. (2001). Emergent order in firms: Complexity science vs. the entanglement trap. In E. Mitleton-Kelly (Ed.), Organizations are complex social systems. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Pergamon.Google Scholar
  78. McKelvey, B. (2003). Energizing order-creating networks of distributed intelligence. International Journal of Innovation Management, 5, 181–212.Google Scholar
  79. Messick, D. M., & Brewer, M. B. (Eds.). (1983). Solving social dilemmas: A review. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  80. Metcalf, L. (2001). Chaos prediction ability and intelligence: An initial examination. University of Newcastle (Australia) Press: Newcastle.Google Scholar
  81. Metcalf, L., & Benn, S. (2012). The corporation is ailing social technology: Creating a ‘fit for purpose’ design for sustainability. Journal of Business Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1201-1.
  82. Miller, D. (2003). An asymmetry-based view of advantage: Towards an attainable sustainability. Strategic Management Journal, 24, 961–976.Google Scholar
  83. Miller, D., & Shamsie, J. (1996). The resource-based view of the firm in two environments: The Hollywood film studios from 1936 to 1965. Academy of Management Journal, 39(3), 519–543.Google Scholar
  84. Noda, T., & Collis, D. J. (2001). The evolution of intraindustry firm heterogeneity: Insights from a process study (in special research forum: Change and development journeys into a pluralistic world). The Academy of Management Journal, 44(4), 897–925.Google Scholar
  85. Pearce, C. L., & Conger, J. A. (2003). Shared leadership: Reframing the hows and whys of leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  86. Plowman, D. A., Solansky, S., Beck, T. E., Baker, L., Kulkarni, M., & Travis, D. V. (2007). The role of leadership in emergent, self-organisation. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 341–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Prigogine, I., & Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos: Man's new dialogue with nature. University of Michigan: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  88. Rubin, R. S., Bartels, L. K., & Bommer, W. H. (2002). Are leaders smarter or do they just seem that way? Exploring perceived intellectual competence and leadership emergence. Social Behaviour and Personality, 30(2), 105–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Rutte, C. G., & Wilke, H. A. M. (1984). Social dilemmas and leadership. European Journal of Social Psychology, 14, 294–309.Google Scholar
  90. Samuelson, C. D., & Messick, D. M. (1986a). Inequities in access to and use of shared resources in social dilemmas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 960–967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Samuelson, C. D., & Messick, D. M. (1986b). Alternative structural solutions to social dilemmas. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 37, 139–155.Google Scholar
  92. Schein, E. H. (1985). Organisational culture and leadership. San Francisco: Jose-Bass.Google Scholar
  93. Schwarz, N. (1990). Feelings as information: Informational and motivational functions of affective states. In E. T. Higgins & R. M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition (pp. 527–561). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  94. Shin, S. J., & Zhou, J. (2003). Transformational leadership, conservation and creativity: Evidence from Korea. Academy of Management Journal, 46(6), 703–714.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Smircich, L., & Morgan, G. (1982). Leadership: The management of meaning. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 18, 257–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Stacey, R. D. (1996). Complexity and creativity in organizations. San Francisco, CA, US: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  97. Stacey, R. D. (2000). Strategic management and organisational dynamics: The challenge of complexity (3rd ed.). London: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  98. Stewart, G. (2002). Uncovering implicit leadership beliefs: Variation between information technology (IT) executives and business executives in a public service agency. International Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 5. Viewed July 1, 2009, from
  99. Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the literature. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35–71.Google Scholar
  100. Sully de Luque, M., Washburn, N. T., & Waldman, D. A. (2006). Unrequited profits: Evidence for the stakeholder perspective. Paper presented at the Gallup Leadership Institute Summit.Google Scholar
  101. Thietart, R., & Forgues, B. (1995). Chaos theory and organisation. Organisation Science, 6, 19–31.Google Scholar
  102. Thomas, T., Schermerhorn, J. R., Jr., & Dienhart, J. W. (2004). Strategic leadership of ethical behavior in business. Academy of Management Executive, 18(2), 56–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Thompson, J. P., & Cavaleri, S. (2010). Dynamic knowledge, organizational growth, and sustainability: The case of prestwick memory devices. International Studies of Management & Organization, 40(3), 50–60.Google Scholar
  104. Trevino, L. K., Hartman, L. P., & Brown, M. (2000). Moral person and moral manager: How executives develop a reputation for ethical leadership. California Management Review, 42, 128–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 298–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Van Rooy, V. D., & Viswesvaran, C. (2004). Emotional intelligence: A meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65, 71–95.Google Scholar
  107. Van Vugt, M., & De Cremer, D. (1999). Leadership in social dilemmas: The effects of group identification on collective actions to provide public goods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 587–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Van Vugt, M., Jepson, S. F., Hart, C. M., & De Cremer, D. (2004). Autocratic leadership in social dilemmas: A threat to group stability. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Vera, D., & Crossan, M. (2004). Strategic leadership and organisational learning. The Academy of Management Review, 29, 222–240.Google Scholar
  110. Waddock, S., & Bodwell, C. (2007). Total responsibility management: The manual. Greenleaf Publishing: Sheffield, UK.Google Scholar
  111. Waldman, D. A., & Siegel, D. (2008). Defining the socially responsible leader. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(1), 117–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Waldman, D. A., Siegel, D. S., & Javidan, M. (2006). Components of CEO transformational leadership and corporate social responsibility. Journal of Management Studies, 43, 1703–1725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. J., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  115. Wernerfelt, B. (1984). A resource-based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 5(2), 171–180.Google Scholar
  116. Westaby, J. D., Probst, T. M., & Lee, B. C. (2010). Leadership decision-making: A behavioral reasoning theory analysis. The Leadership Quarterly, 21, 481–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  117. Wilke, H. A. M. (Ed.). (1991). Greed, efficiency and fairness in resource management situations (Vol. 2). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  118. Yukl, G. (2001). Leadership in organisations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  119. Ziller, R. C. (1965). Toward a theory of open and closed groups. Psychological Bulletin, 64(3), 164–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  120. Zsambok, C. E., & Klein, G. A. (Eds.). (1997). Naturalistic decision making. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Macquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.University of TechnologySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations