Leadership, Innovation, and Sustainability

  • Robert VerburgEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Sustainable Business In Association with Future Earth book series (PSSBAFE)


In this chapter, Verburg explores the leadership challenges associated with sustainability by highlighting the current research evidence on the links between leadership, innovation, and sustainability. There seems to be a lot of conceptual confusion in relation to sustainability leadership. Different authors offer different definitions, focusing on either specific traits, styles or behaviors that they associate with sustainability leadership. Others do not even focus on leadership roles or behaviors as such but highlight the importance of any individual’s personal proactivity in order to drive sustainability agendas. This conceptual confusion may be a significant obstacle to further the field of sustainability leadership. The purpose of this chapter is, therefore, to provide a better understanding of sustainability leadership to enable future studies.


  1. Adams, Richard, Sally Jeanrenaud, John Bessant, David Denyer, and Patrick Overy. 2016. “Sustainability-oriented innovation: A systematic review.” International Journal of Management Reviews 18 (2): 180–205.Google Scholar
  2. Alvesson, Mats. 2000. “Social indentity and the problem of loyalty in knowledge-intensive companies.” Journal of Management Studies 37 (8): 1101–24.Google Scholar
  3. Amabile, Teresa M., Regina Conti, Heather Coon, Jeffrey Lazenby, and Michael Herron. 1996. “Assessing the work environment for creativity.” Academy of Management Journal 39 (5): 1154–84.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, Neil, Kristina Potočnik, and Jing Zhou. 2014. “Innovation and creativity in organizations: A state-of-the-science review, prospective commentary, and guiding framework.” Journal of Management 40 (5): 1297–333.Google Scholar
  5. Avolio, Bruce J., and William L. Gardner. 2005. “Authentic leadership development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly 16 (3): 315–38.Google Scholar
  6. Bass, Bernard M. 1999. “Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 8 (1): 9–32.Google Scholar
  7. Billsberry, Jon, and Steven Meisel. 2009. “Leadership is in the eye of the beholder.” Organization Management Journal 6 (2): 67–68.Google Scholar
  8. Bocken, Nancy M. P., Samuel W. Short, P. Rana, and Steve Evans. 2014. “A literature and practice review to develop sustainable business model archetypes.” Journal of Cleaner Production 65: 42–56.Google Scholar
  9. Boons, Frank, Carlos Montalvo, Jaco Quist, and Marcus Wagner. 2013. “Sustainable innovation, business models and economic performance: An overview.” Journal of Cleaner Production 45: 1–8.Google Scholar
  10. Brown, Michael E., Linda K. Treviño, and David A. Harrison. 2005. “Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 97 (2): 117–34.Google Scholar
  11. Burns, Heather, Heather Diamond-Vaught, and Corin Bauman. 2015. “Leadership for sustainability: Theoretical foundations and pedagogical practices that foster change.” International Journal of Leadership Studies 9: 88–100.Google Scholar
  12. Cater, John, and Brent Beal. 2015. “Servant leadership in multigenerational family firms.” Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship 20 (4): 25–48.Google Scholar
  13. Christensen, Lisa Jones, Ellen Peirce, Laura P. Hartman, W. Michael Hoffman, and Jamie Carrier. 2007. “Ethics, CSR, and sustainability education in the Financial Times top 50 global business schools: Baseline data and future research directions.” Journal of Business Ethics 73 (4): 347–68.Google Scholar
  14. De Jong, Jeroen, and Deanne Den Hartog. 2010. “Measuring innovative work behaviour.” Creativity and Innovation Management 19 (1): 23–36.Google Scholar
  15. Den Hartog, Deanne N. 2015. “Ethical leadership.” Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 2 (1): 409–34.Google Scholar
  16. Dutton, Jane E., Susan J. Ashford, Regina M. O’Neill, and Katherine A. Lawrence. 2001. “Moves that matter: Issue selling and organizational change.” Academy of Management Journal 44 (4): 716–36.Google Scholar
  17. Dyer, Georges, and Michelle Dyer. 2017. “Strategic leadership for sustainability by higher education: The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.” Journal of Cleaner Production 140: 111–16.Google Scholar
  18. Ferdig, Mary A. 2007. “Sustainability leadership: Co-creating a sustainable future.” Journal of Change Management 7 (1): 25–35.Google Scholar
  19. Fiol, C. Marlene, Drew Harris, and Robert House. 1999. “Charismatic leadership: Strategies for effecting social change.” The Leadership Quarterly 10 (3): 449–82.Google Scholar
  20. Fry, Louis W. 2003. “Toward a theory of spiritual leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly 14 (6): 693–727.Google Scholar
  21. Gilson, Lucy L., John E. Mathieu, Christina E. Shalley, and Thomas M. Ruddy. 2005. “Creativity and standardization: Complementary or conflicting drivers of team effectiveness?” Academy of Management Journal 48 (3): 521–31.Google Scholar
  22. Gunday, Gurhan, Gunduz Ulusoy, Kemal Kilic, and Lutfihak Alpkan. 2011. “Effects of innovation types on firm performance.” International Journal of Production Economics 133 (2): 662–76.Google Scholar
  23. Gupta, Vishal, and Shailendra Singh. 2015. “Leadership and creative performance behaviors in R&D laboratories: Examining the mediating role of justice perceptions.” Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 22 (1): 21–36.Google Scholar
  24. Hargreaves, Andy, and Dean Fink. 2004. “The seven principles of sustainable leadership.” Educational Leadership 61 (7): 8–13.Google Scholar
  25. Horwitz, Frank M., Chan Teng Heng, and Hesan Ahmed Quazi. 2003. “Finders, keepers? Attracting, motivating and retaining knowledge workers.” Human Resource Management Journal 13 (4): 23–44.Google Scholar
  26. Inigo, Edurne A., and Laura Albareda. 2016. “Understanding sustainable innovation as a complex adaptive system: A systemic approach to the firm.” Journal of Cleaner Production 126: 1–20.Google Scholar
  27. Johnston, Lucas F. 2014. Religion and sustainability: Social movements and the politics of the environment. London: Routledge. Google Scholar
  28. Kalshoven, Karianne, Deanne N. Den Hartog, and Annebel H. B. De Hoogh. 2011. “Ethical leadership at work questionnaire (ELW): Development and validation of a multidimensional measure.” The Leadership Quarterly 22 (1): 51–69.Google Scholar
  29. Kanungo, Rabindra N., and Manuel Mendonca. 1996. Ethical Dimensions of Leadership, Vol. 3. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Google Scholar
  30. Lüdeke-Freund, Florian, Lorenzo Massa, Nancy Bocken, Alan Brent, and Josephine Musango. 2016. Business models for shared value. Cape Town: Network for Business Sustainability South Africa.Google Scholar
  31. Montag, Tamara, Carl P. Maertz Jr., and Markus Baer. 2012. “A critical analysis of the workplace creativity criterion space.” Journal of Management 38 (4): 1362–86.Google Scholar
  32. Parker, Sharon K., and Catherine G. Collins. 2010. “Taking stock: Integrating and differentiating multiple proactive behaviors.” Journal of Management 36 (3): 633–62.Google Scholar
  33. Quinn, Laura, and Maxine Dalton. 2009. “Leading for sustainability: Implementing the tasks of leadership.” Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society 9 (1): 21–38.Google Scholar
  34. Rosing, Kathrin, Michael Frese, and Andreas Bausch. 2011. “Explaining the heterogeneity of the leadership-innovation relationship: Ambidextrous leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly 22 (5): 956–74.Google Scholar
  35. Schein, Steve. 2015. A new psychology for sustainability leadership: The hidden power of ecological worldviews. Sheffield: Greenleaf.Google Scholar
  36. Shamir, Boas, Robert J. House, and Michael B. Arthur. 1993. “The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self-concept based theory.” Organization Science 4 (4): 577–94.Google Scholar
  37. Tabassi, Amin Akhavan, Kamand M. Roufechaei, Mahyuddin Ramli, Abu Hassan Abu Bakar, Radzi Ismail, and A. Hamid Kadir Pakir. 2016. “Leadership competences of sustainable construction project managers.” Journal of Cleaner Production 124: 339–49.Google Scholar
  38. Teece, David J. 2010. “Business models, business strategy and innovation.” Long Range Planning 43 (2–3): 172–94.Google Scholar
  39. Tidd, Joe, John Bessant, and Keith Pavitt. 2005. Managing innovation integrating technological, market and organizational change, 5th ed. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  40. Treviño, Linda Klebe, Michael Brown, and Laura Pincus Hartman. 2003. “A qualitative investigation of perceived executive ethical leadership: Perceptions from inside and outside the executive suite.” Human Relations 56 (1): 5–37.Google Scholar
  41. Van Dierendonck, Dirk. 2011. “Servant leadership: A review and synthesis.” Journal of Management 37 (4): 1228–61.Google Scholar
  42. Van Marrewijk, Marcel, and Marco Werre. 2003. “Multiple levels of corporate sustainability.” Journal of Business Ethics 44 (2–3): 107–19.Google Scholar
  43. Visser, Wayne. 2018. “Creating integrated value: From systems thinking to sustainable transformation in business and society.” Inaugural Lecture, No. 3, Antwerp Management School.Google Scholar
  44. Waldman, David A., Donald S. Siegel, and Mansour Javidan. 2006. “Components of CEO transformational leadership and corporate social responsibility.” Journal of Management Studies 43 (8): 1703–25.Google Scholar
  45. West, Michael A. 2002. “Sparkling fountains or stagnant ponds: An integrative model of creativity and innovation implementation in work groups.” Applied Psychology 51 (3): 355–87.Google Scholar
  46. Wiengarten, Frank, Chris K. Y. Lo, and Jessie Y. K. Lam. 2017. “How does sustainability leadership affect firm performance? The choices associated with appointing a chief officer of corporate social responsibility.” Journal of Business Ethics 140 (3): 477–93.Google Scholar
  47. Yukl, Gary A. 2012. Leadership in organizations, 8th ed. New Delhi: Pearson.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Technology, Policy and ManagementDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations