UN Climate change conference

COP26, silence of the leadership development, and the band on the Titanic

It is the last day. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the opening of COP26: “Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet.”

Compare that to conversations amongst leadership development academics, practice, or clients. I often feel like a member of the band on the Titanic. Well, that band supposedly at least played to calm people facing death.

Within the leadership development community, and admittedly I am part of the problem, we know we hit the iceberg of climate change and it is sinking us, yet it seems we are saying: ‘great let’s continue playing the same old leadership development tunes’ and keep our eyes wide shut.

Academics and practitioners on leadership development need to start now, strongly, and aim high to address climate change. Before becoming more obsolete.

Let me seed two ideas for the fledgling activities in our area:

The silence of leadership development – sustainable programme delivery?

Picture a conversation with a client about a leadership programme focused on senior managers’ health and resilience and sustainable performance of the business. Not planned, rather in the moment, the practitioners asked: “How healthy will the actual programme delivery be? For the individual? For the environment and climate?”


That was a game changer for my own mind-set. There are no easy answers. Only online or blended designs may not facilitate the specific learning individuals and organisations aspire towards. However, what about some fundamental principles of healthy and sustainable leadership development practice, starting with a few compulsory requirements for every learning design.

  • Change within the business case for learning, client requirements, and provider proposals
  • Which practical tools, such as carbon offset, blended learning, augmented reality or else can firms engage with immediately?
  • How can a circular economy for the eco-system of leadership development look like?

Request towards leadership development research! Don’t walk it alone

It is wonderful to see a glimmer of awakening in the academic community with a lot of activity towards meaningful, relevant research. Is the leadership and leadership development community behind the curve?

In the recent The Leadership Quarterly article I co-authored on the status quo of the leadership development field, we pointed to specific areas that can transform the leadership development domain.

One key recommendation: Don’t walk it alone. Bring practice and academia together in substantial partnerships to match society’s grand challenges such as climate change, climate change mindsets of managers or leadership development experts. Then we can create the insights for purpose-rich leadership development practices that address

Try this!

  • Partnerships: Our doors are open! Please reach out to us at the Henley Centre for Leadership. Let’s explore together what leadership development has to offer to address climate change.
  • Very practically: Where can you bring tackling climate change in your learning environment?
  • Share with us and our network: Has your leadership development research a climate angle?

Bernd is an Associate Professor of Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour and Director of The Henley Centre for Engaging Leadership.

He helps organisations with his expertise in leadership for creating and sustaining organisational energy, energising management teams, developing inspiring and purposeful leadership and fellowship, and leading change.

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