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What makes a leader a sustainable leader?

This week, I want to flag a report on what makes a leader a “sustainable leader” published by Russel Reynolds together with the UN’s Global Compact last year (you can read it here). I think this makes an interesting read for any person who is trying to understand how to make an organization’s sustainability journey more likely to succeed.


Some key quotes from the report:

  • “Commitment to sustainability is at an all-time high. Ninety-two per cent of CEOs believe integration of sustainability will be important to the future success of their business. However, there is a gap between rhetoric and reality. Only 48 per cent of CEOs say they are implementing sustainability in their operations, and only 21 per cent of CEOs actually feel that business is currently playing a critical role in achieving the SDGs.”
  • “Analyzing close to 4,000 role specifications across industries and the globe, we found that in 2019 while 15 per cent of executive and non-executive role specifications made reference to sustainability (up from 9 per cent in 2015) in only 4 per cent of executive and nonexecutive role specifications was sustainability experience or mindset an actual requirement.”
  • “When we look at the career experiences of these pioneering leaders that are sitting CEOs and compare them to a control group of CEOs from Global Fortune 500 companies…
    • …were 3 times more likely than the control group to have worked on two or more continents (45 per cent vs 16 per cent).
    • … for those not based in the Global South, 1 in 3 had worked there compared to only 1 in 10 of the control group.
    • …were also more than twice as likely to have had significant career experience in two or more functions (64 per cent vs 30 per cent).
    • …were notably more likely to have had experience in operations and supply chain (55 per cent vs 32 per cent).”
  • “Regardless of their journey towards sustainability, the sustainability pioneers we studied have a strong personal motivation and purpose.”
  • “Sustainable leaders are naturally curious; they go beyond a deep understanding of their own organizational system and incorporate the interplay with the larger economic, societal and environmental systems around them to drive change.”
  • “Sustainable leaders do not manage stakeholders, they include them.”
  • “…they ask why it cannot be done differently.”
  • “This is not a matter of hiring a single individual to own sustainability. The systemic challenges the world faces today mean that sustainable leadership cannot be confined to a small minority; it requires companies to cultivate leadership at all levels.”


As we are reemerging from the pandemic, and as investors are becoming more and more focused on companies delivering solid sustainability goals, it is important to question how organizations should prepare and enable their management teams to deal with multiple needs from multiple stakeholders. Whether through the top team, or through the board of directors, it seems natural that as companies expand their efforts on ESG topics they will need people who have the knowledge or experience to make sure such efforts are well directed, and who can become examples for the rest of the team to follow.

I hope you found this interesting. As usual, if there is anything we can help you with, or if there is an ESG topic you would like to know more about, please let us know.



CEO, Miranda ESG

Contacts at Miranda Partners

Damian Fraser
Miranda Partners

Marimar Torreblanca
Miranda ESG