3 Traits of Environmental Leaders

Environmental change comes from leaders who promote others’ welfare, motivate change, and can act in different leadership roles.

What kind of leader creates environmental change? Researchers studied traits and leadership styles of leaders in environmental organizations. They interviewed 73 environmental leaders in Canada and the United States, from nonprofit environmentalist and for-profit environmental product and service organizations.

Their recommendation: If you’re looking to effect environmental change in an organization, choose leaders who promote the welfare of other people and the environment, motivate change, and are able to perform diverse leadership roles.

Leadership matters for environmental change

Previous studies have shown that leaders’ personal and environmental values are key to creating a corporate vision and providing the guidance and motivation to effect environmental change.

This study explored the specific values, personality characteristics, and behaviours of leaders in non-profit and for-profit environmental organizations.

Environmental leaders have distinct values and behaviours

The researchers found that while environmental leaders have personality characteristics of other effective leaders, they also have a distinct set of values and leadership behaviours.

  • Values: They have concern for the welfare of others and the environment, and the desire to motivate change within the company.

  • Behaviours: They operate as multi-talented “master managers” who simultaneously perform a wide variety of leadership and managerial roles.

These leaders achieve impact by inspiring others to support their vision. They do this by emphasizing collaboration, empowering employees by treating them as individuals.

Managers can choose leaders environmental potential

Managers can draw on these findings to choose effective leaders. Here are some qualities to look for in potential leaders:

  • valuing the environment and other employees

  • being open to change and able to direct change

  • having high levels of self-confidence and emotional maturity.

  • having a diverse repertoire of leadership skills and easily switching roles and adapting leadership style to different situations.

  • inspiring others towards a vision by focusing on teamwork, communication, and concerns of individual employees.

Read the article: Egri, Carolyn, & Herman, Susan. (2000). Leadership in the North American Environmental Sector: Values, Leadership Styles, and Contexts of Environmental Leaders and their Organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 43(4): 571-604.

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