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

By Professor Bernd Vogel, Henley Centre for Leadership

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

Compare that to conversations amongst leadership development academics, practitioners, or clients. I often feel like a member of the band on the Titanic. Well, at least that band supposedly 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 within leadership development need to start now and aim high to strongly address climate change, before becoming more obsolete.

Let me present two ideas for the fledgling activities in our area.

The silence of leadership development – sustainable programme delivery?

Picture this 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, a practitioner 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. Online or blended designs may not facilitate the specific learning individuals and organizations 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 offsetting, blended learning, augmented reality or other alternatives can firms engage with immediately?
  • What 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, and transform the climate change mindsets of managers or leadership development experts. Then we can create the insights for purpose-rich leadership development practices that address climate change.

Try this:

  • Partnerships! Our doors are open. Please reach out to us at Henley Centre for Leadership. Explore together. Show and tell what leadership development has to offer to address climate change.
  • Think practically! Where can you bring tackling climate change in your learning environment?
  • Does your leadership development research have a climate angle? Share them with us and our network.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s