Kaj Embren

In his new book, 21st Century Management: Leadership and Innovation in a Thought Economy, Mats Lindgren argues that modern management must adapt to the Thought Economy.

We, in the West, live in a post-industrial world, where information, patents, ideas and services are drivers of growth. Mats identifies the leadership qualities that this era demands. In a world where ideas are assets, managers need to be innovative and foster creativity in their workforce. In a world of rapid change and depleting resources, managers must be steadfast and prioritize long-term business health over short-term profits.

It is hard not to agree with Mats, and I particularly like the book’s subtitle: ‘Making People Dance’. I found myself picturing line managers with the creative flair of a Samba and CEOs that inspired the discipline of a good Tango in their employees.

Yet, it was the basic step to the Foxtrot that I couldn’t get out of my head: two steps forward, one step back. As I have learnt over the last 30 years, this is the choreography of sustainable development.

The firm and visionary leadership that Mats prescribes is vital for sustainable business practice.

Daniel Hendrix, CEO of Interface Inc., the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, is a is a case in point. While in a traditional industry, Daniel adopts the management ethos of the Thought Economy, and encourages sustainable thinking throughout the chain of command. The company was founded on such principles by the late Ray Anderson, who sought innovative ideas from organisations such as The Natural Step and Rocky Mountain. Thanks to continued commitment and creative leadership, Interface Inc. remains both world-beating and sustainable.

It has been demonstrated that sustainable practice is jeopardized in the absence of such leadership. In a recent study, Jim O’Toole, a business professor at the University of Denver, found that companies which had committed to sustainability were likely to fail to meet their own targets if they had undergone a change in management.

Fortunately, there are a range of frameworks and standards to help guide leaders along the path of sustainability. These include: the Natural Step’s System Conditions; the UN Global Compact Principles; and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which is a 30,000 strong global network that enables companies to measure and report their sustainability performance.

Let us hope that, through strong leadership, the Foxtrot of sustainability will one day become a steady march.

Kaj Embren


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