Profile a leader who you consider to embrace transformational change. Identify their key attributes and actions and consider how these could be more widely adopted.
The leader being profiled for this assignment will be Juliet Davenport, CEO and founder of Good Energy. Good Energy is a UK company, based in the South West, set up to provide renewable energy in response to the issue of climate change. Good Energy not only supplies renewable energy from wind and solar farms, but also promotes the use of renewable energy through challenging current perceptions of the energy market via advocacy and information in an attempt to create a more open and transparent energy market (Good Energy website, 2013).
Transformational leadership has three main roles which include ‘creating a new vision, and institutionalising change’ (Tichy et al. 1986, as cited by Buchanan et al. 2004:742) and Buchanan et al. (2004:743) cite further research by Metcalfe et al. (2002, 2003) which lists a number of behaviours of transformational leadership including encouraging change, resolving complex problems, building shared vision, and networking and achieving. Changes in the global economy have further led to the need for solutions to be found for complex issues, such as sustainability, including climate change, which Good Energy is seeking to address.
Summers (2004:189) argues that ideas and creativity need to be encouraged to meet challenges and that leadership can encourage this environment. Good Energy encourages this learning by supporting a PhD student undertaking the study of renewable energy (Good Energy website, 2013). This continual improvement through learning (Buchanan et al. 2008:110) further builds on the values of sustainability in terms of taking action now to improve the future, whilst Cerruti (2011:11) argues that sustainability needs to be an integral part of the organisation and needs leadership ‘buy-in’.
These ideas and creativity can be seen in Juliet Davenport, who found that there was a lack of progress towards a low carbon economy in the UK, but ascertained that there was little change likely to happen due to the political framework. Instead Davenport focussed her attention on a different set of stakeholders – the customer – realising that change could be encouraged here which may feed up to the political level, especially as customers are also voters (Good Energy website, 2013). Fry et al. (2013:11) argue that ‘conscious capitalism’ aims to deliver a set of values to its stakeholders whilst Covey (1991:104) argues that leaders have to have followers in order to be leaders, and that shared values are a vital part of this relationship. Arguably an innovative response demonstrates entrepreneurial traits such as problem solving in order to create an opportunity as per Kirby (2003:113).
Another key attribute for a leader is vision, particularly in terms of sustainable business as this focuses on the long term, in terms of protecting the current and future generations and this is an alternative model to the pursuit of short-term profits. Furthermore, Good Energy encourages ‘buy-in’ to its vision by seeking to simplify energy efficiency and behave in a clear and transparent way to ensure customers are not confused, which can happen with other energy company tariffs and caused the Government to pass the Energy Bill 2012 to force them to be more transparent (BBC News online, 2012). Information and communication on the Good Energy website is clear and this arguably is part of Corporate Social Responsibility in which transparency is a key element. The right to know information is further highlighted by the Participation Principle (Beder 2006:106) and this sharing of knowledge can further aid the vision of Davenport and Good Energy.
The values of Davenport and Good Energy feed into the company’s actions with its strategy of providing a response to climate change revealed in a number of ways including vision and leadership, but also facilitates encouraging change by being part of Ofgem’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and working parties for Government (Good Energy website, 2013). Many business leaders are part in working parties for the Government, but as has been seen recently with the banking crisis, often contributions to working parties have been far from transparent and lack an innovative response or proposed change. In these cases, it has been the Government that has been the instigator of change rather than the businesses. During this crisis, it seemed apparent that the short-term pursuit of profits by certain banks was far more important than the longer-term view of sustainability in terms of profits, people and environment. Sustainability requires a different approach, as the current approach has led to problems and the issue of change is therefore relevant. Millar et al. (2012:490) cite Bonini et al. 2010, who argue that sustainability is a major force for change in the world economy. This change may need leaders and businesses to undertake different processes and become more transformational in terms of how they view the problem and how they respond to the potential challenges and opportunities. Good Energy has met the challenge of climate change by providing and encouraging renewable energies, but the UK is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and this market is dominated by large and powerful companies. However, these large energy companies also face issues of communication and trust as they are often portrayed in the media as being focussed on profits only. This is in comparison to Good Energy which appears to be focussed on providing solutions to climate change, even though it will still need to be profitable.
Metcalf et al. (2012:370) argue that due to the complex nature of sustainability, leaders need to be able to link the external environment to the organisation and this can create problems in terms of lack of understanding or missing out elements and not providing a holistic approach and therefore possibly creating more problems than they are solving. Arguably, Davenport has been able to link the external environment and the issue of climate change with the internal organisation in its approach to encouraging and providing renewable energies. However, it can also be argued that by concentrating on one area of sustainability it is easier to tailor the internal organisation towards this issue, although it does not make the issue of low renewable energy usage in the UK a simple or quick problem to solve.
Further challenges to leadership in enabling sustainability can include the need for strong communication and commitment to goals and can prove to be an enormous task, as per Quinn et al. (2004:4), but an incremental change may be undertaken first. However, Davenport undertook a transformational change in the establishing of goals and commitments for Good Energy and has remained on this path since creating a different approach and using ‘intersectional thinking’ by combining two concepts of climate change and renewable energy in a different way with a customer-based and knowledge approach (Johansson, 2013). Looking at the company history, it is clear that developments have been undertaken, but still follow the vision and values of the company.
Other businesses could adopt the changes undertaken by Good Energy, but within their organisational context. The demonstration of a commitment to sustainability by actively endorsing and driving it throughout the business embeds sustainability within the organisation, which then takes into account the triple bottom line of profits, people and planet. The embedding of sustainability relates to the three issues of ‘declining resources, radical transparency and increasing expectations’ as per Laszlo et al. (2011:6) and all of these three issues have been addressed by Davenport in terms of renewable energy, clear information and encouraging change.
In conclusion, transformational change needs to be undertaken by transformational leadership in terms of encouraging change, resolving complex problems, building shared vision, and networking and achieving. Davenport founded Good Energy to increase the use of renewable energy in the UK and to try and achieve sustainability in terms of resource use. Furthermore, Davenport is engaged in the process of trying to change expectations of how the UK should produce energy by working with parliament and encouraging learning. The complex issues of sustainability require new and innovative solutions and this can create problems for leaders who will need to demonstrate strong commitment and motivation. The triple bottom line of people, profits and planet mean that an organisation has to align internal and external contexts in order to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Business as usual may fall short of sustainability issues but organisations will need to address these issues as stakeholder expectations apply pressure to organisations to take some action. Davenport and Good Energy have undertaken a long-term view of renewable energy and communicate their vision through the actions they undertake and the educating role they also perform for both current and future generations, a key element of sustainability.
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