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Shared Sustainability Demands Real Business Leadership PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Sunday, 22 June 2014 09:08

Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas in Bahrain[Hot foot from lecturing in India our Professor touches down in Bahrain to deliver an anti-celebrity message only to find his face staring out from the billboards.  

What, at first sight, look suspiciously like ‘wanted’ posters turn out to be advertising his imminent appearance at a leadership seminar.]

His messages, as ever, were uncompromisingly designed to give the assembled leaders food for thought.  His IoD ‘sermon’ in India had reminded business leaders that they were there to serve. 

To would-be stars of Bahraini business he railed against too great a focus on ‘the trappings of office’ and, if these leaders were short of commitment to a higher cause, he suggested that their responsibilities should embrace ‘sustainability’.

“Human beings are the planet's supreme predators and despoilers. Our ability to damage and pollute the environment has increased at an exponential rate while we have faced few natural constraints. Other species and nature have not had time to evolve defences to limit our destructiveness. Hence, our futures and the prospects of the other forms of life with which we share our planet will depend upon the extent to which we innovate and/or show restraint.”

Those who actively work on sustainability issues know how challenging it is to change agendas.  Quite how the business leaders of Bahrain reacted to Colin’s twin messages of personal restraint and shared sustainability is not known. They heard messages that refused to celebrate or conform to current assumptions and practice.  Challenging orthodox views, questioning realities, is a vital (if sometimes risky) discipline.  In this, Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas shares a rich tradition with many academics.  Their views maybe dismissed as, well, ‘academic’, but they also point to practical opportunities to move on.

But first the message must be heard

“Sustainability is more than a question of perpetuating a certain level of profitability. Where the environment is fragile, and with the challenge of global warming, we need ways of operating that will reduce emissions and minimise demands upon scarce resources. Smart leaders try to simultaneously achieve multiple objectives. People's time is precious to them so needs to be used wisely. Practical initiatives such as teleworking and local purchasing can further commercial, social responsibility and environmental agendas.”

Business leadership is largely about priorities.  “Leaders and boards should keep the focus upon differentiators, critical success factors and customer value” but, said the professor, “If a leadership team is devoting quality time to discussing the allocation of parking spaces to directors, investors should worry.”


Prof. Coulson-Thomas' seminar on leadership was under the patronage of HH Shaikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Khalifa and was delivered at the Ramee Grand Hotel and Spa at Seef in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Colin's latest publications, including his books Winning Companies; Winning People and Developing Directors on building an effective boardroom team and three reports setting out his approach to new leadership: Transforming Knowledge Management, Talent Management 2, and Transforming Public Services are available from




Last Updated on Sunday, 22 June 2014 15:23

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