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modern leadership for a sustainable future
Dani Matthews31/10/2023 4:01:19 PM3 min read

10 Thoughts on Modern Leadership for a Sustainable Future

It was exciting this month to have the infamous South by South West (SXSW) festival - a convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture come to Sydney from Austin.

As part of the activities I was privileged to be part of a panel at UTS House exploring how in the quest for a sustainable future, leadership must evolve beyond conventional norms.

As we navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, certain attributes, practices, and acts of courage stand out.

Sharing ten thoughts from my panel preparation on key elements that define leaders who can chart new trajectories in this critical decade of action:

integrity & trust: the cornerstones of leadership

Edelman's 2023 Trust Barometer sheds light on our path towards polarisation, driven by powerful macro forces that strain the social fabric and deepen societal divides. The Barometer results show in Australia, a staggering 75% express trust in their employer to 'do what is right,' surpassing trust levels in government and media. This places an increasing expectation on businesses to lead on social issues and be a force for good.

empathy as a leadership superpower

Stacy McCarthy, a Partner at Aesara Partners and former senior Boeing Executive, emphasised empathy as a critical leadership attribute when she joined our recent Abundium sisterhood Women CEO Pod. Drawing from extensive research, McCarthy advocates for kindness as a superpower and underscores the long-term benefits of bold moves, especially in challenging economic times. Furthermore, Stacy highlights the importance of individualised learning plans for CEOs and champions the concept of radically human leadership. McCarthy also makes a compelling business case for more women in senior leadership, while distinguishing empathy from sympathy.

the power of healthy daily habits

Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Incorporating daily practices such as meditation, exercise, proper sleep, balanced nutrition, and journaling are crucial. What we consistently practice shapes who we become. Managing energy, as Tony Robbins advocates, is paramount. Fellow panelist Chris Kay's 'CEO as Chief Energy Officer' concept resonates, highlighting the correlation between personal well-being and effective leadership.

mitigating employee burnout through job design

Recent research by the Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia (CMHAA) underscores that CEOs are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression compared to the general population. Job design plays a pivotal role in reducing employee burnout. Implementing strategies that prioritise mental well-being is not only ethical but also vital for sustainable leadership.

real-time feedback for authentic leadership

Testing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) messages with team members, customers, and stakeholders offers invaluable insight. Honest feedback serves as a mirror, aiding leaders in aligning their actions with their stated values.

navigating leadership tensions and polarities

Leaders must learn to balance seemingly opposing traits and values. Being optimistic yet realistic, confident yet humble, and caring for others while caring for oneself are not mutually exclusive. Tim Arnold's 'Lead with AND' approach embodies this philosophy, advocating for growth with impact.

progress trumps perfection

Greenhushing can hinder progress. It's imperative to prioritise bold actions over the pursuit of perfection. Examples like Unilever ANZ's B Corp certification and Salesforce's integration of sustainability as a core value serve as inspiration.

remembering the 'S' in ESG

The 'S' in ESG, representing Social factors, is just as critical as Environmental and Governance considerations. Instances like child labor in Congo's cobalt mines, a component in many electric vehicles, spotlight the urgent need for ethical supply chains. I wrote an Abundium blog on this recently.

curiosity & humility: leadership superpowers

Colombia Professor Dorie Clark underscores that curiosity and humility are leadership superpowers. Let’s replace criticality with a mindframe of curiosity to listen and learn.

leading with love & abundance

Nicky Sparshott's TEDx Sydney talk, "Love - the new corporate currency supercharging results," champions a shift from leading with fear to leading with love. Embracing a mindset of abundance versus fear fosters compassion and collaborative workplaces.


in conclusion

In this critical decade of action, the world needs brave and bold leadership. Empathy must translate into action. As Paul Polman challenges, leaders must reflect on whether the world is a better place because their business exists. It's time to rise together and co-create a better world for all.

Would love to hear any of your thoughts on the topic.


Dani Matthews

Dani Matthews, Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer at Abundium, leads our impact initiatives with and for our multinational and not-for-profit community to tenfold leadership impact for an abundant world. Driven, compassionate and socially minded, Dani is on a mission to ‘be the change’ and help inspire positive impact including the transition to net zero in this critical decade of action. She recently completed a Cambridge University Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions short course and leads a cross-industry ‘Climate Warriors’ community amongst many other initiatives. Dani was recently honoured as an Adjunct Associate Professor (Industry) @ UTS Business School and is excited for our "Leading Strategic Action on Climate and Sustainability" Short Course collaboration.