Sustainability and leadership expertise

Guest contribution by | 04.07.2024

A manager was sitting next to a little girl on the plane. The manager turned to her and said: “Shall we have a little chat? I’ve heard that flights go faster that way. Besides, it’s networking.”

The little girl, who had just opened her book, slowly closed it and said to the manager: “Mmm, what do you want to talk about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied the manager. “How about we talk about the latest developments on the stock market?”

“Okay,” she said, “that would certainly be a very interesting topic. But first a question: a horse, a cow and a deer all eat the same grass, but the deer excretes small pellets, the cow a flat patty and the horse dry clumps of grass. Why is that?”

The manager thought about it and confessed: “Well, I really – even after careful consideration – have no idea.”

To which the little girl replied: “Do you really feel competent enough to talk to me about the stock market when you don’t even know about shit?”

A plea for the really important things

What do you think of when you read this story? Of your biology lessons from a long time ago? Of how you wouldn’t know either? Or the question of what it is actually about? About living knowledge, about what is really important and not about what appears to be? What makes us survive as human beings and what makes us happy?

That is exactly what this article is about.

It is a plea to take care of the really important things, then the rest will come easily and almost by itself – both entrepreneurial and human success. Because the way we think determines the direction we take. For managers in particular, knowing what is important and putting it into practice is crucial for personal and corporate success.

Properly understood, sustainability is the key to this. It also has a stress-reducing and therefore resilient effect, because decision-making criteria become clearer and more human.

Sustainability as a success factor

Why is sustainability, sustainable development, important for the competitiveness and image of companies? And why can the findings of neuroscience – a biological science – help to enable managers to transform their teams and their companies in the direction of a sustainable corporate culture? What transformative power for innovation and the future can be found in biology?

The values and goals of sustainability in the broadest sense are anchored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).¹ The 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals is a global plan to promote peace and sustainable prosperity and protect our planet. Since 2016, many countries have been working to translate this shared vision for combating poverty and reducing inequality into national development plans. The 17 goals are to be achieved by 2030. Do you believe in it? Are you fully on board or do you think you can’t change anything anyway? What role do the goals play in your day-to-day management?

The SDGs are often discussed and yet are somehow unknown. Sustainable development is our future. It has the power to ignite and really get things moving, to act in an evolutionary and revolutionary way. How important is sustainability to you? Do you personally care about it? Is sustainability an issue in your team or in your company?

Sustainability as the key to developing your own leadership personality

Sustainability harbours many approaches to improving leadership skills and is a key to developing one’s own leadership personality. Our actions are significantly influenced by biological and not exclusively logical factors. The trick is therefore to acquire the relevant knowledge and then implement it in a brain-friendly way. We must learn to become brain users rather than brain carriers. However, formulating the connections too urgently would not be conducive to implementation, as the brain often builds up blockages under pressure and we find it more difficult to change habits. It is therefore essential to acquire the knowledge to recognise and reflect on ourselves in order to then transform knowledge into wisdom. Wisdom enables us to recognise and assess which aspects of knowledge are permanently relevant and can be effectively applied to our lives.

Exercise: How important is sustainability to you?

We live towards a revolution and usually cancel it because we have more important things to do in the next 24 hours.” – Peter Sloterdijk

Do you know the Eisenhower principle? The distinction between important and urgent? It’s a popular time management tool, named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that provides a clear method for prioritising tasks according to urgency and importance. It is based on a matrix that is divided into four quadrants:

1. important and urgent

Tasks in this quadrant are both important and urgent and should be completed immediately. These are immediate priorities that require immediate attention.

2. important but not urgent

Tasks in this quadrant are important but do not have an immediate deadline. They should be planned and prioritised for the long term to avoid problems in the future.

3 Urgent, but not important

Tasks in this quadrant are urgent but do not require long-term planning. They should be delegated or avoided if possible to free up time for more important tasks.

4. not important and not urgent

Tasks in this quadrant are neither important nor urgent. They can be completed later or even skipped to free up time for more important tasks.

The Eisenhower Principle is designed to help managers and individuals use their time effectively by focusing on the most important tasks and minimising unimportant or unnecessary tasks. It encourages a strategic and proactive approach to work organisation and helps to set clear priorities. We often waste our time on supposedly urgent tasks and put off the important ones.

I would like to do a little exercise with you:

Question: How important is sustainability to you?

Please think about the question and apply the Eisenhower principle.

First collect and identify all the issues and aspects of sustainability that are important to your company or organisation.

Evaluate and sort these aspects according to urgency and importance and assign them to the corresponding quadrants of the Eisenhower principle. Feel free to discuss with others (possibly with your mastermind group) why you have categorised certain aspects as important and urgent and how this affects your role as a manager.

Develop action plans to address the identified important and urgent sustainability aspects. How do you see your role as a manager in implementing these plans and promoting a sustainable corporate culture?

Next steps

How many points have you allocated to the second quadrant?

Normally, the first quadrant is considered the most important. In the case of sustainable development, however, it is the second quadrant that is the most important, because sustainability issues are often not perceived as urgent and are therefore pushed to the back of the list.

  • Discuss how you can make sustainability issues more urgent.
  • What does this require of you as a manager?
  • How do you justify this?

It is often important to complete meaningful, sustainable tasks first before they become urgent. According to the motto: anyone can think, but rethinking is more difficult. But this is not a problem for managers. After all, the job of managers is to be beacons of hope.



[1] The 17 global sustainability goals explained clearly

Do you want to develop your leadership personality and learn the future skills for leadership? Then we recommend the Masterclass: Be a Future Leader by Dr Maria Hoffacker. Simply arrange an initial consultation if you are interested.

You can find out more about this topic in the German book Nachhaltigkeit beginnt im Kopf, published by Haufe in 2024.

Dr Maria Hoffacker: Nachhaltigkeit beginnt im Kopf

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Dr Maria Hoffacker
Dr Maria Hoffacker

Dr Maria Hoffacker is a neuroscientist and expert in future skills. With her interdisciplinary expertise and her flair for future developments, she brings a breath of fresh air to the world of business and innovation. With a doctorate in marine ecology and a pioneer in sustainability management, she has over 20 years of experience in business, media and communication. She passes on her expertise in training courses, coaching sessions and keynotes.