Leadership for Sustainable Innovation


In many situations, the improvements of the sustainable performance that is environmental friendliness, of an organisation means that the organisation needs to innovate. A manager who wants to guide and steer the sustainable innovation processes has to be, or become, an innovation manager with substantial leadership competence (cf. Jung et al. 2003; Krause 2004; Llorens Montes et al. 2005), and a broad repertoire of leadership skills (cf. Chakrabarti 1974; Roberts and Fusfeld 1981; Kim et al. 1999; Hauschildt and Kirchmann 2001).

However, much of the discussion focuses on the influences of leadership on innovation processes, and the body of literature on a leader’s influence on sustainable innovation processes is not yet well developed. To contribute to the development of a body of knowledge in this area, this article investigates the characteristics and effects of leadership on sustainable innovation processes. It concentrates on two basic research questions:

1. What are the characteristics of leadership for sustainable innovation processes?
2. How does leadership affect sustainable innovation processes?

The literature frequently defines innovation leadership as a manager’s style, largely influenced by individual behaviour. Repeatedly mentioned leadership styles in the literature are charismatic (cf. Nadler and Tushman 1990; Stoker et al. 2001), instrumental (cf. Nadler and Tushman 1990; Eisenbachet al. 1999), strategic (cf. Harmsen et al. 2000; Waters 2000), and Interactive leadership (cf. Burpitt and Bigoness 1997; Eisenbach et al. 1999). This section reviews these styles:

Charismatic Leadership:
A charismatic leadership style communicates an innovative vision, energises others to innovate and accelerates innovation processes. Barczak and Wilemon (1989), and Nadler Tushman (1990) write that charismatic leadership generates energy, creates commitment and directs individuals towards new objectives, values or aspiration. Howell and Higgins (1990) claim that leadership contributes to the development of new products. They argue that charismatic leadership style neglects organisational boundaries, uses visionary statements and stimulates co-workers contributions to renewal.

Nonaka and Kenney (1991) state that charismatic leadership catalyses innovation. It creates a context for selecting the relevant people, and helps them overcome barriers. This is also emphasized by Eisenbach et al. (1999). They substantiate that a charismatic leader develops a vision that is attractive to followers, that considers the underlying needs and values of the key stakeholders, and is intellectually stimulating.

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