Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

The Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation

Biodiversity Sector Leadership Discussion

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Secure the environment for young people to lead | 1 March, 2013 - 13:09


GreenMatter convened a two day sector-wide meeting to explore leadership for biodiversity, the need, the concept, and how we develop it, with a view to identifying priority interventions for leadership development. This was followed by smaller task team and working group meetings to prioritise and further develop interventions to address our leadership needs.

Learning about our potential: We learnt that those who work for biodiversity and sustainability (‘the biodiversity sector’) are in a strong position to play a leading role in South Africa. Our particular challenges and resources give us tremendous potential to engage with others to collectively address resilience, equality and quality of life, with a new vision and approach, provided we aim to work across boundaries, not to reinforce silos.

Exposure to existing leadership work: There are numerous initiatives for and literature on leadership. We shared papers and case studies that showed that different fields tackle leadership from different angles. Organisational and human resources management literature seem to approach organisations as either simple or complicated entities and leadership as a process of leading people on a journey of coming to share and achieve a strategic vision, with confidence that if the steps are followed, certain outcomes will be achieved.  In other writing, inspired by evolving ecosystem sciences, organisations are presented as complex, fluid and ‘messy’ systems, and leadership as a more shared and systemic quality of co-sensing, adapting and responding. It was difficult to reconcile ideas across these approaches, e.g. in a definition or set of leadership competencies. The spiralling helix model of leadership development which we produced (see can be interpreted and applied in various ways.

Learning about limitations:  Across organisations with a biodiversity remit there is a need to strengthen: cross-sectoral leadership for biodiversity; organisational capacity to lead; and individual leadership, regardless of position or level. Many organisations are in crisis and this is the context in which leadership development must take place. Individual leaders need to become more effective, but often a focus on management processes that promise greater efficiency seem to render us less effective. Leadership also involves emotional and spiritual intelligence that takes time to develop, using more nuanced methodologies in which mentors are critical. We learnt of differences and links between technical, relational and transformational competencies. Many leadership interventions focus on the individual and the technical but fail to have sectoral and transformational impact.  

So what for us?  GreenMatter can apply these and other insights arising from the project in our wider Human Capital Development programme.

So what for others? There could be much value in bringing new ideas to bear on existing leadership development interventions and in interrogating the underlying assumptions, processes and curricula. Our conversation thus far suggests that leadership interventions should engage participants in establishing these profound connections between: sector and sector; action and reflection (personal and shared); people and environment; economy and conservation; self and society. In the latter, a deepening understanding of ourselves as co-leaders for change connects us with one another in widening spheres of influence.

Now what? GreenMatter will work with partners to develop the priority concepts further, to strengthen the biodiversity and sustainability dimensions in existing leadership programmes, and to strengthen the leadership dimension in a range of planned Human Capital Development initiatives.



The Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation

Hyde Park, 5th Floor, Hyde Park Corner, Johannesburg

 (011) 325 5124

In Short

In this short brief the Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation provide feedback on a two day biodiversity sector leadership discussion.   

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