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Responding to environmental challenges is now a non-negotiable for organisations. Although it has been known for a long time that societal change is needed to achieve net zero targets, change has not happened quickly enough. There is a gap between what needs to happen and what business and governments are actually doing.

A study by PwC and the Birmingham Leadership Institute (BLI) identifies this gap to be one of leadership. The type of leadership that is needed is one that can handle the complexity that the net zero transition creates and one that can lead people into the unknown. Moving from ambition to action requires leaders not just to connect commerciality with responsibility, but to effectively harness human ingenuity, passion and collective responsibility within their organisations to adapt to significant change. Too often, leadership models focus on the technical challenges floating on the surface, while proving unable to tackle core adaptive challenges beneath the surface.

The report from PwC and the BLI explores why system thinking and adaptive leadership are needed to enable organisations to deliver a successful transition to net zero. Through real-life examples the report demonstrates the benefits this style of leadership and thinking can unlock, and how leaders at all levels can drive this change.

As outlined in the report, three key elements of leading to enhance adaptation and enable collaboration across the system are:

  1. Executive leadership teams must own and role model a ‘mindset shift’ towards collective leadership as all levels of the organisation feel responsibility for delivering net zero.
  2. Organisations need to work on developing the capacity to handle complexity as part of leadership development if they are to successfully deliver the necessary changes needed for a just transition to net zero.
  3. People are critical to organisational and societal success and the delivery of this change. The human element of the net zero transition has too often been forgotten and this has contributed to the failure to deliver.

The report highlights practical recommendations on how organisations can employ three steps in order to fill the net zero leadership gap.

  1. Identify and distinguish between the technical problems and adaptive challenges you face
  2. Understand your system
  3. Embed adaptive leadership

The unique partnership between PwC and the Birmingham Leadership Institute has enabled us to focus on an overlooked part of the net zero challenge and to come up with practical steps that can be taken to address it.

Christopher Pietroni, Professor of Leadership Practice and Director of the Birmingham Leadership Institute at the University of Birmingham

Christopher Pietroni says that the report shows "the vital role of leadership in tackling one of the most pressing issues of our times – but only if the right kind of leadership practices and approaches are adopted. Drawing on research and case studies, we provide insights that any organisation – large or small – can draw on which will help them both to ensure their own long-term sustainability and, even more importantly, to make a contribution to environmental sustainability for us all.”

Read the report and recommendations

To find out more about fostering the leadership practices and culture that will accelerate change and unlock net zero success in your organisation, read the full report and recommendations on the PwC website.