skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

21 July 2023 - Report presenting the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s new Leadership for a Sustainable Future Framework.  The framework is focused on developing and expanding leadership capacity and is designed to help individuals and collectives reflect on their own and others’ leadership practice.

Download Leadership for a sustainable future

The Supporting report explains the background to the framework, methods used, its component parts, and supporting literature for further reference.

Download Leadership for a sustainable future: Supporting report

About the Leadership Framework

Recent years have seen increased action to transform unsustainable systems and practices, but more attention needs to be paid to leadership capabilities and qualities required at an individual and collective level to make fundamental and lasting progress. 

CISL has developed a framework to help develop mainstream leadership for a sustainable future.  The framework seeks to address some of the limitations of dominant ways of thinking about leadership. It brings together the significance of purpose, the relational nature of leadership expressed as four principles: connected, collaborative, creative and courageous, and the importance of place and context to identify leadership characteristics for a sustainable future. 

Research shows with increasing clarity that there are multiple lenses through which leadership can be understood, which provide a richer understanding of the contemporary dynamics of leadership and how it plays out in specific contexts. Leadership is increasingly seen not simply as a set of capabilities possessed by an individual or a position held but also as:   

  • a process – a dynamic, collective and creative process of influence that shapes behaviour and organisational culture. 
  • requiring a purpose – a clear, meaningful goal that inspires leaders and followers to operate in service of specific ends. 
  • place or context specific – embedded in and shaped by particular times and places, at both a broad level, eg economic and social trends, and more specifically, eg local culture and values. 

What’s next?

CISL’s ambition is to stress-test the framework in different contexts – geographically, culturally, organisationally to discover the thinking and practices that will inspire, enable and accelerate both organisational success and progress towards a more sustainable future.

We invite you to engage with us as we further explore pioneering leadership with individuals and progressive organisations, to see how the purpose and principles within this framework are manifested in different organisations and places, building a database of case studies and empirical evidence, and further refining our thinking based on these practical insights. 

  • Opportunity to join a two-day residential Leadership Lab in spring 2024 to discuss this work and its application in your organisation: Please register your interest here.
  • We are seeking funding for follow up research activities.  
  • Please get in touch directly if you are interested in engaging with us over this work – at

Citing these reports

Please refer to this publication as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2023). Leadership for a sustainable future. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Please refer to this publication as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2023). Leadership for a sustainable future: Supporting report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Published: July 2023

Related links

The starting point for this work was CISL’s existing publication Rewiring Leadership: The future we want, the leadership we need, which made the case for a purpose-driven approach to leadership and identified specific thinking, values and practices expressed in the Cambridge Impact Leadership Model.

Authors and acknowledgements

Authors: Dr Louise Drake, Gillian Secrett, Zoë Arden

Acknowledgements for editorial support, peer review and input: Frances Buckingham, Elodie Cameron, James Cole, Beverley Cornaby, Emma Cutting, Dr Theo Hacking, Louise Haynes, Phil Hazell, Lindsay Hooper, Ben Kellard, Prof. Steve Kempster, Tove Luther, James MacPherson, Michael Nowlis, Prof. Sudhanshu Palsule, Martin Roberts, Nina Seega, Alice Spencer, Charlotte Thompson, Eliot Whittington, Adele Williams, Ursula Woodburn


Copyright © 2023 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved. The material featured in this publication is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL or any of its individual business partners or clients.