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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Transformational leadership

21st Century leadership - how can leaders develop a sustainable business in 2024?

We need leadership with the ability to navigate complexity and ambiguity. To establish the right conditions for individuals, teams, and organisations to take accountability and innovate to create value through sustainable solutions. To deliver for the long-term whilst producing the returns required in the short term.   

Leadership needs to understand what actions are most critical to deliver a sustainable future (CISL’s Rewiring the Economy and Business Transformation Framework cover key areas). Leadership also needs to embrace the inner capabilities and capacity required to influence and progress these actions individually and collectively across systems. Our work shows that some leading organisations are successfully rethinking their leadership development strategy to meet this changing context, but many organisations are yet to recognise the scale of change required for long-term business success

Organisations need a new form of leadership development which helps them to reframe their values and purpose, strategy and culture – enabling them to innovate and change their fundamental approach to value creation.


CISL Insights for Leaders


Leadership for a sustainable future Framework

CISL have developed a framework that embraces the ultimate purpose of leadership - to deliver a sustainable future, with business/organisational success being an essential means to deliver this goal.

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CISL’s Business Transformation Framework

This practical diagnostic tool sets out 12 key enablers presented onto four organisational typologies, distinguished by different levels of alignment to sustainability and purpose, against which businesses can self-assess.

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Future of Boards Research Phase 1

The Future of Boards research has identified key trends influencing board practice, provides practical, evidence-based, internationally relevant insights and recommendations. They are designed to support boards and the business they lead to strategically navigate the multiplying risks and opportunities and respond appropriately.

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How we work with you

Developing the right leadership skills and capabilities across an organisation is not easy, but a growing body of work indicates that organisations that cultivate learning and innovation to develop these capabilities are better able to anticipate and mitigate risk and enhance productivity. More importantly, they are better able to shape their own futures and seize the opportunities inherent in aligning their activities with society’s needs and priorities. 

Our leadership programmes work with organisations and individuals to allow them to thrive in the changing business context and to support them to develop the leadership that we need to transform our economies and deliver benefits to people, and protect our nature and climate. You can find more about CISL's position on leadership here.


Leadership capabilities for the 21st Century

The leadership lab taking place in October 2024 is a chance for
you to explore leadership within and beyond your organisation to develop the mindsets and practices for a sustainable future.  

 Register your interest


Open application programmes for leaders 

We build the leadership capacity of individuals and organisations across disciplines to catalyse and accelerate change to deliver value within and beyond their own context. 

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Executive coaching to support you to deliver impact

Our team of executive coaches are experienced to support you as you lead change to transition and transform your board, your leadership, your team or your organisation. 

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We invite you to engage with us to stress test the leadership framework in your organisation as part of our research.   

Find out how to engage


Transforming organisations 

We challenge and support organisations to raise ambition and address the challenges and opportunities of sustainability.

Customise leadership and strategy programmes

Accelerating solutions

We foster new enterprises, business models, technologies, products and services that promote a sustainable future.

Innovation for small businesses



Short online courses in leadership

Leading Sustainability: High Impact Leadership

For professionals seeking to build skills in values driven, high impact leadership.

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Communicating for Influence and Impact

For professionals seeking to build the communication skills to achieve meaningful change.

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Women Leading Change: Shaping
Our Future

For current and aspiring leaders who are ready to lead change in organisations and society through systemic transformation.

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Watch a recording of the Women Leading Change webinar



Alumni stories


"With the credentials of CISL, this could well be the most successfully designed programme in the world that delivers sustainability to business management in a nutshell."

Lu-Ann Ong, Singapore Co-founder and Managing Partner, Independent Consultants 1920 LLP

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"The course gave me a firm foundation on sustainability, equipped me with up-to-date trends on how it is practised across the globe, and gave me the chance to meet passionate practitioners of sustainability and be inspired by the work they do."

Harris Albert Guevarra, Philippines President and CEO, Drink

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Resources and research

Company Boards cannot trust that someone else will manage their climate risk exposure

29 June 2017

29 June 2017 – Well-run companies stand to benefit from the additional attention investors and their regulators are paying to climate change risk management. Boards must understand the strategic nature of the issue and not delegate it to environmental specialists, says Lindsay Hooper, Executive Director, Education, University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

Global Definitions of Leadership and Theories of Leadership Development: Literature Review

27 June 2017

27 June 2017 – the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has been working with the British Council to help define what good leadership looks like in a global policy and political context and across different locations and cultures. The study, undertaken by CISL, will inform the design of a new British Council programme to support future global leaders in the UK and overseas.

8 sustainability trends driving business in 2017

19 January 2017

February 2017 – This 2017 trends briefing from the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) highlights the key developments that business leaders need to anticipate and respond to.

Business, justice and the new global economy

12 December 2016

December 2016 – This new report from CISL provides a framework for business leaders, to help them incorporate considerations of justice into their decision-making and interactions with stakeholders and policymakers as they embrace the changes that will be required in a new global economy.

A new climate for business: Planning your response to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

15 September 2016

September 2016 – This business briefing provides an overview of what was agreed in the Paris Agreement. It explains the major implications and helps businesses to formulate their strategic responses.

Management in the Age of the Anthropocene

20 May 2016

Management in the Age of the Anthropocene Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville reflects on a recent talk by Professor Andrew J. Hoffman, jointly sponsored by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) 24 May 2016 The words 'business'...

Developing Leaders for the Future: Integrating sustainability into mainstream leadership programmes

23 November 2015

This report presents a summary of CISL’s research into the integration of sustainability into mainstream leadership programmes, and highlights some of its key findings.

Sustainability Leadership: Linking Theory and Practice

23 November 2015

October 2011 – This paper aims to create a clearer understanding of the nature of sustainability leadership and how it can contribute to transformational change. It does this by locating sustainability within the leadership literature, defining the concept of sustainability leadership, and presenting a model of sustainability leadership in practice.

Fostering sustainability leadership for over a quarter of a century

16 October 2015

Fostering sustainability leadership for over a quarter of a century Polly Courtice, Director, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership 21 October 2015 Dame Polly Courtice DBE, LVO, was Founder Director of the University of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (1989–2021)...

Why business innovation will help build a new climate economy

12 October 2015

Why business innovation will help build a new climate economy Polly Courtice, Director, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership 17 November 2015 Dame Polly Courtice DBE, LVO, was Founder Director of the University of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (1989–2021). She...

Advisory Services 

Find out how we help organisations build long-term resilience, gain competitive advantage and identify new opportunities
for value creation aligned with a transition to a sustainable economy.

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The Future of Boards

Find out how we are working with boards to build transformational leadership.

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