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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

March 2018 – Businesses face unprecedented change from social and environmental challenges, technical innovation and business model innovation. There is growing public expectation and a commercial case for businesses to shape and lead the change we need for a better future – not just adapt to it. This report outlines the Cambridge Impact Leadership Model, informed by CISL’s work with over 9,000 leaders. It describes how to develop the leadership we need to deliver value for business, society and the environment.


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Leadership cover The commercial case for business responsibility and action is increasingly clear – and acknowledged by many leading enterprises. It is also increasingly recognised that reconciling commercial success with positive outcomes for society and the environment will require the reframing of the fundamental purpose of business. It will also require the transformation of whole organisations, sectors and value chains – in other words, the ‘rewiring’ of the economy.

Businesses need to lead this change, not just adapt to it. They need to shape the future we want.

Learning and development and HR teams play an important role in recruiting, training and rewarding individuals to succeed in this context. Employees at all levels need to be equipped with the skills to not only nurture innovation and manage risk, but to transform the economic systems within which they operate, and to deliver on broader societal goals.

This paper outlines the leadership development model applied by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), which has been informed by nearly 30 years of delivering sustainability leadership programmes with more than 9,000 business and government leaders around the world.

Leadership development must support businesses to reframe their purpose, strategy and approach to value creation to achieve change at the pace and scale required. However, there remains a huge gap in business commitment to leadership development that is needed to deliver the necessary capacity of individuals, organisations and wider society to tackle these global challenges at scale.

The systemic pressures the world faces today mean that leadership simply cannot be the preserve of a ‘heroic’ few.

Delivering the future we want will require organisations to cultivate leadership at all levels, and to embrace diverse and complementary strengths and approaches. The focus should be on developing collective leadership capacity, with individuals supported and inspired to deliver against their potential, and to contribute effectively within their personal strengths and role.

This paper is designed to help inform and shape business approaches to leadership development in the future. As part of a series, it aligns with other papers exploring best-practice approaches in building leadership for long-term business success, and leadership for system-level change.

Citing this report

Please refer to this business briefing as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2018). Rewiring leadership: The future we want, the leadership we need. Cambridge, UK: the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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Published: March 2018 


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Authors and acknowledgments

This report was co-authored by Lindsay Hooper, Dr Louise Drake and Paul Begley and received editorial support and input from Zoe Arden, Michael Hoevel and James Cole.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of their companies, CISL, the wider University of Cambridge or clients.