Daring to do things differently: How leadership enables a successful business to minimise negative ecological impact
Chapman, Susan Ann
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable publication of the thesis elsewhere in the future
Abstract The purpose of this study is to gain better understanding of the role of leadership in achieving sustainable business. I inquire how sustainability might be more embedded in the day-to-day operations of business beyond the rhetoric of strategic plans, vacuous mission statements and technological fixes. I am exploring how leadership might be embodied in behaviour to promote sustainable business practice. What approaches to leadership might we adopt that are more commensurate with the cyclical and relational nature of natural systems? How can we root discussions about leadership and sustainability in an understanding that both are socially constructed phenomena? This is the field to which my research aims to contribute an empirical study. What constitutes sustainable business practice remains unclear, and due to its very situated nature this is likely to remain the case. My research is prompted by reports in the literature suggesting that approaches taken to date to promote more sustainable ways of doing business have been limited and slow. Furthermore the mainly techno-centric approaches that have been applied in some cases are reputed to exacerbate the continued dualism between human activity and the environment. The leadership literature is swamped with books, conferences and workshops on the subject of sustainability. Despite this, a ‘how’ gap exists between the rhetorical ideals of sustainable business practice and their working application, which this situated inquiry addresses. This inquiry centres on a small to medium size service sector company comprising two hotels located in a small sea-side resort in the South West region of the UK. The philosophy of the company – known here for the purpose of anonymity as The Hotels – is to maintain a successful luxury hotel business whilst at the same time minimising its negative ecological impact. Undertaking a longitudinal ethnographic study, I witnessed first-hand the leadership challenges posed by working to uphold this philosophy. In conclusion, my findings do not highlight any one action, way of being or simple stepped approach. Instead they combine ways of thinking and behaviours, some of which run contrary to the dominant positivist paradigm; daring to do things differently enables a successful business to minimise its negative ecological impact.
PhD in Leadership Studies