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July 24, 2023

The Types Of Environmental Leadership

As we continue to grapple with various environmental challenges, leadership in this sphere has never been more critical. Environmental leadership refers to the act of guiding and influencing others towards achieving sustainability goals. Whether it's in policy-making, grassroots advocacy, or corporate governance, effective leadership is instrumental in steering our communities, nations, and the world at large towards a more sustainable future.

In a world where actions speak louder than words, environmental leaders are those who not only talk about sustainability but also embed it in their actions. They inspire others, drive necessary changes, and often challenge the status quo, all with the aim of preserving our planet. In this article, we’ll delve into the various types of environmental leadership, examining their unique characteristics and impacts on our quest for a more sustainable globe.

In this article, we'll look at the many different leadership styles out there. Some of them may be very similar to your own leadership style, and some may not. Your leadership approach is ultimately up to you. As someone who is coaching leaders, I hope that the information in this blog post will help you step up and become the leadership style that suits you best. Let's jump in!

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders in the realm of environmental leadership play a crucial role. They are characterized by their ability to inspire and motivate others to exceed their own individual performance goals and work towards a collective objective. A focus on big-picture sustainability goals, coupled with charismatic communication skills, are key traits of transformational environmental leaders.

Transformational Leaders Example

One example of a transformational environmental leader is Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. She not only motivated the local communities to plant trees as a way to combat deforestation and soil erosion, but she also empowered women by involving them in the movement, proving that environmental conservation can go hand-in-hand with social upliftment.

In transformational leadership, the focus isn't solely on achieving the goals; it's about changing attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions towards environmental conservation, and making a lasting impact. As transformational leader Dr. Wangari Maathai once said, "It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference". Transformational leadership, therefore, not only creates immediate change but also lays a foundation for sustained environmental preservation efforts.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leaders in the sphere of environmental leadership are characterized by their focus on supervision, organization, and performance. They create clear structures for their followers, setting up rewards for success and consequences for failure. This leadership style is more about maintaining the status quo and making incremental improvements rather than radical changes.

Transactional leaders make use of various management techniques like contingent rewards, active management by exception, and passive management by exception. They are particularly effective in situations that require set standards and clear performance metrics. This style of leadership is not about changing the future, but rather about getting tasks done efficiently in the present.

Transactional Leadership Example

A prime example of a transactional environmental leader is Lee Scott, the former CEO of Walmart. Under his leadership, Walmart embarked on a sustainability campaign, introducing measures to reduce waste, increase energy efficiency, and improve its supply chain. His approach was marked by clear targets: reduce greenhouse emissions , increase truck fuel efficiency, and cut solid waste. These targets worked like a transaction - success would lead to rewards, and failure would have consequences. Scott's leadership demonstrated that even within large corporations, impactful environmental strategies can be successfully implemented with a transactional approach.

In the world of environmental leadership, transactional leaders play a crucial role. While radical change is necessary, the importance of efficient management of current resources cannot be underestimated. Transactional leaders, with their clear targets and rewards, ensure that day-to-day operations align with overall sustainability goals. Team members can trust a transactional leader to follow through with their commitments.

Servant Leadership

Servant leaders in the environmental sphere are those who put the needs of the people and the planet before their own. Among leadership styles, this can be one of those most dramatic.

Servant leaders focus on the growth and well-being of communities and the environment. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform to their highest potential. They lead with empathy, humility, and by listening and building a sense of community.

One particular characteristic of servant leadership is the desire to serve for the benefit of others, not for personal gain or recognition. This selfless approach is what distinguishes servant leaders from other leadership styles. They continually strive to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities, showing that leadership doesn't always have to come with power or status.

Servant Leader Examples

A notable example of a servant environmental leader is Rachel Carson, an American marine biologist and conservationist. Her groundbreaking book, "Silent Spring", shed light on the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Despite facing strong opposition and personal attacks from chemical companies, Carson stood firm in her commitment to serve the public by advancing the global environmental movement. Caron's legacy lives on in the Rachel Carson Council, an environmental nonprofit powerhouse, whose leadership style heavily impacts the environmental NGO world.

In the realm of environmental leadership, servant leaders hold a critical role. They remind us that leadership is not about authority but serving the greater good. Their emphasis on service to the community and the environment inspires others to act and contributes significantly to achieving sustainability goals.

Among leadership styles, this is one of the primary leadership styles that people like to emulate. It's one of those things that feels good to both leaders and team members.

Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership, often viewed as the classic model of "command-and-control" management, is characterized by individual control over all decisions and little input from team members. Autocratic leaders make choices based on their own judgments and rarely accept advice from followers. This leadership style can be beneficial in situations where decisions need to be made quickly, without the need for group agreement.

Despite its reputation for being oppressive, autocratic leadership can be effective. It allows for quick decision-making, ensures clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and can lead to high levels of productivity when executed correctly. However, it also has its drawbacks. It can stifle creativity and innovation, and lead to low team morale and high staff turnover if not balanced with other leadership styles.

Autocratic Leader Examples

An example of an autocratic environmental leader is Maurice Strong, a Canadian businessman who was the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He used his autocratic leadership style to push for global environmental regulations and was instrumental in setting up the first Earth Summit in 1972. His determined and autocratic approach allowed him to cut through bureaucracy and make important strides in international environmental policy.

Similarly, Gaylord Nelson, a former US Senator and the founder of Earth Day, displayed autocratic leadership traits. He single-handedly conceived and promoted the idea of a national day to focus on the environment. Nelson's "top-down" approach helped Earth Day become a success and catalyzed the modern environmental movement in the United States.

In conclusion, while the autocratic leadership style may have a controversial reputation, it can be an effective style when used judiciously in the realm of environmental leadership. Autocratic leaders tend to be effective with resolute decision-making and firm control. They can yield significant achievements in environmental advocacy and policy-making.

Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is characterized by the distribution of responsibilities among team members and the encouragement of their input in organizational decision-making. Democratic leaders value fairness, participation, consensus, and they foster a culture of inclusion and equality.

This leadership style can be particularly effective in the environmental sphere, where diverse perspectives and collaborative problem-solving are vital to address complex environmental challenges. Democratic leaders can harness the collective intelligence of their teams, leading to more innovative and comprehensive solutions.

However, democratic leadership also has its drawbacks. The process of gathering input and reaching consensus can be time-consuming. It also requires a high level of trust and open communication within the team. Leaders need to be able to manage potential conflicts and make final decisions when consensus cannot be reached.

An Example of a Democratic Leader

A prime example of a democratic environmental leader is Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States and a prominent environmental advocate. Gore is known for his democratic leadership style, promoting dialogue and collaboration in the fight against global warming. His documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," is notable for its attempt to democratize information about climate change, pushing for collective action and responsibility. His democratic leadership style has inspired many upcoming environmentally minded leaders.

In conclusion, a democratic leader, with focus on participation and consensus, can be a powerful tool in the realm of environmental leadership. Despite potential challenges with the democratic style decision-making speed and conflict management, the collective intelligence it harnesses can make significant contributions to environmental protection and sustainability.

Coaching Leadership Style

Coaching leadership, also known as developmental leadership, is characterized by a focus on the professional and personal development of team members. Coaching leaders tend to be very hands-on and work one-on-one with employees to motivate them, help them set goals, and provide feedback on their progress. They often serve as mentors to their employees, investing heavily in their growth and development.

This leadership style can be highly effective in environmental organizations, where the development of skills and knowledge is crucial for addressing complex environmental issues. Coaching leaders can build a team of well-rounded and skilled professionals who are capable of innovating and creating sustainable solutions.

However, the coaching leadership style also has its drawbacks. It can be time-consuming, especially in large teams, and it may not be effective if team members are resistant to feedback or lack the motivation to develop. Additionally, this style requires the leader to have a certain level of expertise to provide guidance and feedback, which may not always be the case.

Coaching Leader Examples

An example of a coaching environmental leader is Dr. Jane Goodall, a primatologist and anthropologist who has been tirelessly advocating for the conservation of chimpanzees. Her coaching leadership style is evident in the Jane Goodall Institute, where she nurtures a new generation of conservation leaders through education and engagement programs.

Another example is Dr. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. She adopted a coaching leadership approach, teaching women in rural Kenya how to plant trees, thereby empowering them with the skills and knowledge to combat deforestation and create sustainable livelihoods. Her coaching leadership style has not only had a significant environmental impact but has also transformed lives and communities.

In conclusion, the coaching leadership style, with its focus on personal and professional development, brings great potential in the realm of environmental leadership. Despite the challenges in terms of time commitment and requirement for expertise, its impact on both individual growth and environmental sustainability can be profound.

Laissez Faire Leadership Style

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is characterized by a hands-off approach where leaders entrust decision-making responsibilities to their team members. Laissez-faire leaders provide their teams with the necessary resources and advice, but largely allow them to take control of their work. This leadership style assumes that team members are self-motivated, capable, and require little supervision to do their jobs effectively.

In the realm of environmental leadership, the laissez-faire style can lead to innovative solutions, as it allows team members the freedom to explore new ideas and methods. It can be especially effective when the team is made up of highly skilled and self-motivated individuals who possess deep knowledge about environmental issues.

However, the laissez-faire leadership style also has its drawbacks. Without proper guidance and supervision, team members may lack direction and accountability, which can lead to poor performance and incoherence in strategy. Additionally, this leadership style doesn't work well in situations requiring quick decision-making or in teams that need a high degree of coordination.

Examples of Laissez Faire Leaders

An example of a laissez-faire environmental leader is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. Chouinard has been known to give his employees significant freedom, including the flexibility to pursue their passions and take time off for outdoor activities. This hands-off approach has fostered a culture of responsibility and innovation at Patagonia, contributing to its reputation as a leader in environmental activism.

Another example of a Laissez Faire leader is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. While not an environmental leader in the traditional sense, Musk's laissez-faire leadership style has fostered innovation in fields like electric vehicles and renewable energy, which have significant implications for environmental sustainability. That being said, he's definitely a sucky person others. Don't mistake me as a Musk fanboi. I sure hope he doesn't ban me from Twitter for this.

In conclusion, the laissez-faire leadership style, with its emphasis on autonomy and self-direction, can foster innovation and responsibility in the realm of environmental leadership. However, it requires highly self-motivated and capable team members and may not be suitable for all contexts or situations.

Other Types of Leadership

There are many types of leadership tyles out there, and they run the gamut from autocratic leaders (covered above) to authoritarian leadership, to charismatic leaders and even bureaucratic leadership. Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the most important thing to remember is that it's essential for environmental leaders to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses in order to choose the most effective leadership style.

For example, an autocratic leader may not be suitable for complex multi-stakeholder projects that would require a more collaborative approach. Charismatic leadership can spawn new visionaries, but the cycle in charismatic leadership can lead to abuse, burn out, and problems with developing team members. Leadership skills are really about striking a balance, pacesetting leadership style, and developing a healthy team dynamic.


In conclusion, effective leadership is crucial for driving environmental initiatives and sustainable development. However, it's essential to recognize that each leadership style has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the efficacy of each depends on the context and the individuals involved. For complex multi-stakeholder projects, a more collaborative approach may be necessary, and while charismatic leadership can inspire and motivate, but also has potential pitfalls.

Ultimately, effective environmental leadership requires a nuanced understanding of these different styles and the wisdom to apply them appropriately. It's about striking a balance and cultivating a team dynamic that fosters creativity, responsibility, and sustainable action.

As we move forward in our journey towards environmental preservation, understanding these leadership styles and their roles in sustainable development is increasingly important. If you're interested in delving deeper into this topic, I would like to invite you to preorder my new book, "Every Wild Voice". In the book, I explore these leadership styles in more depth and provide insight into how they can be harnessed for effective environmental leadership. Preorder "Every Wild Voice" today and join the conversation on effective leadership for environmental preservation.

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