Stay the course: Clarke Murphy on positioning your company for a sustainable future

November 30, 2022

Stay the course: Clarke Murphy on positioning your company for a sustainable future

Clarke Murphy

CEO Leadership Advisor at Russell Reynolds

Clarke Murphy and Willy discuss his new book, Sustainable Leadership, as well as best practices for leaders today.

Sustainability is a top priority for corporations, but what does it mean to be a sustainable leader?

In this Walker Webcast, Clarke Murphy with management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates addresses this question and many more. He and Willy discuss his new book, Sustainable Leadership, as well as best practices that all companies should incorporate, ways to acquire and retain top talent, and the traits and practices of the best leaders. 

Clarke and Willy start off the episode with leadership strategies: how Clarke transitioned out of the CEO role at Russell Reynolds, the ideal number of board members, and why Clarke’s “massively” in favor of private, rather than public, companies. “When you’re in a client service business, you shouldn’t have to be worrying about public shareholders at the same time,” he says.

The conversation then turns to LinkedIn, which many people believed would be the end of the executive search firms. According to Clarke, the platform has actually made executive search firms more relevant. He talks about how LinkedIn transformed these operations at Russell Reynolds and transformed the technology industry. 

What defines the best companies in the world? “Those who retain the best people longer than their competitors,” Clarke says.  So, what advice does he have for talent development? Let employees know your company is investing in them, he says. And prioritize leadership. “Without great leaders, strategy loses.” 

Great followers matter, too, Clarke explains. “Leadership is no longer about leading, but about creating followers around you. You must create followership in the things younger people want in today’s world.” 

In today’s ever-changing world, humility is a key leadership characteristic, from how executives approach their leadership teams to how they make decisions. “A leader can have confidence, decisiveness, and ambition and still be humble,” Clarke says. “As a leader, it is important to ask yourself if you are still learning.” 

This leads to the topic of Clarke’s new book: sustainable leadership. Clarke unpacks the concept of stakeholder inclusion and how it can make a positive impact. He highlights the leadership of Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good and talks about the three types of sustainability leaders covered in the book: “the born, the convinced, and the awoken.” 

Whichever type of leader you are, preaching at investors is not a good path to success, Clarke declares. Instead, observe the impact of what’s being done, gain insight into what people are trying to combat, and think of sustainability as a strategy, embedded into everything a company does, rather than a sole initiative or project. 

Clarke notes that half of chief sustainability officers today are women. He talks through the characteristics of a good CSO: agility, persistence, an ability to deal with ambiguity, and the ability to bring people along with them. “As it is a relatively new rule, there is no playbook for people to look towards for guidance,” he says. 


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