Business-as-usual is likely to drive us to an unsustainable world. To solve the problems human industrial activity has created, such as climate change, species extinction, and biodiversity loss, business leaders (CEOs, top managers, and boards of directors) must be central to the solution for corporate sustainability (CS). In particular, ‘heroic’ leaders are needed to transform their companies into business beyond usual. In this essay, we briefly outline what researchers already know about microfoundational or socio-cognitive and motivational underpinnings of leaders that affect CS. However, gaps remain in our understanding of affective drivers and values of leaders. We question whether microfoundations research has the potential to understand true business transformation for positive deviance and suggest that positive organizational scholarship and research on sustainability change agents can provide insights. We next highlight how empirical and research design shortcomings might be addressed. Finally, we discuss how to identify, develop, and empower leaders with transformational potential so that we can proactively create heroic leaders rather than wait for them to magically appear.
Judith L Walls, Ashley Salaiz, Shih-Chi (Sana) Chiu