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FedEx Blog

Sustaining Leadership – Learning from the Past to Focus on the Future

February 16, 2010

“The ultimate test of practical leadership is the realization of intended, real change that meets people’s enduring needs” – James MacGregor Burns –                

This quote sounds remarkably like the definition of environmental sustainability. But, before delving further into this, let me bring it back to a tangible, historical context. Given the subject is leadership and President’s Day is here, George Washington instantly comes to mind. Accomplishing what he did – leading disparate colonial forces, winning the Revolutionary War, and, later, establishing many of the precedents of the nation’s first administration – required not only political savvy, but practical wisdom and leadership, as well.

Clearly, in his youth, he made mistakes – some being momentous. In his twenties, through a failure in leadership, he lit the proverbial fuse that started the French and Indian War in North America. By his forties, he had matured and developed many of the qualities that made him an effective leader. But, he still exhibited an impetuousness in his actions, such as 1776’s New York campaign in the Revolutionary War. By dividing his forces between Manhattan and Long Island, he bet it all, and almost lost it all. This taught him patience – essentially, waiting out the British, and taking small wins where he could in order to sustain the nation. In late 1781, though, he ended hostilities by teaming with the French army and navy to put British General Cornwallis’ forces in a trap at the Battle of Yorktown.

But, what does this example have to do with environmental sustainability? It’s simple really. Leading an effective environmental sustainability program should be like leading other strategic initiatives. And, to effectively lead an organization, you have to rally the team to clear and stated objectives – as Washington did with his army and the nation. You have to use judgment in what is attainable, to know what’s necessary and sustain your team’s focus, or you will not be successful – again, Washington’s subsequent lesson in patience following his New York campaign. And, you have to rely upon others to help you carry out the objectives or campaign – as in Washington’s ultimate reliance on both his own forces and the French for help. Just as George Washington used practical leadership to accomplish the impossible, we can use Practical Environmentalism’s building block of Leadership to help do the same.

The following select FedEx examples illustrate this:

Have Clear and Stated Objectives (What are we fighting for?):

  • FedEx established the first-ever CO2 aviation reduction goal by a U.S. based transportation company. Another company in our industry adopted the exact same goal almost a year later.
  • FedEx Office adopted a “solid preference for credibly-certified paper,” when it announced in 2009 that “most of the paper used in its copy centers will be from Forest Sewardship Council (FSC) sources in the US.” It then followed that a FedEx Office competitor also made the switch to FSC certified paper.

Know What’s Necessary (How do we win?):

FedEx was the only transportation company to work for legislation to establish fuel efficiency standards for commercial vehicles (passed in late 2007). Knowing that it was important to the nation to have clean vehicles, and efficient surface and aviation transportation, in testimony we asked Congress:

  1. That clean, efficient hybrid electric technology should be supported and incentivized for commercial vehicles.
  2. That fuel efficiency standards should be set for commercial vehicles, thereby stimulating the production of clean transportation.
  3. That commercial truck payload is increased to raise efficiency, reduce emissions and the number of on-road vehicles, all while not compromising safety.
  4. That improvements within commercial air traffic routing be made in order to improve aviation efficiency and reduce fuel consumption.
  5. And, that research and development of new aircraft engine technologies be implemented that will reduce emissions, noise and increase fuel efficiency.

Rely Upon Others (Who are we leading? Who are our allies?):

  • FedEx is collaborating with EMBARQ – The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico, seeking ways to improve mass transit programs through logistical expertise, consultation, and funding. It gives us the opportunity to join with other experts to focus on material issues, including congestion, environmental improvement, safety and competitiveness in areas experiencing population growth.
  • FedEx’s work with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Eaton Corporation resulted in EDF declaring that, “FedEx leadership has helped to make hybrid truck technology a reality…FedEx led the launch that changed the marketplace.” But, we knew that we couldn’t transform the market alone, and that other purchasers were needed. So, we encouraged others to try and buy. We’re pleased that the more than 100 fleets are now or plan to operate hybrid commercial trucks.

So, Leadership in Practical Environmentalism involves the need for clear goals and objectives, the means, or tactics, for succeeding, and engaged team members and allies for achievement.

Learning from the past. Focusing on the future. Sustaining Leadership.

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