Leadership for sustainability: Principles from an Aboriginal society

Karl-Erik Sveiby

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientific


Humanity’s long history in sustainable leadership can be seen in the ancient
cultures of the Australian Aborigines dating back some 40,000 years. Ecological
records show that Aboriginal peoples had achieved a balance between sustaining
and exploiting their environment in the absence of formal leadership as we know
it. This chapter identifies a set of leadership rules that the Nhunggabarra people
used to sustain their society, with some rules aimed at the leader and others
aimed at the collective. Key principles included the need to keep all stakeholders
alive and for individuals to learn and develop. The Nhunggabarra leadership
philosophy also revolved around the concept of symmetrical power – balancing
the power held by individual experts with the power of the collective – as well as
around respect for others. Unfortunately, largely through Western diseases and
atrocities the Nhunggabarra people have almost disappeared from their home
country, taking their sustainability lessons with them.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFresh Thoughts in Sustainable Leadership
EditorsGayle C. Avery, Bronwyn Hughes
Number of pages11
Place of PublicationPrahran
PublisherTUP - Tilde university press
Publication date2013
ISBN (Print)978-0-7346-1135-2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeB2 Book chapter


  • 512 Business and Management
  • sustainable society
  • indigenous knowledge
  • Aboriginal people
  • shared leadership
  • indigenous leadership
  • respect
  • KOTA2013

Areas of Strength and Areas of High Potential (AoS and AoHP)

  • AoS: Responsible organising
  • AoS: Leading for growth and well-being


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