As Interface Carpets’ mission focuses on environmental sustainability, Ray Anderson’s leadership style shows evidence of both ethical and servant strategies. Since the environment is a resource shared by and endowed to all humans and life on earth, any company which disproportionately uses environmental resources for its own benefit, especially in a harmful manner, is acting unethically by denying other humans access to that resource. Ray Anderson understands that all of us must share in the positive and negative aspects of the environment, and shows this belief by empowering all of his employees to take part in the idea generation and decision making of leading Interface to several green goals. This realization and belief also shows Ray’s use of servant leadership, as he knows Interface Carpets must serve its clients, its employees, its stake-holders and its total environment in order to succeed now and in the long-term.
Ray Anderson also acts as a servant to the general public, by producing goods for society in an environmentally friendly manner, but also by spreading the message of environmentalism to other companies and organizations. For instance, Ray has a lengthy speaking part in the Sundance award winning documentary, The Corporation, where he discusses his shame at not initiating a green movement at his company much sooner, not just because of the effect on the environment, but also because his customers (whom he’s supposed to be serving) were asking him about environmental programs at Interface and he was absolutely clueless about what to tell them as he had not yet thought about such matters (this was in 1994). The fact that he then began to institute green programs at Interface shows his listening, empathy and awareness characteristics.
Ray also shows conceptualization, building community, and commitment to the growth of people via his empowering employees and also through his commitment to an organization that can serve a purpose without harming the environment. His belief in the good of a green company has led Interface to adopt numerous environmental initiatives and has encouraged employees through the organization to think green.
One of the main signs of Ray’s servant leadership is his stewardship over the environment. In the movie, The Corporation, Ray discusses how people like him have abused environmental resources for the benefit of their companies while causing immense damage to our environment. Ray has now completely flipped around and is a role model for all companies to follow in pursuing a green way of operating. Ray understood that the environment does not belong to businesses but rather is a part of the earth and belongs to every human, animal, plant and all other life-forms presently living on the planet and who will live here in the future. Especially noteworthy, is Ray’s openness on the damage companies like his had already done to the environment and how if they continued abusing the environment they would inevitably fail, as such disproportionate relationships with the environment are simply unsustainable. In the movie, The Corporation, Ray compares his early management of Interface to the ways of a plunderer, stating he took what’s not his (the environment) and used it to his own benefit without returning an equal benefit to society. He then goes on to state that a day will come where people like him (a plunderer) will be sent to prison! This type of blunt openness and authenticity is rarely seen but immensely treasured.
This authenticity also shows that Ray’s sudden change is not a marketing scheme, but rather is an honest disgust at his old way of managing and genuine desire to change his business (before he dies) into a fully sustainable organization.
As the paper on Ray Anderson shows, he has an immense ability to heal his employees and the environment through his initiatives. Several employees of a firm Interface bought out were absolutely amazed that they were encouraged to think about the environment at Interface and were re-invigorated by being able to work without plainly and obviously harming the environment.
Ray also shows foresight in that he understands that if companies do not change their ways and focus on sustainability, that the environment will be irreparably damaged and that these companies will simply cease to exist as they would have taken so much from the planet without giving back that there is simply nothing left to take.
Finally, Ray definitely shows persuasion characteristics, perhaps not at Interface (or at least the case study did not show signs of it), but definitely in his speeches to other executives (see the below excerpt from The Corporation) where he lambastes himself and his “fellow plunderers” for ruining the environment to the point of unsustainability. His use of statistics about the financial success at Interface while implementing sustainability, and his passionate words act as a very persuasive tool to alter the perceptions of other executives focused on pure profit.
In terms of ethics, I feel it’s quite plain to see the ethical values of Ray Anderson. Before he was aware of the true consequences of this company’s practices on the environment, he acted ethically by pursuing the best interests of his employees and Interface’s other stake-holders, to the best of his knowledge. Once he became aware that Interface was severely harming the environment, he understood the moral implications of his business. From there he made a moral judgment that his company and other similar companies simply could not continue down this environmentally harmful path. He put together task-forces and empowered employees to enact changes at Interface to lead them up Mt. Sustainability. He further implemented plans at Interface and set about preaching to the rest of the corporate world on the morally correct way of doing business, while still remaining profitable. He himself states that ensuring Interface does no harm is a core value of his and Interface’s. His plans for creating a green Interface also have a huge benefit to the rest of society and can be seen as just (by removing the plunderer actions, whereby Interface takes more than it deserves) and authentic, as Ray pursues green goals in his personal life (as noted in the Grist Interview, where he notes that he drives a Toyota Prius).
I also see aspects of Path-Goal Theory, Visionary, Charismatic Transformational leadership, and Participative Management. By providing suggestion boxes, Ray enabled his employees to put into action their ideas, his recognition and plans to change Interface into a sustainable organization shows his visionary and transformational leadership strategies, while his belief and confidence that sustainability is important shows his charisma. The use of teams and employee empowerment are signs of participative management at work at Interface.
Ray Anderson is a fitting end to our discussion and is an immense role-model for future leaders. Though Ray himself admits he has not always led a green personal or professional life, the fact that the recognized the immoral way of his past and has worked feverishly to enact changes at Interface and in the business community as a whole shows signs of values-driven, charismatic, visionary, servant leadership. The ability to recognize just how wrong one’s past actions were, and the ability to openly admit it to the entire world shows immense self-confidence as well as authenticity, which help Ray spread his beliefs in sustainability to the rest of the corporate world.
Greenleaf, Robert. The Servant-Leader Within: A Transformative Path. New York: Paulist Press, 2003.
Komives, Susan and Nance Lucas and Timothy R. McMahon. Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Russell, Robert F. and A. Gregory Stone. A Review of Servant Leadership Attributes: Developing a Practical Model. Leadership & Organization Development Journal. 23.3 (2002): 145-157.
Rosenberg, Beth. Case study of Interface Carpet and Fabric Company. Tufts University School of Medicine: Department of Public Health and Family Medicine. Boston, 2005.
Ray Anderson, “Ray Matter: Ray Anderson, Sustainable Biz Pioneer, Answers Grist’s Questions,“ interview by Grist (Nov. 8, 2004). Grist
Note, The Corporation was released for free by the filmmakers.
Below is a ten-minute excerpt from the film featuring Ray Anderson:
Below is the entire film, posted to Google Video by the filmmakers:
Also, here is the torrent link to the full-quality official shareware release of the film.