Leading Sustainability

UnknownI was recently in some organizational leadership meetings. The time was stimulating and profitable. I get to work with great leaders. One topic of interest that came up, almost as an aside, was sustainability. What makes an organization or a strategic effort sustainable? How do leaders lead in sustainable ways? I think this is a critical topic that is often misunderstood.

Webster says sustainable means using a resource in such a way that it is not depleted; to give support or relief to; to nourish.

My observation is that when leaders think about sustaining a strategic effort or organization, they often work hard to establish rules, regulations and procedures that will ensure a common approach. The hope is that if we can get everyone moving to the same drum beat we will protect ourselves from that which might serve to deplete us.

But look again at the definition. Sustainability is about the environment that leadership creates. This is agricultural language. The idea is to support, bolster, and nourish a critical resource. Many times rules, regulations and procedures serve only to have a depleting affect. No doubt we need boundaries that keep us focused and avoiding chaos. But I would argue that these types of boundaries are only effective if there really is an environment of true sustainability being propagated within the organization.

Our most important resource will always be our people. Even beyond that, we must pay attention to our current leaders and emerging leaders. They must be “utilized” in such a way that they are not simply being depleted. They must be supported. Given relief. Nourished. 

Plants are given good soil, water, nutrients, and careful oversight, so that they might grow and reproduce. Leaders will flourish in the same environment. What replicates this resource rich environment? I think there are four important elements to creating a sustainable culture.

Elaboration  Do your people and leaders clearly understand your vision, mission and values? Not just the “what”, but more importantly the “why?” Sustainability will arise from people who clearly understand and have the freedom to contribute to the organizational direction.

Equipping  Do your people and leaders know “how?” Sustainability will be powerfully enhanced by a culture of ongoing, personal development that amplifies each person’s strengths.

Empowerment  Do your people and leaders feel empowered? Do you actually entrust to them good resources, decision making authority, and healthy accountability in such a way that they can see organizational growth that they have helped to create? Sustainability will thrive in an empowerment culture.

Encouragement  Do your people and leaders feel loved? Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. We all need words of hope and encouragement. We need to be bolstered when we make mistakes or walk through trials. Become a leader who infuses courage into others with your personal words and public acclamation if you want to drive sustainability.

Are you a leader who grows resources or depletes them?

What are your thoughts? How have you helped to create a sustainable culture in your organization?


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