There is a growing realisation that having a strong, charismatic leader who drives engagement and increases performance is not enough if you want to promote lasting change. In order for improvements in performance to last over the long term, there is a genuine need for leadership that is effective, namely, sustainable leadership.
What is Sustainable Leadership and Why is it Important?
Sustainable leadership is not just focused on immediate actions and short-term results. Sustainable leadership seeks to increase performance over the long haul by taking into consideration the effects of leadership on the “triple bottom line” of social, financial and community results.
Leaders with a focus on sustainability look beyond their immediate audience, knowing that if the changes they make suit the needs of the wider group, there will be a positive force to support the changes in the long term. It makes sense. If only part of the group is happy, there will be pressure on them to revert to old ways. If, however, the majority is pleased, they will guard the change because it’s in their interests to do so.
How Can Leaders Create Sustainable Improvements in Performance?
For most organisations, any change and improvement in performance that is brought about by a strong, inspiring and highly capable leader seldom lasts in the long term because as soon as that leader leaves, people and systems tend to revert back to the old way of doing things.
A prime example of this effect was observed in a study funded by the Spencer Foundation of U.S. and Canadian Schools over a 30-year period. Results from this study, and the impact on sustainable leadership were reported in a 2003 Educational Leadership paper, The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership, by Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink.
According to this paper, most improvements in test scores lasted only in the short-term because leaders were focused purely on immediate results. They didn’t take into account the need to build a mechanism to support and foster the changes over the long-term.
The study found that for change to be long lasting, leaders must take actions that increase opportunities for learning, make the effort to develop and support the leadership of others, as well as choose actions that are socially just, and preserve and develop other resources in the community.
Steps You Can Take to Develop Sustainable Leadership in Your Organisation
Build your talent pool. You know that your current leaders may not stay with you forever, so plan for their departure. Ensuring that your organisation has a “deep pool” of leaders that will continue the good work means you may need to change the way you think of succession and to adopt new strategies to improve communication, and opportunities for both learning and mentoring.
Open up the conversation. Make sure you talk about sustainable leadership. Get your current and potential leaders on board, and that won’t be hard because sustainability is in their interests. Spread the message across your organisation so the culture becomes one that thinks in the longer term.
Create development opportunities. Look for ways that you can make it easy for others in your organisation to develop new skills by offering formal training as well as providing frequent opportunities to practice leadership skills by overcoming challenges.
Introduce mentors. Leaders can ensure that potential successors have everything that they need to step into their shoes and lead the organisation on the path of sustainable change. Providing opportunities for possible new leaders to shadow existing ones while they are on the job, as well as offering executive training and leadership coaching, are all powerful tools that can help leaders affect the culture of their organisation so that it embraces the actions necessary to continue meaningful changes and improvements long after they move on.
Get to know your stakeholders. This is critical because your actions will have an impact on them. If the impact is positive, they will support you but if it’s not, your changes will never be sustained. Discover what’s important to them and where possible align your actions with them.
Are you satisfied with short-term results, or would you rather build a legacy by creating a strong organisation known for its high performance and long lasting results?
Get in touch today to learn more about how our coaching and mentoring programs can help you develop effective and sustainable leadership.