Sustainable Leadership


Since I was a kid, I have enjoyed being the one in charge – whether it was for school projects, during dance lessons or while playing ‘house’ with my sister. While we were all kids, no one really cared about being in charge – or if we did, we didn’t really know what it meant. When I was in high school, showing any type of leadership qualities resulted in being labelled as bossy. So I only really understood the idea of leadership when I got to university. 

We have all read about leadership and tried to adopt the attributes of a good leader. We all come across hundreds of quotes that outline the differences between a good and a not-so-good leader. And like everyone else, I continue to observe and learn from different leaders around me. Here are a couple examples of what I’ve learned:

  • Lead by example. Micro-managing is not good but that doesn’t mean that you should delegate everything either. A good leader is part of the team and should do just as much (if not more) than his/her team members. So the key is to find that sweet spot between micromanaging and delegating.
  • Two-way conversations: Every conversation, every expectation, every level of feedback should go both ways. If you expect your team members to accept and internalize feedback, you should welcome constructive criticism as well. If you can make mistakes, your team members have the right to do so as well. If you expect your team to trust you, you need to trust them as well.

But of course, this is all very widely discussed. However, there is one aspect of good leadership that we often forget to highlight: sustainability.

Imagine a leader coming into an organization – she is highly talented, has great ideas and is a doer. She pulls several all-nighters and implements many of her ideas. Yes, results! The organization starts to improve and she’s pronounced one of the best the company has ever hired. She was chosen because she had the right skill set and some innovative ideas. And guess what? By the end of the year, she is able achieve everything on her list.

There is no doubt about it – she was a great leader. She didn’t micromanage and she didn’t delegate everything either. Her team members loved her – and rightfully so. But there’s one thing she forgot. There’s one thing we always forget.

Now that it was time for her to leave, no one knew how to maintain the 10 new things she had implemented. She she hadn’t implemented any processes that would stand the test of time. Her organization did not have the capacity to deliver 20 products without her. Everything was dependent on her.

It’s great to have ideas and it’s even better if they can all be implemented. But it’s equally as important to ensure that all those ideas can stand independently without their founder. So when we’re evaluating leaders, we should remember that there are two parts to the equation:

Whether someone is a good leader cannot simply be determined based on what they did while they were with the organization, but also how the organization fared after they left.

So as leaders, I think we should always try to maintain that balance. Every great idea should be accompanied by the following question: How can I make sure this stays afloat without me?