We hear a lot about sustainability from an environmental standpoint. I’ve been thinking about sustainability in other contexts lately, as in “sustainable leadership” or “sustainable business processes.”
The topic of sustainability has been near and dear to me for decades, especially in its organizational applications. I have watched too many things done “one-off” with no consideration for precedence, repeatability, skill transfer, or anything else. I have watched too many companies and nonprofits peak and plunge. I have watched processes that were made so cumbersome they collapsed into disuse through their own weight.
My observations have morphed over the years into a list of requirements strong leaders can apply to make something sustainable. “Sustainable” in a human or organizational context means to me that the system of people, processes and resources operates and remains relatively stable without requiring ongoing, overt, external action to support it. When necessary, the system takes the initiative to draw from its own reserves and from its environment the information and resources needed to adapt to any changes. The overarching goal is to survive so it can continue to maintain its ongoing successful functioning, however its members define “success,” without needing a caretaker or hovering benefactor.
Sustainability is not the same as maintaining the status quo. Companies and organizations that try to maintain the status quo only manage to peak and plunge. Trying to avoid change when everything is changing around you is a recipe for disaster, though it may be a slow-death type of disaster. True sustainability requires savvy, strategic leadership that knows when to make evolutionary course corrections and when to make revolutionary, transformational changes.
Everyone knows the metaphorical example of buggy whip companies. Compared to the early 1900s, the need for buggy whips today is drastically less. The number of buggy whip companies is correspondingly drastically less. Any that attempted to maintain the status quo are gone. Those that leveraged their skills and resources into new domains (steering wheels? leather seat covers?) and made the transformational changes needed, could have survived.
The kinds of changes that made buggy whips obsolete still happen in markets with deadly regularity. Your market is probably not exempt, either. Sooner or later something is going to change about your audience or in your market that could put you out of business if you have not been the kind of leader who knows how to maintain a (1) sustainable business with (2) sustainable business practices using (3) sustainable leadership skills. Join me for the next few days to explore these topics.
Join me tomorrow to explore how to maintain a sustainable business.
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Leadership QuickTip Application Question: What examples of “peak and plunge” have you experienced? What did they teach you about how your business could peak and plunge?
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Please feel free to use the blog comments to share hints from your personal experience about “peak and plunge”.
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Lead as though the future depends upon it!
(originally posted to my “Leadership QuickTips” blog in April 2007)