Sustainable Leadership vs. Effective Leadership

A while back, I wrote a post titled Good Leadership vs. Effective Leadership about the difference between a good leader and an effective leader.  The premise of that post was that an effective leader was one who got others to do what that leader wanted.  A good leader was one who got others to achieve a positive goal.  Good leadership goes beyond effective leadership by achieving a result where the benefit exceeds the cost.

In our modern culture, the Internet provides more options and more ability to influence.  Therefore, it's difficult to have a commonly shared definition of words like "good" and "positive."  Each person has always been free to define those words for themselves, but recently it seems opinions and definitions vary more and more.  As someone who's mission is to apply character-based leadership to make a positive difference, I often get asked to define "positive."


If everyone is free to operate in their own best interest, then sustainable relationships, sustainable leadership, sustainable benefits (or differences) may be the new goal.  People choose to remain engaged in a relationship for their own perceived benefit.  In a sustainable relationship, all of the members freely choose to remain engaged because the relationship serves their best interests. The individual return to each member is perceived by them to exceed the effort to maintain the relationship.  (As an aside, the benefit doesn't need to fall directly to the contributor.  More on that soon regarding the importance of purpose.)

The best sustainable relationships are "in the best interests" of each party.  The more individuals who perceive benefit from the relationship, the greater the likelihood the relationship and the effort will continue.


When one party no longer feels the relationship benefits them, they begin to withdraw their energy, money and time invested in the relationship.  This may be a member of the team or it may be supporting cast.  Regardless, eventually the party failing to be rewarded will pull out.

Sustainable leaders balance benefit and return to each member of a team and the team's constituents.  Great leaders balance benefit for large numbers of stakeholders.  For example, we often forget that the community where we live has a stake in our relationships.  So does our family.  Your physical health is also involved.  Anything that is out of balance will eventually break.  The degree of balance provides greater chance that your objectives will be reached and your leadership is sustainable.

Balance relationships and your influence will stand the test of time.  That's why empathy and compassion are so important.  Ignore them at your own peril.

Will you lead for sustainability?  Will you consider the benefit and reward of all the constituents?

When people belive that you're not just "in it for yourself," then you'll start to earn the trust necessary for long-term sustainable relationships.

Photo © Kushnirov Avraham -

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