Guest Blog by Bonnie J. Covelli and Jeanne Washburn
“Sustainability” is one of those modern day words that is often overused and abused. Every business proposal, grant opportunity, reorganization plan contains the word sustainable. After all, why would you make a change or receive funding if you cannot prove sustainability?
Despite the word’s bad reputation, we propose viewing sustainability through the lens of leadership. It is difficult to lead in any situation, and it is even more difficult when barriers occur. How then, does a leader sustain momentum? How does a leader maintain continued process improvement? Can leadership be truly sustainable?
The answers to these questions are more personal than you might think. It is the leader’s inner passion and motivation that drives sustainability. It is less about the leader’s decisions and more about how the leader views his or her followers. The lasting effects of leadership, the sustainability of leadership, is centered within the follower.
Three theories of leadership showcase our point:
- According to Bill George (2003) in his book, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, authentic leaders understand their purpose, practice a value system, establish relationships, demonstrate self-discipline and most importantly, lead with heart. Authentic leaders “genuinely desire to serve others through their leadership. They are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money, or prestige for themselves” (George, 2003, chapter 1, para. 4). Several models of authentic leadership exist, including one presented by Avolio et. al. (2004) that encourages leaders to be self-aware, to self-regulate themselves, to be open to balanced processing of information from multiple sources, and to be transparent in all relationships.
- Similarly, in the theory of transformational leadership, leaders “broaden and elevate the interests of their employees when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group” (Bass, 1990, para. 7). Transformational leaders inspire their followers to feel like they can accomplish great things when they exert more effort, ultimately building followers’ sense of purpose (Bass, 1990; Shriberg, D. & Shriberg, A., 2011). This sense of purpose, then, links to the sustainability of the organization or unit.
- Finally, many of you are familiar with the theory of servant leadership which ultimately places emphasis on developing, respecting and encouraging followers. According to Kent Keith, CEO of Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, if servant leaders listen to their “colleagues and figure out how to get them what they need, they will perform at a higher level, which improves customer experience, which affects business results” (Johnson, n.d., para 2). The followers become the leaders.
Can leadership be truly sustainable? We think so.
The authors are honored to passionately serve the University of St. Francis:
- Bonnie J. Covelli, Director School of Professional Studies
- Jeanne Washburn, Executive Director, College of Business and Health Administration
- Avolio, B., Gardner, W., Walumbwa, F. Luthans, F., & May, D. (2004). Unlocking the mask: A look at the process by which authentic leaders impact followers attitudes and behaviors. The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 801-823.
- Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18, 19-31.
- George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [Kindle paperwhite version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
- Johnson, E. (n.d.) How to: Become a servant leader. Success.com. Retrieved from: http://www.success.com/article/how-to-become-a-servant-leader
- Shriberg, D. & Shriberg, A. (2011). Practicing leadership: Principles and applications. Hoboken, N. J.: Wiley and Sons, Inc.