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5 Principles to Guide Sustainable Leadership

"Take care of your people, and they'll take care of you."

I’ve always been a bigger fan of fundamentals than fads. I like things that last, management practices that are sustainable, not just for one project but over the long term. In this spirit, following are 5 Principles to Guide Sustainable Leadership.

Management at its core is all about effectively accomplishing work through others - While this may seem self-evident, it can also be a constructive reminder of how easy it is to lapse into micromanagement, or to not delegate enough and hold on to too much yourself. Ultimately, neither of these are sustainable practices for the long term: Too much micromanagement leads to burnout of others and too little delegation leads to burnout of yourself. Effective management is balanced and sustainable.

“Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.” It’s an old military saying, and it has a lot of truth to it. Since management is all about the continued willing performance of others, you naturally want employees in a mindset to do their very best for you. People are apt to give their all to those they’re treated respectfully by. Numerous studies show the seriously unproductive effects of rude and uncivil leadership behavior. “Most people like to be treated the way you like to be treated.” That one’s my saying, and I believe it’s fundamentally true.

Management without firm accountability is hardly management at all – Don’t for a moment get the impression I’m advocating a management approach here that favors employee happiness over performance. Treating others respectfully is no excuse for failing to hold them to high standards. Expect excellence. Studies show that even experienced managers are often weak at accountability. Without a strong results-orientation, management isn’t sustainable. (Or at least the individual manager likely won’t be sustaining the job!)

Wikimedia Commons
Albert Schweitzer, 1955
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” This sentiment, which I’ve always admired, is from famed philosopher, theologian and physician Albert Schweitzer. As a leader you’ll never go wrong leading by example. It’s the easiest way to build loyalty and drive performance, and conversely, a bad example is the easiest way to undermine loyalty and performance. This principle is fundamental in leadership – yet so often ignored.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” I never came across this insight from poet and author Maya Angelou in any MBA textbooks, but my own opinion is it deserves an honored place there. A positive manager-employee relationship is fundamental to productivity and sustainable performance.

As Ms. Angelou’s quote suggests, it's difficult to isolate the precise ingredients that constitute effective, sustainable leadership. An irony is the presence of some of the very best leaders is often hardly felt. Yet they have an uncanny way of making you want to do your absolute best for them.

This article first appeared at

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Victor is author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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