Featured Articles, Sustainability

Leadership & Teamwork: The Fabric of Sustainability

By Paul “Max” Le Pera

Our journey to elucidate the myriad tendrils of holistic sustainability thus far has centered around shaping the mission and establishing an overall framework around how and why companies would want to champion this mindset. We have also defined acronyms that various industries, companies and socially conscious groups have created to establish their tenets as they align with the notions of sustainability. Now that the landscape is set, let’s focus on two compulsory precursors to executing and maintaining the optimal efficacy of holistic sustainability: leadership and teamwork.

On the surface, leadership and teamwork may seem like mutually exclusive disciplines. While they certainly can command their unique structural paths, there are elements of both that are inextricable. Understanding the cooperative bond between them is essential so that every company can establish the strongest pillars onto which they will build a holistic sustainability framework.

What’s in a Team?
Teamwork is the personification of synergy; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Separate and distinct individual efforts lose the ability of a “greater mind and effort of many” to formulate and execute strategies. For example, cross-functional members with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, viewpoints and experiences can offer a supremely positive X-factor to the yield of the team’s efforts by including a wider breadth of knowledge.

The corollary to this would be a like-minded team with singular backgrounds, which can present an invisible barrier to any viewpoints outside the box. Likewise, a group of too few constituents with diametrically opposed views could apply a substantial negative weight to the degree of synergy achieved.

The idea here is to peel back the teamwork component to maximize the team’s overall effectiveness. A weakly formulated team provides far less than optimal results — despite doing their best. The point is that the return on a team is directly related to the individual members of that team. The ideal team is not defined by its quantity of constituents but by the quality of its constituents. The quality of the team’s output is strengthened by those who can think critically — offering success using a different approach — and who remain focused on the goal, not their personal agenda.

At the end of the day, teams are formulated to achieve a goal: corporate culture, a specific task or a project. The stronger the team, the better the outcome, and that is what we want to focus on as part of creating sustainable practices in a company.

Consider a symphony orchestra. At the beginning of a concert, you might see a group of musicians individually warming up simultaneously — a cacophony. But behind those chaotic sounds are skilled contributors, waiting for their cue to come together as one holistic harmony. And who do they need to guide them but the conductor? The role of the conductor is to ensure the individual musicians play to the right beat, tempo and timing. The conductor can enliven the orchestra — organize and elicit the vision of the composition and make that vision come alive. This is the role of a leader — a leader of a team, a department, a company, and yes, even oneself.

Defining Leadership
What makes a highly effective and sustainable leader? Leadership is dynamic; it’s a journey, not a destination. I have an immutable conviction that leaders are made, not born. Much like the statue of David, the finished piece started as a block of marble. It became iconic and enduring through countless chisels and an unquantifiable resolve to persevere. No doubt, some marks and cuts were neither planned nor wanted, yet the master made mistakes, learned from them, and blended them to create a masterpiece.

Such is the life of a leader. A leader learns and adapts; they fall and get up. They collect all their experiences into a playbook of wisdom. They don’t know it all, but they have the confidence to figure it out. They understand and leverage synergy as free energy to achieve superior results; they participate more than they direct. They give (serve) to receive authentic and relatable. They lead by example. They listen more than they speak. They are empathetic.

These characteristics work in concert to create cooperative atmospheres and empower individuals to elicit results. They are the conductors of their team, department, company, and equally important, themselves. But there’s a distinction to be made here. While leaders may be bosses or managers, bosses and managers are not necessarily leaders, and therein lies the greatest risk to sustainable teamwork and corporate culture.

Employer growing business professionals metaphor. Hand watering plants and employees in flowerpots. Vector illustration for growth, development, career training concept

When leaders are not evolved, confident, humble, emotionally intelligent, balanced and self-secure, there seems to be a modus operandi to achieve at the expense of everything else. They gain by taking from or taking advantage of those around them, pushing down responsibility to avoid accountability. This is one of the most toxic elements within a company that can jeopardize any desire for synergy.

Highly effective and sustainable leaders are wise and balanced, people who have practical experience and intelligence and can listen, motivate and be empathetic to the contributors around them.

Stresses of all kinds act like microscopes on one’s core vulnerabilities. A leader’s ability to withstand business and personal challenges that are omnipresent in the day-to-day depends on a balanced foundation. Dr. Wayne Dyer, an author and motivational speaker, says people are like mystery fruit; you don’t know what’s inside until they are squeezed. It’s that squeeze that can define and create a good leader. It’s how they react to adversity that builds a foundation for leadership. Failure is a means, not an end. The strongest leaders will take failures and learn and grow from them.

A Team of Leaders
Imagine if each team member was well vetted for their ability to contribute toward the goal and had the qualities of a leader. How one governs themselves, values relationships, their emotional and physical well-being, education, spirituality, maturity, and so forth are harbingers of how long and effectively one can thrive.

One of the keys to building a holistic framework in your company and making it thrive is to be the change you want to be. Leaders are made, not born. They are not perfect, but they are being perfected. Holistic sustainability requires sustainable leadership. Leadership requires teamwork and teamwork requires leadership, and as you can see, it is all connected. Bosses are negative weights on sustainability, as seen by turnover and toxic corporate culture. Leaders inspire. Their energy and their influence are contagious. At every level in your company, inspire leadership that constantly evolves with accountability and trust. It starts at the top and trickles down.

To fulfill mission statements that clarify company values, sustainable leaders are needed to execute and remain stable through the myriad challenges a business faces: hyper-growth, economic downturns, unforeseen catastrophes and even prosperity.

Holistic sustainability is like dynamic energy; energy needs a medium to propagate. Leadership and teamwork are the fabric through which your sustainability goals will be reached — or not. The stronger and more malleable the material, the more it will endure. Defining executables for your goals is compulsory and will shape your foundation. Your leadership and teamwork, however, will be the structural elements that deliver results and to what extent.

Paul “Max” Le Pera is the president and founder of Proprietary Ventures, LLC, a boutique-style global firm devoted to researching, discovering, and deploying disruptive and sustainably oriented proprietary products and technologies. He serves on the ISFA board of directors as vice president of standards. He can be reached at paul.l@proprietaryventures.com.

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