top of page

Leadership for sustainable success

Lessons learned part 2


In our first article in this series, we summarised our reflections and thinking on leadership for sustainable success.

As a reminder, we said “We believe that leadership is required at all levels of an organisation. And, we observe, a leader concerned with sustainable success is an authentic, inspiring, growth minded organisational steward who

  • aligns people's hearts, minds and actions around purpose, values, vision, and strategy, making it clear what the organisation does and does not do (now and in the future)

  • invests in, and supports the success of, their co leaders, creating distributed leadership and a pipeline for succession

  • creates a collaborative environment where the desired commercial behaviours, learning, performance, and innovation can thrive

  • makes decisions that address the functions of leadership, serves the interests of their stakeholders, and strengthens the long term future of the business

The success of leadership is ultimately measured by the confidence, belief and trust that their stakeholders have in them as a leader. The truth of which often becomes clearer after their tenure has ended."

In this article, we comment further on the functions of leadership and the view that leadership is required at all levels of an organisation.


As shared in our article The Art of Succession we believe there are three functions of leadership. These are described in the diagram below, developed by Dr Peter Dudley, and affectionately named ‘the trialogue' by colleagues and me. Leaders need to have an understanding of these dimensions and how they should influence every decision.

Managing the present

Results matter (during a crisis, survival more so)! Customers need their expectations to be met on time, suppliers need to be paid, people need to be retained and investors need to be rewarded. A clear understanding of how the operating model works and the discipline to deliver against expectations is important for any leader. While necessary, this is not sufficient.

Creating the future

There was a time when ‘the future’ was seen as remote and something for which there would be adequate time to prepare. Now, with product cycles shortening and customer expectations becoming ever more demanding, and with the constant threat of new competitors and corporate predators, having a well developed sense of future opportunity and risk is fundamental to the success of a leader. Even during a pandemic where, for many, the future appeared as close as the next hour, day, week, month. And finally...

Nurturing identity

Research over many years has been staggeringly consistent. Those organisations that succeed over time have a clear sense of purpose and a set of values, principles and beliefs that guide their every action. Assuring the emotional engagement of stakeholders, rather than purely trading for a financial result, is now (if it wasn’t ever the case) an essential component of a leader’s portfolio of skills. In fact, it is often purpose that provides the guiding north star and energy to see your way through and out of crisis.


The external world is increasingly complex, uncertain and fast paced. Organisations operate more and more like a complex organic web of human relationships, rather than mechanistic functional silos. In this context, it is impossible (perhaps not even desirable) for a single leader (or even leadership team) to ‘command and control’ all decisions and activities required for the organisation to survive and thrive. Therefore, successful leadership in an organisation cannot be down to a single person.

We observe organisations consisting of multiple, (ideally) connected ‘trialogues’. Levels of recursion where a leader leads, and is part of, a team. Their team leads, and is part of, other teams. The successful delivery of customer experience, product development, operational excellence, strategic change and financial results all require leadership effort across the organisation.

In this view of the world, leadership is a team sport. Your ability to lead successfully is dependant on your ability to help others to lead successfully – aligning and empowering leadership at all levels of the organisation. You are as strong as your weakest link.

It is in distributing leadership that, perhaps, lies the greatest opportunity and frustration for leaders – especially during times where speed of thought and action is paramount.

There is a requirement to create the time and space to walk along a challenging tightrope moving from ‘me to we’ and addressing:

  1. a ‘mountain top view’ of the need for change (creating the future)

  2. the drive for results and executing strategy at pace (managing the present)

  3. the need for people to understand, contribute to, reach clarity on, and take ownership of the cultural and behavioural change required (nurturing identity).

Challenging, yes. Impossible, no.


In our next article, we will look more closely at the characteristics of leaders who are focused on delivering sustainable success. For now, we ask you to reflect on and consider the questions below:

  1. Considering the functions of leadership, where is your leadership attention?

  2. What is needed to further strengthen energy and focus on managing the present, creating the future, nurturing identity?

  3. In relation to your strategy, to what extent are people: engaged in it, clear on it, committed to it and delivering it?

  4. What is currently enabling or hindering ‘distributed leadership’ in your organisation?

  5. To what extent are you creating sufficient space and time for these leadership conversations to take place?

Leadership for sustainable success, Lessons learned - part 2

Written by Adam Campbell, Senior Consultant at Telos Partners 19 February 2021

Leadership for sustainable success - par
Download • 316KB


Culture publicaton
bottom of page