Getting Out of the Weeds: A Balancing Act for Sustainability Leaders

Do you spend all your time managing day to day issues and not enough time leading? We dig into the common reasons for this and bring you some tips to rebalance your time for greater impact.

Where managing is about overseeing day-to-day activities and ensuring operational tasks are completed, leadership is about creating a shared vision and motivating and inspiring others.

While both are essential aspects of driving change, failing to strike a balance between the two slows us down on the way to a sustainable future. A recent survey of participants in the Sustainability Leadership Programme I run revealed 84% of respondents find themselves consumed by operational work and managing responsibilities, leaving a mere 16% of participants focused on leading.

These statistics paint a clear picture of the overwhelming attention given to day-to-day tasks. Sustainability practitioners identified numerous negative impacts of the dominance of operational and managerial tasks in their workload, including:

  1. Lack of Innovation and Change Opportunities: By spending your time on management and operational tasks, it leaves you little room for blue-sky thinking and innovative strategies — which are at the heart of achieving transformative change in sustainability practices
  2. Decreased Influence and Impact: When you are primarily engaged in managing tasks, you may have limited opportunities to influence key stakeholders and decision-makers, which is crucial to drive sustainability goals.
  3. Diminished Motivation and Slow Progress: The imbalance between managing and leading can lead to a sense of frustration and disillusionment among sustainability leaders, as the heavy emphasis on managing day-to-day operations translates to slow progress of sustainability initiatives.
  4. Lowered Priority for Sustainability: The overwhelming focus on operational tasks often pushes sustainability down the priority pile. Urgent matters take precedence, leaving long-term sustainability goals and initiatives on the back burner.

Source: Catapult


Amidst the demanding nature of sustainability work, finding time to lead can often feel like an uphill battle. Here are some key tactics that successful leaders employ to make time for leading and catalyse progress on sustainability challenges.

1. Weekly Leadership Meeting: A Date with Yourself

One powerful tactic is to schedule a weekly leadership meeting with yourself. Treat it as a sacred appointment, just as you would with an important client. Call it a ‘strategic leadership meeting’ in your schedule. Plan next week ‘from the future back’ — stepping back from your longer-term impact vision. This design time will allow you to step back from the day-to-day grind and refocus on the bigger picture, ensuring your actions are aligned with your sustainability goals.

2. Embrace “Frogs First” Approach

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” — Mark Twain

The “eating the frogs first” principle is a game-changer when it comes to time management. Identify the task which is the most important, and start your day by tackling this critical task — the “frog” — first, rather than getting lost in a sea of less important tasks. Tackle this task before opening your emails — this will empower you to make tangible progress towards sustainability goals before other demands consume your time and energy.

3. Delegate and Empower

As a sustainability leader, it’s essential to recognise that you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Delegate tasks to capable team members, empowering them to take ownership. By building a culture of trust and collaboration, you create space for yourself to focus on leadership activities that drive sustainable change.

4. Cultivate Key Habits of Successful Leaders

Successful leaders possess certain habits that foster their effectiveness. Consider integrating the following practices into your routine:

  • Continuous Learning: Make learning a priority by staying updated on the latest sustainability trends, best practices, and innovations. Engage in professional development opportunities and connect with peers to expand your knowledge base and enhance your leadership capabilities.
  • Networking and Collaboration: By building a network of sustainability professionals, you can collaborate on projects and share insights, gaining fresh perspectives and leveraging the power of collaboration for greater impact.
  • Time for Reflection: Create space to evaluate your leadership style and identify areas for growth and improvement. Introspection can help you become a more self-aware and effective sustainability leader.

Leaders Like You by Nick Sceats & Andrea Thompson

The failure to distinguish managing and leading in sustainability leadership has far-reaching impacts. As revealed by input from Sustainability Leadership Programme participants, an imbalanced allocation of time impedes innovation, slows progress, dilutes strategic focus, and diminishes the ability to influence change.


Making time to lead is a vital ingredient for driving positive sustainability change. By implementing key tactics such as weekly leadership meetings and embracing the “frogs first” approach, you can reclaim time for leadership activities that propel sustainable progress.