Flexibility: pivot, pivot, pivot — make it a mantra. You have to remain agile to stay sane as a leader and to manage the sheer volume of things that are expected of you.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Gutterman.
Sara is the Co-Founder and CEO of Green Builder® Media, North America’s leading media company focused on green building and sustainable living. With a comprehensive suite of media solutions, market intelligence and ESG consulting services, demonstration projects, online training, and live events, and Green Builder Media assists building professionals in preparing themselves for the decarbonization economy and helps homeowners live more sustainably.
As CEO of Green Builder Media, Sara has established a reputation for herself as a visionary thought leader and passionate advocate for sustainability. She is considered a leading expert in cutting-edge decarbonization technologies, ESG strategies, and housing market insights. She has a unique focus on data, trends, and intelligence in areas like net zero (energy, water, and carbon), electrification, healthy home, resilient building, connected living, and renewable energy, and generational marketing.
Prior to founding Green Builder Media, Sara was a venture capitalist and has been involved in the life cycle (from funding to exit) of over 20 companies. She graduated from Dartmouth College and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and finance from the University of Colorado.
She lives in Lake City, CO with her husband, where she is an avid long-distance runner, snowboarder, and Crossfit trainer. Sara runs the Rural Segment for Energize Colorado, an organization started by Governor Polis to provide human and financial capital for businesses throughout Colorado, and she served a term as a County Commissioner.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
I take every opportunity I can to talk about decarbonization. Ready or not, we’re shifting into the Decarbonization Economy, or the full-scale elimination of carbon emissions. The transition to the Decarbonization Economy will not only free us of carbon emissions and yield some of the largest capital gains that we’ve ever seen, it will revolutionize our entire economy. No sector will be immune. Buildings, transportation, industry, agriculture — soon they’ll all be clean, connected, electric, and resilient.
The transition to the Decarbonization Economy will effectively require a complete overhaul of our socio-economic system. We won’t be able to shoehorn sustainability into old systems, meaning that we have the rare and thrilling opportunity to redesign our economy at a scale and scope that equals the transformation brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
Our world is evolving into a greener, better version of itself, and the good news is that all of us will reap dramatic rewards.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
My role model is someone very close to home: my co-Founder and President of Green Builder Media, Ron Jones. Ron is considered to be one of the fathers of the green building movement in the U.S. He has been a green builder for over 40 years — way before it was en vogue. Ron’s guiding principle is integrity. He has always served as our company’s north star, ensuring that we’re making decisions based on love not fear, abundance rather than scarcity. Ron’s leadership and guidance has helped Green Builder Media create a culture of ‘yes’ and face any challenge we meet with courage, honor, and creativity.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
Along the journey of life, I have made many personal mistakes that have resulted in massive discoveries. Professionally, I think that the biggest mistake I made was being too apologetic and afraid of conflict in the early part of my career. I used to let people get away with too much. I wouldn’t hold people accountable or call out bad behavior.
As I have matured as a person and evolved as a leader, I have come to realize that complete transparency and total honesty creates the best relationships, and it actually translates into greater levels of respect. I don’t hold anything back anymore — don’t get me wrong, I always endeavor to be kind in my communication, but I also try to be completely clear.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
Throughout the course of my career, leadership has unequivocally evolved from a model that extracts value by exploiting people and natural resources to one that creates value by enriching the lives and livelihoods of employees, communities, customers, partners, shareholders and the environment.
In the context of the contradictions inherent in today’s society, leadership is no longer about top-down control, but sharing, uplifting, and collaborating. It’s rooted in mutual respect, trust, and openness so that teams, colleagues, partners, stakeholders, and entire supply chains can succeed together.
Effective leaders today welcome diverse perspectives and wide representation. They understand the gap between brand promises and real-life experiences. They don’t shy away from hard questions and they’re honest about the answers.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
One of my biggest challenges has been — and continues to be — time management. I have a hard time saying no to people and opportunities that are interesting to me, which means that my plate is constantly overflowing.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
There are two leadership behaviors that I believe are paramount: humor and humility. It’s essential not to take yourself, business, or life too seriously. If you have some fun and allow your team to do the same, everyone will benefit. A smile or laugh can be worth 100 words. And stay humble. None of us get to where we are alone, and every person you encounter along the way has something to contribute.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
You have 10 minutes to get over it! Seriously, it doesn’t do anyone any good to linger in the sticky treacle of antiquated behaviors, outlooks, models, or modus operandi. For a leader to remain relevant, he/she/they must constantly reinvent themselves.
Look around — the world is experiencing massive transformation. In the face of divisive politics, existential environmental threats, global pandemics, and social justice challenges, younger generations are calling out a broken status quo, demanding an urgent reckoning, bold leadership, and a radically better future.
Born from crisis, the passion, purpose, optimism, and outrage of these generations are creating endemic structural change. The generations that grew up with active shooter drills in schools, fake news, and catastrophic climate events have had enough. Exhausted with how negative and divided our country has become, these younger individuals are flipping the script on the current national dialogue.
They want to work for companies that align with their values and work with leaders that will listen to their ideas. Ignore them at your peril!
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
Be bold. Be confident. If you find yourself at the front of the pack, you belong to be there.
With that said, remember that you are but one branch of a magnificent tree. You are a function of your ecosystem, and you need all of the other branches — and people — around you to ensure your success.
You will fail. But don’t worry about that — you will learn from failure. Dive in like a man with his hair on fire seeks a pond.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Love: truly the most powerful tool of leadership. If you love the people around you, they will return that love in droves. Love is the basis of trust, compassion, and effective communication — all things that are essential to create a positive corporate culture.
- Courage: if President Zelensky had fled Ukraine at the onset of the war, his country would be in Russian hands now. Instead, he has rallied the entire free world to his cause.
- Passion: do what you love, and the rest (including money) will come. It’s hard to start something out of nothing — it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and luck!) Passion will get you through the lean times.
- Boundless curiosity: don’t ever lose your sense of curiosity. It will drive you to constantly reinvent yourself and prevent you from getting stuck in ways that no longer serve you. The world is a magical place — always maintain your sense of youthful exuberance and uninhibited awe.
- Flexibility: pivot, pivot, pivot — make it a mantra. You have to remain agile to stay sane as a leader and to manage the sheer volume of things that are expected of you.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Every day, I endeavor to make the world a more sustainable place. Sometimes that’s by writing about forward thinking topics like decarbonization, the circular economy, or fusion power. Other times it’s by offering simple suggestions about how someone can reduce their environmental footprint. But I always, always try to make my team and colleagues feel good about themselves, because the spotlight shines brightest on me when it is reflecting off those around me.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
I want to play whatever role I can to enhance the sustainability of the built environment and transforming to a fully decarbonized economy.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
The best way to reach me is to email [email protected]
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!