If you bumped into an old friend on the street and asked, “how ya doing?” and s/he replied, “I’m sustainable,” you’d probably be worried.

Sustaining is a low standard. And a highly unlikely possibility since the only constant is change. While “sustainability” has been an important rallying word, it sets an unrealistic and extremely low bar in terms of what’s possible. At the same time, there is no clear alignment about what exactly should be sustained, or about who gets to say what’s sustained, distinguished or ignored.

Thriving is a more inspiring aspiration than sustaining because would rather thrive than merely sustain. For individuals to thrive, the whole planet has to because of how absolutely interdependent the web of life is. Moving our consciousness from sustaining to thriving is an important step toward getting the work and the world we all want to live in.

When sustainability is the framework for action, it allows us to take piecemeal action. Taking any action matters at this critical juncture but symptomatic and superficial programs are dominant approaches at a time when only deep, systemic transformation can take us to where we need to be, to where our hearts and souls want to to be — to a world where all kids go to bed safe, fed and warm.

Aiming for sustaining allows us to unconsciously operate as if the systems that inherently damage bodies, hearts, minds and souls can keep going while we “fix” a broken process or team, or clean up a stream — all of which are good but none of which accounts for core causes. Fixing the world won’t happen by sustaining what we’ve got. We can only really change our survival trajectory by recalibrating toward not just sustaining, but toward all stakeholders thriving.

The research is clear: Who you are at work is what determines how happy you are. The happier workers are, the more productive and committed they are. Who we are is directly correlated with what we value. When our values are respected and fulfilled, we feel most able to be our authentic selves and that leads to us being happier, healthier and better workers. One of the best indicators that we are heading toward the verdant and just world we all want is the emerging recognition that it pays to invest in whole people being able to show up at good places to work.

There is no advantage to sustaining the status quo and there is every advantage to playing for the next level of thriving. For leaders, that means making sure that all stakeholders experience vitality from the inside out. It also means that what comes from the outside in, that is the vision and values that come from a leader, has to be robust enough to catalyze inspired action.

We are now and have always been evolving. If ever there was a time to move ourselves beyond aspiring to sustain, it is now. Evolution is unfolding one person and one workplace at a time. The proven success of values-driven leadership and cultural development strategies confirms that when people are inspired by the possibility of thriving in accordance with what they value most, evolution toward a brighter future happens. And everybody wins.

by Dr. Joni Carley
Author: The Alchemy of Power: mastering the invisible factors of leadership