From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table: a six part blog series on leadership and change practice.
In part two of the From the Camp Fire to the Kitchen Table blog series, we looked at Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills. Today the focus is on the individual.
In my leadership and change workshops, I never spend long on the Self, as too much of this gets in the way of focussing on purpose and collaboration. However, we do spend some time on the Self, as having a good understanding our abilities, skills, passions, purpose and time are crucial if we are going to help create action that is regenerative for people and planet. In Leadership and the Self, I teach five elements of leadership that relate to ourselves. And then I quickly more on to connection and community, where the real stuff happens!
So let’s go deep inside and look at what we can develop as individuals. Here are five ways to improve yourself as a leader:
Become “leaderful” not ego-full
We have already established that the “mostly old, mostly white, mostly male standing on a hill telling others what to do” leadership model doesn’t work. So where does that leave those of us who want to develop the skills to be a leader? What does that mean for personal development? The answer is that we an still develop ourselves, but we need to shift our focus from developing our ego, to building our skills. This shift is better for us and our health and our personal development anyway.
We spend far too much time thinking about and worrying about our self image and how we are viewed by others. Social media has confounded this further by showcasing the curated Facebook and Instagram lives of others as we scroll down. The self help sections of bookshops are not a nice place to find ourselves either, offering ways for us to maximise, fix and win. And the content stream of white male “leaders” in politics and business give the impression that unless we are like them we cannot change the world. Many people, once confronted with the climate crisis, feel like they need to grab a lance, jump on a horse, give a Mel Gibson as William Wallace style battle speech and ride off at the head of an army. But as we’ve learned, tomorrow’s leaders will be flexible, selfless and collaborative. How do we develop these leaders leadership skills?
We can do it by leaving our ego at the door and working with others as equals. The late Frank Ryan used say that the key is to step off our pedestals and to recognise that we are all teachers and all learners. That we all have much to give and that true learning and change occurs via two way relationships. Our focus should not be on becoming the one true leader (which is a medieval idea), but on realising that we all need to be “leaderful”. To be leaderful is to be full of the characteristics of tomorrow’s leaders. To become leaderful we need to understand what skills we have and what talents, time, purpose, resilience and courage we can contribute to leading change. Leaderful leaders know when to step up, and the know when to step back and give space for other leaders. A leaderful leader is always focussed on what’s best for the end goal, it’s never about their own ego or self recognition.
2. Focus on purpose
Too many leadership courses focus on the individual task of “becoming a leader” rather than helping individuals to identify and work towards achieving their purpose. Being clear about purpose helps us step up when a moment requiring leadership arises.
Malala Yousafzai had no leadership training, but she is now a global leader. Her story is of course, inspirational but she did not become a leader by becoming more confident, or leaning in. She had a clear purpose, to go to school, and her parents backed her in. When the Taliban shot her in the face, she did not disappear but rose up and led change. As she says herself, the day she was shot, “weakness, fear and hopelessness died; strength, power and courage were born.” Malala stepped up because her upbringing and her community bought her to a deep sense of purpose, and so she was ready.
Each of us faces many of moments in our lives when we can step up and lead if we are ready and if we choose to. Think of the time at school when another kid was being bullied and you watched, or the meeting at work when you let a sexist comment go, or when you were walking the dog and someone said that climate change wasn’t real because their uncle said it was also hot when he was a kid and you nodded. We need to be clear about our purpose and our selves so that we are ready to step up and lead when moments like these arise.
3. Understand that failure is the best teacher
The third lesson is that leaders must be prepared to fail, a lot. Failure is looked down on in our instagrammed, success driven society. When we fail, we feel like a loser. We feel like others are successful, because we don’t see them fail. But great changes have always come from failed and varied attempts. The research on failure shows that we learn far more from failure than from winning straight away.
In fact, most people we today recognise as successful have failed on the way. Michael Jordan was dropped from his school basketball team, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were told by their music teacher that they had no talent, Einstein didn’t speak until he was three and was too much of a dreamer for the education system, John Cleese was told at school that he wasn’t funny and Oprah was told that she wasn’t good looking enough for television. Apple sacked Steve Jobs, JK Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers, and it was only Thomas Edison’s two thousand and something-th light bulb that actually lit up.
In our society we fear shame. As Brene Brown puts it in her book Daring Greatly:
If we are to lead, we must risk failure and step into the arena.
4. Do Something (together)
Which brings us to the fourth lesson. Leaders must actually DO SOMETHING. Bob Brown got arrested on the Franklin and set up the Wilderness Society and the Greens. Olegus Truchanus gave photography lectures around Tasmania, Rosa Parkes sat in the wrong bus seat on purpose, Jane Goodall left the forest and began an annual 300 lecture world tour, Maxine from Bendigo Community Health Services organised a first meeting of a Green Team, Colin spent 10 years building solar panel programs and Jodi started a community project to plan a lemon tree in every street.
No one has ever changed the world without doing something. As Lao Tzu wrote “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In doing things, in actions, we build momentum, learn a lot, feel better, achieve more and inspire others. I put the word “together” in brackets, because every one of the people mentioned above worked together with others, had support of others, were mentored by others and acted together with others.
5. Offer the best of You
Many people I work with think that they don’t have a lot to offer others. They are wrong. Cake bakers can really bring a group together, those with time can letterbox flyers to the neighbours, those with a large living room can host a meeting and the tech savvy can help organise everyone’s diaries. Everyone has skills they can offer a group.
But going beyond skills, the best of you is being in your element. Finding your element should be a fairly important focus in life anyway. But in sustainability and change its crucial. You need to bring the best of you to the table.
Educator Sir Ken Robinson wrote the book about finding your Element, i.e. finding the link between what you love and what you are good at. He says this changes everything in your life. So when I am (often) asked by young people what they should study to help build a sustainable future I tell them to find their element. A sustainable world requires accountants, politicians, builders, teachers, nurses, business owners, workers and everyone else to help create it.
Jane Goodall found hers at a young age and has stuck with it with the support of her mum and her mentors all the way past eighty years of age. Her book Reasons for Hope, clearly shows that she has spent her life in her element. In one story, she relates how David Greybeard the chimpanzee first permitted her to approach him:
Cathy Freeman had a different spin on finding her element. When asked about the pressure of running at the Sydney Olympics she said,
In my leadership work, I ask workshop participants to have a good think about what they love doing and what they are good at. If we can support people who want to lead environmental change to make the link between those two things, then world will have powerful allies.
In next week’s blog we leave the self behind and go deep into community, connection and the others. We learn just how connected to others we are and how much we influence and are influenced by others. We’ll learn from a legendary Australian sociologist, a Canadian biologist, an American network scientist, a zen buddhist philosopher and my favourite British author …
- Mar 15, 2019 Responding to the brilliant students striking for climate Mar 15, 2019
- Mar 8, 2019 Leadership Part 4: Leadership and the Others Mar 8, 2019
- Feb 26, 2019 Leadership Part 3: Leadership and the Self Feb 26, 2019
- Feb 13, 2019 Leadership Part 2 - Tomorrow’s Leadership Skills Feb 13, 2019
- Feb 4, 2019 Leadership Part 1: Where Leadership Began: The Campfire Feb 4, 2019
- Feb 1, 2019 Dear Alexander (a letter to my new nephew about a future that people are worried about) Feb 1, 2019
- Jan 23, 2019 Blog Menu Jan 23, 2019
- Jul 25, 2016 Aiming for the Good Life Jul 25, 2016
- Nov 3, 2014 Living and Travelling in Bendigo, 2030: a potential vision Nov 3, 2014
- Sep 19, 2014 Imagine meeting your Financial Carbon Broker ... Sep 19, 2014
- Aug 4, 2014 Sustainability Street iBook Launch Aug 4, 2014
- Aug 1, 2014 Talking ecoLogical ... three overhead conversations: Aug 1, 2014
- Apr 4, 2014 Green Team Leadership, or not Apr 4, 2014
- Nov 25, 2013 The MC from Hell ... Nov 25, 2013
- Nov 8, 2013 When a Green Team Stumbles ... and then Flies Nov 8, 2013
- Oct 22, 2013 Facilitation that Flies Oct 22, 2013
- Oct 22, 2013 Ecological Sustainability = Better Business Oct 22, 2013
- Oct 17, 2013 Political Carbon Lies: what should my business do? Oct 17, 2013
- Sep 30, 2013 Climate Science: Ready to think about what it means? Sep 30, 2013
- Sep 9, 2013 My 2008 Climate Change blog revisited Sep 9, 2013
- Sep 2, 2013 Nature: our health and economic inspiration Sep 2, 2013
- Aug 28, 2013 The business costs of waste and pollution Aug 28, 2013
- Aug 9, 2013 Eliminating the Concept of Waste Aug 9, 2013
- Jul 19, 2013 The economy is in transition. We must open our eyes. Jul 19, 2013
- Apr 2, 2013 My vision for a future Prosperous Bendigo Apr 2, 2013
- Feb 14, 2013 Info? Tech? Meh! It's all about people. Feb 14, 2013
- Jan 29, 2013 What if the Mayans were right? Jan 29, 2013
- Jan 24, 2013 Economic Externalities Jan 24, 2013
- Jan 22, 2013 Wonderland Window 1980 - 2020 Jan 22, 2013
- Nov 21, 2012 Biomimicry: Most of the answers will come from nature. We just need to tune in. Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 Reconnecting with the natural world is crucial to the creation of an ecologically sustainable human society Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 Let's drop the 'greenie' tag already Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 Ecological sustainability education: wisdom v's information Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 On hope ... Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 Speaker - Spirituality in the Pub Nov 21, 2012
- Nov 21, 2012 Did Civil Disobedience Change the World? Nov 21, 2012