How many leaders have you met in your working life, who have both inspired you by their example, and made you feel valued?
When I think about MY answer to this question, I realise that sadly, it’s a small number. It is an unfortunate fact that in this modern world in which we live, leadership positions often attract big egos, and people who prioritise material gain over their life’s true purpose. Immense damage can be done to workplaces and even entire countries when ego-centric leaders are at the helm.
No human is without fault. Even the Dalai Lama, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela for example, have, and had, their flaws. But when I think of these people, it is their positive leadership characteristics, far outweighing any negative ones, that inspire me.
What are the leadership characteristics that inspire me?
They are: humility; openness; the ability to truly listen; the ability to self-reflect; and the valuing of people above financial resources. The truly inspirational leaders I have met in my life have had all of these qualities. They are not qualities that are generally valued in organisations – we can see this demonstrated pretty clearly in the current corporate and political worlds. However, I do believe that these qualities in leaders are slowly on the rise, and it gives me hope.
In October 2019, a conference of BCorp business leaders in London declared a climate emergency and committed to cut their carbon emissions to zero by 2030. I believe this demonstrates that the tectonic plates of how business is done, and what societies value are starting to slowly shift. This kind of statement from a large group of business leaders would have been unheard of a decade ago. And I believe it demonstrates true leadership. Admitting we haven’t been doing things right; being humble and open enough to listen to others, realising that we need to change the way we work; and putting people and the planet above profit.
You don’t need to be a CEO or a director of an organisation to make a positive impact. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said – “YOU must be the change you want to see in the world”. Each of us, in the way we live our lives, in our interactions with others, has the power to lead by example. If we want others to listen to us, we need to listen to others; if we want others to self-reflect, we need to do the same. Leadership is also about being able to take risks, being prepared to be different, whilst also remaining mindful of the bigger picture – putting people and the planet first. As Paul Hargreaves, CEO of Cotswold Fayre said in his Heart in Business blog, ‘The world needs less egos and more servant leadership’.
I think we can safely say – the future of the planet depends on it.