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Ordinary Leadership Week Note: Why are we waiting for the "leader."

Week of 14.07.23

What leadership themes stood out this week

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve travelled to some amazing locations – notably the Rockies and Austrian Alps – the impact of climate change has been all around. From the rapidly retreating glaciers in the Alps to the forest fires in Canada. It is impossible not to notice that climate change is happening. Yet, when I reflect on what I hear people talking about, the more concerned I am that we’re all holding our breath waiting for a “leader” to emerge that will convince people to change their behaviours, take climate change more seriously, and accept some of the downsides of investing in green technologies (from potentially higher costs to wind turbines nearby).

As I reflect on these conversations, I keep returning to the idea that leadership is action, not authority. And the narrative that there will be some leader who will step up is a big challenge to making the positive changes we need. My mother talks about being an “actionist”; in many ways, I think this phrase captures a really important point. We have reached a point where we are waiting for others to take action rather than ourselves. Even if some of those actions are difficult and somewhat painful. As Andrew, McConnell and Wescott have identified. leadership in the change process “involves the set of actions that intentionally creates change space and mobilizes people, ideas, meaning and resources to achieve a change purpose” (Andrews, McConnell and Wescott, 2010, p.17).

If we want to address the big issues facing the planet and our society, we need more people to take action to take on leadership throughout our society. We must challenge the narrative that we must wait for the big changes to happen instead of encouraging actions at all levels of an organization. Climate change – won’t be solved because a big personality in a position of authority stands up and says, “go this way”. It will be solved by community-level leadership, where someone stands up and says to the people around them, “Hey, look at this big gap. What are we going to do about it.” Not everyone will follow, but it gives up the space to start to take action.

It's much like this idea from James Clear, "When nothing is working, explore and make a lot of small bets. After something starts working, double down on what works best. When that stops working, explore and make a lot of small bets again." The point is that we need to make lots of small bets. We don’t know what will work. To take lots of small bets, we need many different people to step up and believe they can take on leadership in their own sphere of influence. Most of us won’t change the world, but we can positively influence and shape the community or organisations around us.

Three interesting leadership ideas/quotes from the week

"It's not that hard on any given day, but the trick is you can't skip days. Your workouts can be reasonable and still deliver results—if you don't skip days. Your writing sessions can be short, and the work will still accumulate—if you don't skip days. As long as you're working, you'll get there." - James Clear

Leadership in the change process “involves the set of actions that intentionally creates change space and mobilizes people, ideas, meaning and resources to achieve a change purpose.” (Andrews, McConnell and Wescott, 2010, p.17)

Pitching great ideas isn’t about advancing your own interests—it’s about advancing the team. HBR Idea of the Week

Helpful leadership links from the week


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