Leadership has been a hot topic of discussion recently. The UK spent the start of June focused on the Queen’s 70 year tenure as the ceremonial leader of our country, followed by uncertainty about who would lead the country as prime minister. While those two individuals are vastly different in style and substance, they share what one might call ‘traditional’ models of leadership. Top-down, upper-class, wealth-backed, privilege-embedding ways of working that hark back to Britain’s days of ‘ruling the waves’.
Now that the bunting is down and Westminster claims to have ‘drawn a line’ under its internal power struggle, now feels like a good time to think about what we want and need from our leaders for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
LEADERSHIP is a big word, far more complex than its ten letters would suggest, so I’m going to take those letters as a starting point to explore the sort of leadership I think the world needs now and in the future.
L is for long term. We need to move away from our obsession with short term popularity contests, from Love Island to party politics. The challenges we all face – climate crisis, cost of living crisis, growing levels of gut-wrenching poverty, spiralling violent crime, endemic loneliness and so much more – these are not quick fixes. We need courageous leaders who can see the big challenges and invest our collective time, skills, intelligence and will into big solutions. Solutions whose lifespans might mean that others take credit for the outcome of creating a better world for all.
E is for eco over ego. We need to put personal profile and profit aside and care for our only home. ‘Eco’ literally means the home, the family, our place of belonging. Eco-nomics is the management of our home, and what home is more important than the planet on which we all live and rely for our EVERY need? The compulsion to bolster our egos via more and more ‘stuff’ is destroying the environment – and when leaders put their personal and party needs ahead of the people who they are there to serve they undermine the trust and faith in government and the democracy it is founded on.
‘We need to move away from our obsession with short term popularity contests, from Love Island to party politics’
A is for attitude. The decisions we make and the paths we choose are rooted in our mindsets, assumptions and attitudes to others and the world around us. For too long leadership has been steeped in an attitude of conquering and beating the opposition. This kind of leadership relies on creating division, diminishing others and benefiting from their downfall. Our world needs a very different attitude from our leaders – one that recognises the honour involved in serving others, in bringing together different strengths and supporting collaboration, cooperation and collective successes. Indeed the attitude to hold all the other ingredients for leadership.
D is for diversity – it’s vital to recognise that our differences are our greatest strength and that it is ONLY through diversity that we learn, grow, develop and improve. Leadership is about celebrating, harnessing and magnifying the vast array of opportunities that our diversity brings.
E is for equity – true leaders know that we all rise and fall together. Ultimately, I cannot truly thrive, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually if those around me are suffering. By putting we before me, leadership can transform our world for everyone, not just for the 1%.
R is for relationships – Leadership is a collective endeavour. We are all leaders because we all influence others – in our choices, actions, attitudes and our example. By embracing the need for stronger relationships within teams, communities, nations and across boundaries and differences, we do not reduce our power and influence, we multiply and grow it.
S is for Service – Leadership is a service. Different communities and situations require different kinds of leaders and skills. To recognise that you are a servant when you lead is a rare but vital attribute of great leaders. Far too many leaders see themselves as someone that other people must serve rather than someone who serves others – that small shift changes everything.
H is for Humility – also essential is knowing that you don’t know everything and recognising your faults, mistakes and blind spots. A real leader can admit that others might do some things better, can support others to bring their best and celebrate them when they do. Knowing when your service is needed and when it is not is true leadership in action.
I is for Interdependence. Ultimately, truly great leaders see the world as the beautiful complex and interconnected system that it is. They know that a small ripple in one place can create storms in another and use that knowledge to carefully set off ripples of good not tsunamis of harm. They can see their future intertwined with the future of the most vulnerable of those they serve, and of the fate of the many species who call this planet their home.
P is for privilege. Recognising the huge privilege bestowed on those who lead and ensuring they use the power that comes with privilege to support People, Places and Planet to thrive.
Now that’s a vision of LEADERSHIP I can buy into and that has a chance of steering our collective ship to much calmer and richer waters through this century and beyond.
Liz Zeidler, CEO, Centre for Thriving Places
If you agree that the world needs better models of leadership, get in touch and see how we and our partners in the wellbeing economy movement are working on a variety of approaches to effect change including new forms of leadership, ways of thinking, and decision making.
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels