Thursday, 6 October 2011

Unpopular leadership: the ultimate impossible ideal

The core elements of leadership that I most respect and that many speakers in the course have talked about are pursuing a vision and staying true to your values. It seems like the time when that really involves leadership is the time when it would be easiest to fail – when your vision or your values disagree with the prevailing ideas. This means that in sticking to them, you will show your strength, but no one will like you very much.
If no one likes you, can you still lead people places? Whatever you do will make someone unhappy, but can you reach a point when you’ve made everyone unhappy and you are no longer leading anyone? Is it really leadership to stick to your ideas when everyone disagrees, and all you’ll get is an empty room?
Some things are worth standing up for under any circumstances. Some things are worth fighting for, some aren’t. The hard part is figuring out which is which. The next hard part is persuading other people that you’re fighting for something important, and that your vision is one worth following.
A personal example: While I know climate change is a vitally important issue worth fighting for, I don’t know how to persuade others of this. I am often reluctant to engage with people on climate change as I fear being unable to rationally argue my position, struggling with the temptation to get angry or rude. My fear of failure has seriously impeded my ability to lead on this issue at all, and I am still trying to navigate the awkward issue of how to raise such daunting topics with friends and family without alienating myself.
Is it ok to sit your relatives down and ask them to consider solar panels? To drive less and ride more? How would I react if someone sincerely asked me to go vegetarian? Probably not well. Maybe the personal angle is the weirdest of all. Maybe the best thing to do is try to show how such changes can be good by doing them yourself. But I believe it’s time for me to start speaking up on the more broad facts – climate change is real, it’s more urgent than people realise, and our lives are going to change whether we like it or not. The sooner people realise this, the sooner they can grieve for our old lifestyles and start planning for the future.

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