To borrow both from well-known thought leader John Kotter and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we surely have all the evidence we need that ‘our iceberg is melting.’ While the necessary behavioural changes to adapt are underway, progress is slow. Why? The answers are many and varied.
One key strategy we possess that can influence the speed of change is our role as leaders. Many of us remain leaders in waiting. We are either not yet clear in ourselves about the difference we’d like to create in the transformation of our societies and the economy, or we feel held back on stepping up. Yet the need to answer the critical question “What should our impact be” has never been more relevant or important. Not only for own sense of contribution to society and feeling of fulfilment but for the health of our planet – both now and in the future.
To be clear, by “leaders,” I mean all and any who have influence – not only those in traditional or formal leadership roles. From teachers, non-profits, civil institutions, for-profit corporations, governments and those in positions of caring; we all have power and influence should we choose to use it.
So much more can be achieved through an enhanced conviction. A conviction derived by connecting to who we really are, understanding what matters most and re-connecting to our personal sources of pride, inspiration and energy. This allows us to bring our wisest self to everything we do.
So far, leaders have been struggling to make progress and meaningful impact as they try and transition to a more sustainable society. I like to call this broader sustainability the big ‘S’ of sustainability, with the small ‘s’ representing our personal ability to sustain ourselves as individuals.
With the help of colleagues, friends, clients and our own coaches and supervisors, I set out with the leadership team of my company to learn what key elements needed changing; to create a meaningful difference in the world and to free us to act more courageously.
We found that we needed greater clarity in approaching leaders who grapple with aligning themselves with the transitions I mention above. The question we needed to ask was: “What is it that you want to achieve, and why do you want to do this?”
Investing time in answering this question is crucial. When coaching clients, we often hear senior leaders speak of the legacy they want to leave behind and how best they can ‘give back.’ To create the change needed to realise both the big and small ‘s’ transition, we need to be proactive in identifying a clear goal and the desired impact – now. Not continue with business as usual and hope it will magically appear. Formulating this clarity for ourselves has given us energy, greater confidence and a determination from which we now act more boldly.
I would argue that you instinctively know when you see and hear a person speaking genuinely around something they care about. They talk with a belief and a congruence, and they mean every word. Remember the impact this has on you the next time you hear it. When we replicate this authenticity in our work, the effect we achieve is directly proportional to the level of belief and congruence. You will feel the words resonate inside with strength when you have no doubts that something will change for the better.
Paradoxically, we have also seen that it’s essential to be honest when you don’t have an answer. For many leaders, the realisation that they are not expected to know the answer comes as a relief. It frees them to be more humble, curious, to ask searching and demanding questions and get the best out of their colleagues. This strengthens you as a leader; viewed as someone who can get things done.
Recently, while coaching a leader, he realised that he didn’t need to be an expert on everything because he was the team leader. It allowed him to mentally relinquish his old way of thinking and led him to question the purpose of his team’s core activity. The result? Thirty people were re-deployed into more meaningful work. How you show up matters, your mood, approach and style all impact your ability to achieve what you have set out to do.
We can’t expect others to change unless we lead by example. Having clarity around our desired impact will bring greater personal fulfilment. It’s worth the investment of time and will accelerate your transition to the big ‘S.’ The process asks us to fully connect to who we really are as human beings and then challenges us to bring our wisest selves to all we do.