What does your leadership look like?
Right now a sixteen-year old girl is challenging establishment concepts of leadership in the most phenomenal way.
In little over a year, Greta Thunberg has gone from a lone schoolgirl protesting outside the Swedish Parliament to the figurehead of a worldwide movement with followers in the millions. The “Greta Effect” has triggered a noticeable drop in air travel in Sweden, and added a new word for ‘flight shame’ to the language. It has driven a boom in sales of environmental books empowering children to save the planet. It has been linked to an increase in support for Green Parties in recent European elections and a 10% drop in support among young voters for previously popular Canadian President Justin Trudeau. Climate scientists have applauded her for the cut-through she has achieved with a message they have been trying to communicate for 20 years.
But not everyone is happy. OPEC’s secretary-general called Greta and her fellow climate change campaigners "...perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward." He’s not the only one feeling a little unsettled. Since her latest UN speech, criticism of Thunberg has taken a particularly nasty turn. Her opponents have started gunning for the person, not the message, targeting her age, her Asperger’s, even (appallingly) her lack of sexiness - what the...?
I’m not going to dwell on the detailed ins-and-outs of these attacks. Greta has handled them with far more maturity and grace than her detractors deserve, constantly returning to the science around her core message, diverting only to educate about what Asperger’s is, and isn’t.
What I would like to focus on is the picture it paints of our society and leadership at a macro level. Huffington Post commentator Alan Grant sums it up pointedly.
“Greta Thunberg is a very young, non-British, girl on the autism spectrum. She is smart, eloquent, engaging, passionate, and, most impressively of all, is seemingly without compromise of deference. It is as if she was created in a laboratory under the brief of scaring the ‘gammon’ of our society by showing them their own increasing irrelevance and pointlessness in a society gone digital, multi-national, multi-ability, and diverse.”
It seems bizarre that, in 2019, we should still be having to point out that leaders do not have to be a certain age, gender or ethnicity. But the stats still, by and large, say otherwise. As we move into an era where securing the right talent full-stop is going to be challenging, finding the right talent plus leadership skills is going to be even harder. To thrive moving forward, organisations must actively cultivate new leaders and searching for them from a top-down perspective is not going to do the job.
This is not news to the business world - or should not be. In a 2018 global survey of 1,000 senior-level leaders, the top two concerns were “...developing ‘Next Gen’ leaders and failure to attract/retain top talent…Senior leaders chose these issues more than twice as often as slowing economic growth in emerging markets, labour relations, and global recession.”
However, this same survey pointed out that most organisations are stuck in a rut when it comes to addressing the problem. “Nearly half of organisations (46 percent) limit their potential focus to senior-most levels. Even more troubling, this percentage has barely changed from 2014 (45 percent)...Organisations that opt to extend their development of high-potential talent below senior levels are 4.2 times more likely to outperform those that don’t on a financial composite of revenue growth, operating margin, EBITDA, and return on equity.”
I’m not saying there isn’t room for experience but experience must be challenged, questioned and tempered with new perspectives and new ways of doing to stay relevant.
It’s time to shake things up.
Just like Greta.
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