by Neil Crofts
For a long time I believed in the power of the masses, that somehow enough people would wake up and realise what was going on and decide to change things.
Ultimately, of course, this is still the only way that change actually happens, but there is a critical step in between. That critical step is leadership.
For any shift to take place a smaller group of people have to be prepared to step up and step forward, to be the change. To set the example and show the way forwards.
When times are tough, and in the absence of more positive alternatives, people can be drawn to extremes. Now, more than ever we need those with balance, with humility and with a love for all life to step up and lead.
The leadership we need is:
Thinking long term – and still able to deliver the short term wins that keep people on side.
Holistic big picture, non partisan, universal – and still able to be embraced by disparate groups.
Able to fully engage all based on their own inner drive and passion – and focus them on the common goal.
Confident enough to admit their own weaknesses and inspire the right team to compliment them to cover all of the bases.
Strong enough and focussed enough to withstand the pressure – vulnerable enough to show fallibility so others feel needed.
Courageous enough to stand up for what they believe in no matter what the tide of opinion.
Inspiring enough to truly lead. Engaging enough to connect with and energise a body of people.
We urgently need this shift in both business and in the public sector, to rebuild the economy, restore the ecosystem and create the possibility of peace.
There are examples of this leadership and those examples prove, beyond question, that this leadership, authentic leadership, delivers greater success, bigger profits, faster growth and greater financial and environmental sustainability.
Leadership and followership
A leader is someone others choose to follow, this is the simplest definition of leadership.
It follows that who and how we choose to follow is a vitally important, and that followership is a powerful and influential role.
When we follow we endorse, support and empower. We create leaders simply by choosing to follow. By choosing to follow we turn a lone voice into an inspiring agent of change. By ignoring them we can condemn them as an isolated nut.
If we choose to follow those whose purpose and values we align with, we enhance that meme. (Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to describe how ideas can follow a similar kind of evolutionary trajectory to genes.)
We follow through our work, our behaviour and our conversation. The choices we make in whose work, ideas and products we follow, makes a difference.
Whether we see ourself as a leader or not, we are also a follower.
We are at a time of pivotal change in our society. It is evident that many aspects of the old model have completed their useful existence and are now dying. No where is this clearer than in oil, banking and religion.
Who we choose to follow now will determine the future of our society. Just as those who chose to follow Brunel, Faraday, Darwin, Ford, Gandhi, Hitler and others shaped the last century.
Changing damaging habits is hard enough when it relates to our personal health; it is so much harder when it is abstracted to a level of societal or planetary health. Harder still when the vast majority of people do not have the life circumstances to allow them to devote energy to considerations wider than their personal or close family challenges.
Further, a recent study has shown that we are prone to “change fatigue”. Our brain operates through a network of neural pathways. The ones we use most frequently (our habits) become clear and easy to navigate. Learning anything, like a new way of doing things, is a process of opening up new neural pathways.
Like a pathway in a forest, if we don’t keep using it, it will become overgrown and hard to navigate. Learning or relearning anything is a process of getting a machete out and clearing the pathway. It is hard work and tiring.
If we want to effect change we need to support and encourage each other through this process. This is the nature of leadership AND follower-ship.
If you know someone who is doing something that you believe in follow them, support and empower them. Tell their story to everyone you know, help them shift from lone nut to inspiring leader.
Equally if you are following someone whose values you are not aligned with, change that situation, change their values or change who you follow. It is not just your personal wellbeing I am concerned about, supporting a damaging meme is potentially very dangerous for us all.
You can be the leader others choose to follow. Authentic Leadership is a leadership practice based on your values, integrity and purpose. It is a practice that can be learned and applied extremely effectively in business and in the public sector.
About the Author: Neil Crofts runs Authentic Leadership courses in the UK and Mallorca. For more information please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.authenticleadership.me