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The Leadership Challenge

Volunteer

Image source: www.bic-al.org

Time and again, people assert that strong national leadership is what we need to move toward a sustainable future.

It could certainly be argued that our political leaders are yet to “step up” to the responsibilities of effectively navigating a healthy and prosperous future for people and planet alike.

But what about personal leadership? What about the leadership required within our communities, our neighbourhoods, our homes? What about the leadership required of each and every one of us?

From a social change perspective, “leadership” isn’t necessarily the job of a single person within a group.

Within environmental or community groups, for instance, leadership is the responsibility of the whole team. This is not to be confused with management, of course, which is a wholly different prospect.

When thinking about effective leadership, imagine a scenario where every member of a group feels empowered to say “we did that together”. In other words, good leadership is about building a sense of “we” instead of focusing on the “me”.

Volunteering is an excellent space to consider good leadership. The give-away is whether volunteers return again and again to contribute their work. Whilst charismatic leadership might achieve short-term commitment from volunteers, it’s not necessarily suitable for empowering and sustaining the collective wisdom and efforts of a group of volunteers. Dictatorial “leadership” doesn’t work. Nor does the centralised and directive model of “good management”. Indeed, any form of “leadership” that promotes a top-down approach that is control-focused and risk-averse fails miserably when working with volunteers.

Many of us are volunteers on our chosen path toward a sustainable future.

Whilst some people are motivated by financial incentives alone to live more sustainably, it could be argued that a greater number of people are motivated for slightly more altruistic reasons. At the risk of generalisation, many people “volunteer” their actions for sustainability because they wish to contribute to (and ultimately be supported by) a healthier environment and / or social justice for all (that’s the fundamental principle of it, anyway).

As such, effective leaders for environmental sustainability must negotiate a common vision and purpose in collaboration with the members of their team. Together, they create “supportive and rewarding environments where people can grow in the skills, knowledge and confidence required for their roles” (Les Robinson & Andreas Glanznig in Eco-Action, 2003).

If we all need to “step up” to effective leadership for environmental sustainability, how might self-leadership enable your personal and professional growth toward a better future for yourself and others? What would it take for you to be an effective leader within your own life? Within your community? Within the wider world?

The leadership challenge is not simply a race between politicians. It’s a race within ourselves to be better human beings in an ever changing world.

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