The True Meaning of Leadership – Taught by Our Children

RASMUS HOUGAARD, Managing Director, Potential Project International
This article was originally published in

When young people across the globe went on Global Climate Strike they showed us that a new standard for leadership has emerged. It all started with one young girl displaying leadership way beyond her years.

In the early morning of March 15th 2019, while the rest of the world was asleep, children and students in New Zealand woke up, skipped school, and instead flocked together in more than 20 cities around the country to kick off the Global Climate Strike. As morning arose over Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, the same thing happened in more than 2000 cities across 123 countries. It’s estimated that millions of people under 20 years old took to the streets.

This is a historic event. Never before have children and young adults organized a global protest, and rarely has the world seen a protest of this scale and scope.

Today is a day that politicians and corporate leaders should note. Why? Because today a new standard for leadership has emerged.

The young girl who is now leading a global movement

It all started with a 16-year-old Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. At the age of 9, she became depressed when she learned that we humans are destroying our planet, as we simultaneously post happy, celebratory pictures on social media. She sensed a collective condition of self-deception.

At 15, she decided to take the only action she felt available to a teenager. She went on strike from school, exclaiming that there’s no point in studying if we have no future. She created a small banner that read “School strike for the climate” and started a one-person protest in front of the Swedish parliament.

At first, she was ridiculed. But she persisted. She deeply understood that it was the only rational thing to do. After six months of standing outside in the Nordic weather, the media started to pay attention.

Greta is now considered by many to be an oracle. She’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and invited to present at multiple global forums, including giving a TED talk. While speaking to an assembled crowd of billionaires, heads of state, and celebrities at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in a matter-of-fact way, she said, “Adults keep saying we owe to the children to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act if as the house was on fire.”

At the United Nations Climate Summit, she asserted, “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You’re not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden, you leave to us children. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

Fearless, she speaks truth to power. We all know that we’re approaching the irreversible climate events that threaten to make earth uninhabitable. Thousands of scientists have documented the trends, the causes, and the likely outcomes – all beyond any reasonable doubt. Still, governments and companies fail to acknowledge this reality, let alone agree on or implement a solution.

The world needs leaders focusing on the greater good

Multiple dictionaries define leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” Any sensible understanding of leadership should focus on the greater good, and especially on the greater good for the long term. In this light, the formal leaders of the world – governments, foundations, think tanks, and corporations – have failed. Miserably.

But today something changed.

Greta Thunberg has inspired a whole new generation of emerging leaders; young people all over the world who take responsibility, who organize themselves around caring for our one and only planet, and who advocate for the long-term greater good.

Today is a day for politicians and corporate leaders to take note. If they care about votes or customers, they must put climate change at the top of their agenda. Like Greta and the young people she’s inspired, they must begin to lead for the long-term greater good.

More Insights

Anxious About What’s Next? Here’s How to Cope

This is a time of the year often marked by personal and professional transitions, a time of graduations, weddings, first-days-at-the-new-job, and strategic planning for the next fiscal year. These transitions often bring a mix of anticipation and excitement — a sense of not knowing exactly what lies ahead but an eagerness to get there, nonetheless.…

The Wandering Mind At Work: How To Go From Distraction To Deep Work

The more focused you are, the faster and higher you will rise in the ranks at work. This was the conclusion of a study which Potential Project did with 35,000 managers and leaders across the globe. Other studies have found that high levels of focus make you feel more balanced and productive and be perceived…

From Survive To Thrive: 3 Mindset Shifts That Matter

It seems that now, a few months into this crisis, we are experiencing a global shift. The panic and chaos of those early days have settled, and we’re all trying to get acclimated to a “new normal.” As a leader, this transitional time can be a daunting one. How do you move forward with all…

Leaders, This Could Be Your Finest Hour

Recently, I have witnessed many leaders facing a decision point. They can’t go back to the way things were before, but the path forward is unmarked and feels at times uncertain. The opportunity to observe leaders as they navigate these uncharted waters has given me a unique perspective on how leaders must show up today,…

Leaders: This Is Your Opportunity to Leap Before It’s Too Late

I spend much of my time now advising corporate leaders on ways to manage their companies through the COVID-19 crisis. Often, these conversations involve listening, encouraging, and coaxing my clients to follow their own best instincts. Many know that this time of upheaval is unlike anything any of us will ever experience again. They realize…

Perfectionism Will Slow You Down in a Crisis

Almost overnight, the game has changed for leaders. Just a short time ago, pre-coronavirus, we seemed to be in a relatively stable world where many factors were known and predictable, and achieving success looked like the pursuit of perfection. But in a crisis, when reality is changing by the day (or even by the hour),…
Enhance your sleep to enhance your leadership

Enhance Your Sleep to Enhance Your Leadership

Are you prioritizing a good night’s sleep? Getting enough sleep not only makes us feel good, it improves leadership, the ability to engage other people, create meaning and ultimately to meet our strategic objectives. And vice-versa; sleep deprivation (even by just one hour) significantly harms our performance and lowers our ability to lead effectively. It…
Build Your Resilience in the Face of a Crisis

Build Your Resilience in the Face of a Crisis

As the spread and far-reaching impacts of Covid-19 dominate the world news, we have all been witnessing and experiencing the parallel spread of worry, anxiety, and instability. Indeed, in a crisis, our mental state often seems only to exacerbate an already extremely challenging situation, becoming a major obstacle in itself. Why is this and how…

Spending 10 Minutes a Day on Mindfulness Subtly Changes the Way You React to Everything

Leaders across the globe feel that the unprecedented busyness of modern-day leadership makes them more reactive and less proactive. There is a solution to this hardwired, reactionary leadership approach: ‘mindfulness’. Having trained thousands of leaders in the techniques of this ancient practice, we’ve seen over and over again that a diligent approach to mindfulness can…

How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day

You probably know the feeling all too well: You arrive at the office with a clear plan for the day and then, in what feels like just a moment, you find yourself on your way back home. Nine or 10 hours have passed but you’ve accomplished only a few of your priorities. And, most likely,…

Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help

In today’s always-on, information-overloaded world, it can be hard to stay focused throughout the day. How often do you find yourself distracted by inner chatter during meetings? Or how often do you find that emails are pulling you away from more important work? We’ve surveyed and assessed more than 35,000 leaders from thousands of companies…

Why Do So Many Managers Forget They Are Human Beings?

In our assessments, surveys, and interviews of over a thousand leaders, many comments stood out, but one in particular was especially powerful and thought-provoking. “Leadership today,” Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail in Spain, told us, “is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” What Javier means is, the power of leadership lies in…

How To Lead For A Hard Future

It all starts with our minds. Wars aren’t started by weapons, but by minds filled with anger, prejudice, or hatred. In today’s changing world, we need leaders who can face challenges with selflessness and compassion.

The Power of Putting People First

“If we take care of our people, they will take care of our customers, and the customers will come back.” Here are four lessons on people-centered leadership from Marriott International.

Ego Is the Enemy of Good Leadership

Leaders need to be in touch with their people to lead effectively but some of the perks that comes with senior positions can actually be alienating. So how do leaders stay connected?

Power Can Corrupt Leaders. Compassion Can Save Them

Taking on greater responsibilities and pressure can rewire our brains and, through no fault of our own, force us to stop caring about other people as much as we used to. But it does not have to be this way. Such rewiring can be avoided — and it can also be reversed.
All articles loaded
No more articles to load