Leadership for the environment

Leadership for the environment

Be curious and humble

Be courageous and confident

Kat Cole, the 30 something president of a $1 billion brand believes that great leadership requires just these four key qualities.

Makes good sense.

Curiosity is essential for anyone leading the way along new paths into unknown territory. It implies a willingness to learn and anything genuinely new always supplies a steep learning curve.

Humility is self-restraint, self-understanding, awareness, and a good sense of perspective meaning that it is not about me. This is a true leadership quality.

Courage seems obvious. Someone must be the first to step out into the unknown to take on the curve.

Confidence is contagious. It energises those who have it and everyone they meet. It is a powerful attractive force that gathers and holds people together to deliver more than the sum of the parts.

There are few leaders who do not have these qualities. Absence or even a shortage in any one of them and a would-be leader couldn’t move forward and bring others along.

What do these qualities mean when it comes to environmental leadership?

Anyone with a smidgen of interest in the natural world usually has some curiosity. Variety, the unusual, and the strange are present in everything from trees to termites, and not even Sir David has seen it all.

Stand close enough to a wild elephant to hear her stomach rumble and humility will cascade over you to wash away your awe. Put a spoonful of soil under a microscope and the life teeming across your vision should make all your first world problems melt away. Once seen for what it truly is, nature can humble the mightiest ego.

They don’t call them environmental warriors for nothing. There is a fight on that demands courage enough to stand against convention and take on the reality that modern living exploits nature. It is hard for even the simplest sustainable action to be easier or cheaper than business as usual.

So far, so good as we can expect that most environmentalists are curious, humble and courageous.

Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance usually arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities — the expression of self-belief.

Now here I would argue that environmental leaders have a problem. Many are strong, articulate and outgoing individuals for sure. And they are often passionate, sometimes fearless, advocates.

But these traits are not confidence.

Confidence can be very hard for environmentalists because at some level they all participate in the actions that exploit resources. They drive cars, fly in aeroplanes, consume the products of commercial agriculture and feed their dogs. They live a life that they know contributes to most environmental problems.

Only true narcissists can overcome such incongruity to be truly confident. Normal folk cannot overcome the flaw and appear fake or overly aggressive.

Confidence

Blinded by the disbelief of another prime minister sworn in on the back of 54 party room votes I almost missed the real political change last week. After 5 attempts in as many years Australia has an optimist in charge.

Once the claimer of moral heights Kevin Rudd capitulated over climate policy and we realised that he could get things done for Kevin but not for everyone else, Australians have been led by negativity. Julia Gillard tried her best to be positive but the bloodied knife she carried was just too heavy for progress to prevail. Then she was knifed too.

Mr Abbott who squeaked past Mr Turnbull in 2009 by one vote to become party leader is supposed to be a nice guy. He works for charity on his time off and is loyal to a fault but every phrase he uttered in the top job came from a place of fear.

Stop can be a positive word but from Tony Abbot it was never really clear why things had to stop. They just had to. Anything that should be positive —more jobs, more growth, less deficit — came across as a justification. As if proof were always needed that the government was doing well, when they were just scared.

Then yesterday for the first time in many a year a prime minister of Australia stood up at parliamentary question time and said that the country has a great opportunity and that times are exciting for the nation. Mr Turnbull was positive. He almost led a rendition of ‘yes we can’ and it felt like he wanted to.

This is momentous.

If he can keep it going, and admittedly that is a big if, we could see some confidence return. We might actually join the many other countries with far worse economic outlooks and social challenges than Australia who are finding solutions because of a belief in the best of their people.

As a social centrist myself I would rather this breath of fresh air to have come from the left side of politics. Mr Turnbull may look trendy but he is still a brown. But the labour party are mired in their own brand of negativity that cannot hide the fact that they spend too much time playing with knives.

So instead I will take Mr Turnbull at his word for confidence has great power to do good. And we really need that.

Numbers that tell a story

  • $70 billion agricultural investment as bank loans to farmers
  • $40 billion on warships to be built in Adelaide
  • $2 million average farm debt in Australia
  • $1 a kilo for onions

Numbers in words…

While Australians have the 15th highest per capita GDP in the world [on IMF estimates] and the 5th highest average income among OECD countries, consumers pay next to nothing for their food [around 10% of disposable income].

Ageing farmers work an average 49 hours per week and are in debt up to their eyeballs.

The bankers insure this lending against the land value and know that global demand will keep the price of prime agricultural land high enough for their shirts to be safe.

Rather than provide food security to the region the Australian government invests in warships that the Chinese navy would overrun in the time it takes to order special fried rice.

Monkeys like peanuts

Full disclosure throws up some very interesting comparisons.

For example we know that in Australia the prime minister is awarded an annual salary of $507,338

Not a bad earn. There will be allowances and the like and not too many groceries to buy thanks to endless corporate dinners and executive lunches. Certainly beats the socks off the salary of the average Australian that is $72,800 currently the 5th highest in the world.

Immediate reaction #1 — You have to be kidding, that’s far too much to pay a politician

 

Now we take a gander at the salaries of company CEOs. This is possible thanks to the requirement of boards to state executive remuneration in the company annual report. And there are websites that collate these numbers into accessible lists.

Turns out that the average [as in mean] salary of a top 50 business CEOs is $7,485,000 per annum. Just 15 times more than the PM.

In 2014 the pauper on the CEOs list, languishing down in 300th place on the earnings ladder, made $869,000

Immediate reaction #2 — You have to be kidding, that’s far too much to pay anyone

 

In what universe are the top ranking CEOs making decisions an order of magnitude more important that those of the prime minister. He was elected to look after our interests?

Turns out if you add up the salaries of PM and his cabinet ministers it comes to roughly $8.7 million — 13 CEOs earned more than this on their own.

It doesn’t make any sense. But if you, reluctantly I hope, accept that this is the world we live in where an individual is considered important enough to earn seven figures to run a company, then you get…

Immediate reaction #3 — You have to be kidding, pay peanuts get monkeys

 

What to do with grumpies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are of a certain age you will be familiar with a lessening of capacities. The muscles ache a little more than they should, the hair is grey or gone and the boobs are sagging. And no, this is not sexist — just have a surreptitious gander at a few middle-aged men next time you’re about town.

For grumpies this is the time of life for reflection, a pondering of why time steals faculties. And for some it is a time of crisis.

Needless to say I plumped for crisis. What else would you expect from a wannabe writer and career risk taker? It is inevitable that once the energy of youth is spent there is little left to fuel the courage needed to absorb uncertainty. Almost overnight we want life to be simple, predictable and safe.

The time for dream chasing is replaced with rounds of golf and coffee after yoga class. But even this is not enough because the ego suddenly realises that it might not be needed if all you are going to do is relax and sip lattes. It rails at its impending redundancy and makes you feel like a failure.

Before you know it, sagging pecs are the least of your worries.

At this time in the world’s history the towns and cities of western economies are replete with people of this certain age. A quirk of demography, nutrition and the wonders of modern medicine have made it so. There are lots of folk pondering and trying to come to terms with their depleted courage.

Some of them are still in boardrooms and in parliament where they stumble onto decisions that reflect their mood and what got them there — the status quo. The time for radical risk and innovation is long passed for there is no courage left for such things. Instead the obvious is to conserve what we have by doing more of the same. After all, it worked didn’t it. At least that is what President Obama just told the State of the Union.

When you add up more of the same what you get is growth. More of everything got us here, so yet more of everything will see us through any crisis, personal or otherwise.

Does this mean we are addicted to growth? No, probably not. It means we are mentally lazy and lack courage. And these are two of the inevitable properties of a certain age. And being of that certain age myself, it freaks me out.

The obvious solution is to replace all the grumpies with newer models — energetic, courageous types with an idea or two and a spring in their step. Only this takes time for the system first makes youngsters jump through enough hoops to use up all their sprightliness. And if we fast tracked them they’d lack all the life experience that is an undeniable benefit of being a certain age.

No, the solution is this. Reenergise at least some of the grumpies with a dose of certainty. Give them permission to spend a decade at the end of their careers revisiting the ideas of their youth. Allow them to discuss way out notions and suggest possibilities without fear of persecution at the polls or on Facebook. Let them feel free to give it a go.

Who knows what will happen. It cannot be any worse that the leadership vacuum we are in.

Doors closing please stand clear

passenger trainIn life there are opportunities everywhere. It is possible to start a revolution, a company or a friendship almost anywhere at any time. All you need is enough energy and commitment.

It is a marvel of the human condition that the societies we create mostly facilitate this desire for opportunity that is in all of us. We even pen a plethora of self-help literature on the back of this universal potential. Books on positivity that show us the glass as half full to overflowing only sell because they catalyse our innate desire for opportunity.

Fair enough you say.

Such a hippy-dippy worldview may be upbeat but it is only part of the truth. There is the downside too.

The cheats, naysayers and greed infested abound to ruin many an opportunity with their negativity. The world is nothing if not two-sided. It always has enough ying and yang for everyone, even those with a library full of Tolle tomes.

I agree. Opportunity does exist for us all but so too does misfortune. Both are a heartbeat away.

Here is the thought. I suspect that those who cheer their way through life easily coping with misfortune and insatiably seeking opportunity know one crucial thing…

Doors closing please stand clear

In other words everything is transient. The opportunity will not be there forever any more than the misfortune. The doors will close on both so that new doors can be opened.

The human condition is honed to this flux.

We intuitively know that when an opportunity comes along it will only be there for a short time. Our chance at it is likely to be brief. We either act to grab the chance or we watch it pass by and say ‘better luck next time’.

In day-to-day life the loss of an opportunity is rarely life changing. There will be stories of the record producer who passed up the Beatles or a soccer manager who said no to signing Lionel Messi, but these are rare anecdotes. The frequency of opportunity in everyday life means that misses do not matter that much.

Not so with nations. They move more slowly and are less nimble in both recognising and taking opportunities. Leaders of nations must be much more alert to see opportunity on the horizon and position themselves and their constituents to be ready.

Australia for example has done very nicely out of wool and then minerals, especially iron ore and coal. It took these soft and hard commodity opportunities with both hands and has become wealthy as a result. Only to keep the wealth coming it needs to ready to grab the next opportunity. Current leadership seems to be doing the opposite and holding on tight to the past.

It’s a poor choice.

Sayre’s law now applies to politics

Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905–1972) was a U.S. political scientist and professor at Columbia University who came up with the following law of human nature: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”

Smart fellow to notice the universality that when it doesn’t matter, we get really intense.

The law would clearly apply to ‘does my bum look big in this’ or ‘that really isn’t your colour’ or equally ‘Rooney will never be a number 10’.

Much of this is because we are more attuned to drama than the truth. The soap opera formula is the definitive expression swaying as it does from one drama to the next failing elegantly to resolve any issue. Most reality TV offers up the same basic plan.

Sayre found the proof of his law in observation of academics. He is quoted as saying “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” And having had a previous life in the hallowed halls of academia I have to agree. Create job security and it takes everyone off their toes only to channel energies at each other. It’s weird indeed. When I left the ivory towers it was because I am cursed with a copy of the entrepreneur gene, but the bickering was easy to leave behind and observed from a safe distance.

What concerns me is that Sayre’s law appears to be leaking into big P politics. There is fierce agreement over the big values such as perceived threats to security even if they are a loose excuse to justify war. Much head nodding and stoic repose on the cross-benches whenever the PM speaks of response to atrocity.

Move to question time and suddenly there is mayhem over a medicare co-payment. The shadow health minister turns red and is about to explode forcing the speaker to announce that the end of the world is near. It makes crazy posts like Fun with flags seem normal.

This should be a big worry. Am I wrong to expect parliamentarians to get fired up about the big stuff? No, I want them to debate the crucial decisions even if they end up in agreement — and it can’t get more serious than war and what to do about terrorism.

Yet we are deafened by silence. Instead the debate spills into the streets causing pain to many an innocent. This is very poor leadership.

I am left with the absence of Australian PM at the UN climate summit in New York, only for him to take the proverbial by pitching up in the big apple the very next day to address a somewhat disinterested general assembly.

Agreement mutes debate and so does avoiding the issue. It’s not good at all.