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Leadership Lessons from Greta Thunberg

Climate change protesters holding a sign that reads "Greta for President!"

Uncertain times require bold, confident and fearless leadership. A future shaper is someone who has a clear vision of what they want to achieve, confronts reality head-on, fearlessly says what is needed to be said, does what is needed to be done – and holds themselves and their people accountable for the results.

Fearlessness is one step beyond courage. Courage is about feeling the fear and going for it anyway. Fearlessness is about having no fear at all. Imagine that? It is truly liberating for leadership decision-making.

Greta Thunberg offers a great example of a contemporary iconic fearless future shaper - someone who has combined purpose and imperative in setting out her vision for a better world and urging action in service of achieving her desired outcome.

If you don’t know who Greta Thunberg is, she is a Swedish schoolgirl who, at age 15, began protesting about the need for immediate action to combat climate change outside the Swedish parliament and has since become an outspoken climate activist:

"The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change."

In her passionate 2018 TED Talk call to action, she explained why, in August 2018, she walked out of school and organized a strike to raise awareness of global warming, protesting outside the Swedish parliament and grabbing the world's attention:

"When I was about eight years old, I first heard about something called climate change or global warming. Apparently, that was something humans had created by our way of living. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources. I remember thinking that it was very strange that humans, who are an animal species among others, could be capable of changing the Earth's climate. Because if we were, and if it was really happening, we wouldn't be talking about anything else. As soon as you'd turn on the TV, everything would be about that. Headlines, radio, newspapers, you would never read or hear about anything else, as if there was a world war going on. But no one ever talked about it. If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn't it made illegal? To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal… “.

Thunberg decided to take a personal stand. With zero power, no corporate title, no brand and no followership (yet), Greta had a vision of a better future for everybody and took her first leadership step.

Whether responding to alleged Twitter bullying by Donald Trump, President of the USA, or challenging world leaders to change their agendas, Greta continues fearlessly on her chosen leadership path. In perhaps her most impressive fearless appearance to date, she confronted world leaders at a UN climate summit in New York September 2019, thundering "How dare you?" in accusation of their failure to take action to stop global warming.

Leading without fear

In our own leadership lives, we can take inspiration from Thunberg. We can be fearless future shapers when we set out our own ambitions and when we have to confront inevitable setbacks and challenges along the way.

The future shaper leader understands the importance of resilience and is willing to push aside their detractors and their fear of the unknown and keep moving forward. The future shaper leader has the guts to say “let’s go this way” and have the fearlessness to bring people with them, and course-correct as new forces impact on strategic decision-making.

The fearless future shaper is ready to take risks and stand behind difficult decisions, which may be as drastic as “if we don’t do this, the business may not survive”.

Even if you have a clear vision of the change you want to see, you may feel like the odds are stacked against you, or you have no platform, or no reputation and no one is paying any attention to you yet.

Take inspiration from Greta Thunberg as your contemporary example of a future shaper leader. Consider her zero power and zero reputation as a schoolchild and look at what she achieved within 12 months. From a lone school girl on a lone strike, Thunberg is an example of how fast you can grow a global platform using only your personal power. Driven by authentic personal purpose, and speaking her truth, the world sat up and paid attention. Still only a schoolgirl, Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel peace prize in 2019 and was invited to present her point of view to world leaders at DAVOS 2020.

When we gaze into the future, there is excitement about possibilities but in truth, most of us are fear-led. Fear makes us self-conscious; afraid of doing the wrong thing, afraid of upsetting people, afraid of making mistakes. All of which prevents us from moving forward in a constructive way. All of which stop us from being great leaders.

We would be better decision-makers if fear was not clouding our judgment. If you doubt yourself, you second guess your next move. Your fear may be sabotaging your great ideas. Fear stops us from achieving our leadership goals.

When you are setting out your vision of the future, be like Greta Thunberg – be fearless about the change you want to see and go for it! Believe in your vision, believe in yourself and have faith that you will overcome all obstacles. Take that first leadership step to shape a better future for yourself and everybody.