They say you can’t unlearn something, even if you want to.
Quite simply, our brains are physically incapable of unlearning. And that’s why, once you’ve learned how quickly we need to end our energy intensive existence, there’s no turning back.
This is the challenge put before you during the Centre for Sustainability Leadership’s seven-month fellowship program.
Seven months of learning how you can influence, lead and help move our society, species and planet into a future that doesn’t rob future generations of resources or leave the environment worse than how we found it. And now that I’ve undergone the fellowship and graduated as a ‘leader of sustainability’, I’m finding the title somewhat discomforting. I now know that I’m supposed to be leading others on the path of sustainability; that the program’s talented facilitators have seen the ingredients in all of us that add to a sustainability recipe for the future. I’ve learned that I bear this urgent responsibility as a member of my community and society. There’s no running away from that.
It’s not that I haven’t created change before though. I’ve been fortunate to pioneer some world-changing work in Bangladesh, and yes, I’ve shown great passion in my life’s pursuits. So perhaps I’ve demonstrated something that resembles leadership. But leadership, especially involving sustainability, is a whole different ball game.
On one hand, it’s the notion of even considering oneself a ‘leader’. It’s the acceptance and execution of tremendous power and influence over others that goes along with the role. It’s the battle to have earned leadership; to deserve the respect that goes along with it. It’s also the integrity that one requires to fill the needs of society’s big shoes, especially in an environment where our current leaders are sometimes revered but more often completely ridiculed from one day to the next. How does anyone deal with the circus and the news cycle that surrounds leadership today? How does anyone maintain a sense of sanity?
On the other hand, it’s also the uptake of incredible responsibility attached to sustainability: nothing less than the wellbeing of our society and the future health of our planet. It’s the stark realization that we, as a species, are headed towards a perfect storm. Worse yet, many of us know that our current world economic model seems founded on the Earth’s supposedly infinite capacity to supply our needs, but that the nine billion souls who will occupy it in the next 30-40 years will stretch this capacity to the utter limit. Those equipped with this knowledge sadly seem to be in the minority. Like the Titanic, the momentum towards disaster seems so strong that no one seems to be able to direct things in away from disaster.
What is an aspiring leader meant to do in the face of all this?
It’s far easier to hide. To turn away from the heavy press of responsibility that surrounds leadership, especially towards a destination deemed ‘nonsensical’ by those manning the rudders of our economic engines. It seems easier to feign ignorance, profess helplessness or just simply disengage, as much of our society has done.
This is where the Centre for Sustainability Leadership’s fellowship program has stepped in.
For the last year, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded and mentored by individuals who, at their core, value a healthier, more holistic society like I do. Passionate people like myself who know that without vigorous and thoughtful leadership, this situation isn’t going to turn around.
I’ve learned that leadership truly begins from within, and that it’s often our own self-imposed fears and limitations that prevent us from letting ourselves first envision, and then become responsible for, creating the world’s future.
I’ve also learned that our definition of leadership is far too narrow. We often look to our leaders to be superhuman, to possess dozens of leadership qualities and to express each of them simultaneously. To expect so much from one person is simply unrealistic. Leadership is teamwork and collaboration. It’s impossible to cover all of the aspects of leadership here.
Above all, my experience with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership has seen the creation of my vision of leadership: my ideal leader possesses the skill of empowering those around them to action. S/he has the seemingly magical ability to instill, change or influence the values of the people around them towards an outcome that is better for everyone, the planet included, even when there’s a disagreement. And, as one of our facilitators quipped, s/he’s ‘got to have fantastic hair too.’
Right now, I sense a great drive to bring together dozens of different fields under the same tent; a space where we are united behind a vision for a shared future. Where we see ourselves not just as mere consumers whose identity is derived by what we purchase but where we are in fact, active co-creators of our future.
The Centre for Sustainability Leadership helped instill me with a connection to this vision, and an awareness that within each of us lays that capacity.
I now believe it’s our duty as leaders to inspire leadership within others. If we’re going to create that future of a co-created world then we need to discover and live to our full potential as leaders.
I credit the Centre for Sustainability Leadership with sharpening my gifts and giving my vision clarity. As I begin to change the course of my life because of this knowledge, I am utterly excited by what’s to come.
Thank you, especially to Kate Harris and Sandi Middleton, for helping inspiring this vision within us.'Reflection of a CSLian' is written by Mikey Leung, Producer, Author and Co-founder of Digital Storytellers. It was originally posted on 9th March 2013, to view the original article click here.