I’ve been nominated and then shortlisted for an “inspiring leader” award in Climate Week. This led to discussion at Transition Network about involvement in Climate Week and agreement that it might be useful for me to explain some of my thinking about it. There’s been a lot of controversy about Climate Week, mainly because of companies like the Royal Bank of Scotland being a supporting partner. After all, RBS could do more about climate change if they stopped funding the exploitation of the tar sands.
And of course it isn’t just about the tar sands – companies like Tesco and RBS represent a particular, globalised way of doing business which undermines communities’ attempts to re-localise. On top of that having an award for being an “inspiring leader” raises different kinds of questions. As George Monbiot said recently in a commentary on an Observer “eco-power” list, awards can be “invidious. They extract a few characters from a vast collective effort: generally those who are skilled at taking credit for other people’s work.”
What sort of values do awards that pick out individuals foster? I’ve been using Common Cause (for a summary see this piece by George Monbiot) to help me think more strategically about what I do. In it Tom Crompton looks at the difference between extrinsic values, which relate to how we are perceived by others, and intrinsic ones, which aren’t focused on self-interest. I see a danger that participating in an inspiring leader award will tend to foster extrinsic instead of intrinsic values.
So why have I decided to stay in? Partially because I don’t see what we gain by labeling others as being solely responsible for what we all face, when engaging in modern life means that we end up participating in the systems which of course include banks and supermarkets. Also I’d like to get the chance to continue the discussion about climate change and the tar sands, and in particular to raise with RBS how their actions are viewed by people active on climate change in communities around the world. Similarly, I’d like to raise with Tesco not only how sustainable and resilient their business model is in the long term for Tesco, but also what its wider impact is.
There’s another, linked, discussion that’s important to me about what leadership could mean. Over and over again, when people discuss how to respond to the challenges we’re facing, a lack of leadership comes up. My thinking about this was helped by a distinction made by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze in a recent article between “leader-as-hero” and “leader-as-host”. They argue that we shouldn’t be looking for leaders who are visionary, inspiring, brilliant and trustworthy to follow and that the idea of such heroic leadership rests on the illusion that someone, somewhere, can be in control. In contrast, they suggest that hosting leaders create change by relying on everyone’s creativity, commitment and generosity – and if I win this award, I’ll talk about that, as for me it is core to what underpins Transition.
For me, responding meaningfully to what we face comes through community based action, and the crucial, critical role that communities have to play needs far greater recognition. If I win the award, I’ll talk about that, and how my life has been transformed by working at/with an amazing range of organizations including Sustrans, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, Transition Network, Transition Bristol and the Communities and Climate Action Alliance [a network of networks, including amongst others the Low Carbon Communities Network, the Green Communities Network and Climate Challenge Fund communities in Scotland as well as Transition Network].
The organisations and communities that give me so much, and that I’m so proud to work with, aren’t striving to make small changes while keeping the basic structure of society the same. They’re setting out to transform society on the basis of local communities working to create a more sustainable and resilient lifestyle for themselves. I’ll be delighted if that is recognised.