Who can lead the world right now?
We desperately need visionary leaders in government right now. But how do we find them? And what are the qualities leaders need in 2020?
The world is in a mess. I’m not talking about the coronavirus situation, but the longstanding and deeply damaging problems of conflict, disease and inequality – to name just three things.
None of these things is new, and one of the key qualities leaders need in 2020 is a strong vision for something better than what we’re currently seeing.
Countries continue fighting wars that kill millions. The USA and other powers have been at war with someone somewhere in the world almost continuously since the Second World War. Powerful nations pick fights with others to secure what they want.
As Jake Sully says in the 2009 film ‘Avatar’, “This is how it’s done. When people are sittin’ on shit that you want, you make ’em your enemy. Then you’re justified in taking it.”
Millions die from heart disease and stroke every year worldwide. Hundreds of thousands die from malaria every year, and a 2019 study published in The Lancet shows that 20% of all deaths globally are associated with poor diet and/or malnutrition – and poor diet contributes to a huge amount of chronic disease.
Mental health problems affect people in every part of the world. We’ve lost touch with our natural selves and our place in this planet’s beautiful ecosystem. The more we destroy our environment, the more we continue to destroy ourselves.
Racism and discrimination based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, mobility, nationality, cultural heritage, financial status – and more – cause misery for billions.
We need new kinds of leaders
We seem to be tinkering around the edges of our problems, keeping power structures in place, instead of breaking down the ideologies, rhetoric and propaganda that keep inequality thriving.
It’s a tall order for leaders to resolve all these problems, but as Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If we keep the same systems and structures that have caused all these problems, and if this way of thinking remains at the core of our governments, our institutions and the way we do business, how can we expect anything to change?
We need a different kind of world – and to create it we need leaders with the courage to take a new approach. I believe there are some specific qualities leaders need in 2020.
There are many wonderful candidates for leadership in the world – for example, individuals making a positive difference through their own efforts in various ways. The sad thing is that very often people can make more of a difference outside politics than within it. This surely indicates just how much things need to change.
At the end of her life my mother was in full time nursing care in the UK. It’s a care system that has been crumbling for years and needs an urgent overhaul. I remember the things that successive governments did – to show they were doing something about it. However, none of it made any difference whatsoever to my mother as an individual.
If the actions of government leaders don’t actually make a positive difference to individual people at an individual level, what’s the point?
I have never worked in government myself (and maybe that’s a good thing), so I’m sharing these 8 qualities leaders need in 2020 from my own personal perspective. I hope they’ll resonate with you in some way.
8 qualities leaders need in 2020
1. The courage to fail
We need leaders who are willing to fail, who are willing to make – and admit – mistakes. We need leaders who operate from a place of humility, and who understand that leadership is often akin to gardening – who can nurture the efforts of others towards a common goal.
We need leaders who recognise that, although they make decisions that affect many people, they do not control everything. Leaders who are open and honest in their communication, and transparent about what’s happening – even if it’s not good – will attract those willing to stand by them and help.
We need leaders who can connect with people authentically, communicate a vision clearly and who are upfront about the hurdles along the way.
2. Ability to dismantle hierarchies that fix advantage at the top
Class systems, caste systems, racial/religious/gender profiling, patriarchy, power games and much more – these are the kinds of hierarchies that keep many people disadvantaged and ensure others hold on to positions of privilege.
These divisive systems also enable those with the advantage to hide the consequences behind closed doors – and force so many people have to ‘fight the system’ to gain justice for inequality, prejudice and discrimination.
However, these structures are ultimately fragile, which is no doubt why so much is invested in protecting them – so they can continue to benefit only certain groups of people.
Forcing individuals to fight an unfair system costs money on all sides. The tax money a government spends maintaining an injustice and mustering troops to fight back against individuals can be huge.
We need leaders who are willing to dismantle unjust practices, so that more people benefit from the service the ‘system’ is supposed to provide.
3. Emotional intelligence
Two of the key components of emotional intelligence are self-awareness and self-regulation. To me, it seems vital that leaders use these attributes to guide their thinking and decision making.
I’m sure I’m not alone in being able to list a good number of governments right now where these qualities seem sadly lacking! It seems astonishing that people can stand for office – and get elected – without having essential skills in this respect. The kinds of hierarchies mentioned in point 2 above seem to ensure the least qualified often often get into office.
We need leaders with courage to work for long term gain instead of short-term ego-led popularity. We need leaders who are compassionate and can empathise with the people they are leading.
4. Experience outside politics
Can a politician be a good leader in government without having much experience outside politics? If a politician’s primary personal focus is to climb the ladder of ‘career politics’, does this limit the insight and vision they bring to their role?
I’ve often thought that we would all be so much better off having leaders with diverse experience of life – people who’ve been through thick and thin and who can directly relate to the people they are leading. Instead, the world seems to have many politicians whose sole reason for being is to promote entrenched ideologies, some of which continue to fuel hatred and division and distract people from the things that matter most.
I realise this doesn’t always hold true; there are world leaders who come from business (and other fields) who do a terrible job in government.
We need leaders who recognise that government is not separate from people – and that the issues that affect each of our daily lives at an individual level are the key issues government needs to tackle.
5. Wisdom to understand our ecosystem
Much government policy across the world seems to be hugely destructive, and the link between the survival of humans and preserving our environment is often nowhere to be seen.
Governments who fail to recognise this interconnection and who are focused on achieving short-term gain for the few instead of the long term wellbeing of all are not leaders at all.
We need leaders who realise that the human ecosystem and the natural world are one and the same thing. Everything depends on everything else – and leaders need to lead by example, encouraging and empowering all of us to be involved in creating a better future.
6. Willingness to scrutinise corporate influence
The influence that giant corporates can have over government policy is nothing new – but the cost to the public is often huge. When strong influence comes from Big Business, the line between integrity and duplicity can become very blurred and obvious conflicts of interest can emerge.
On the flip side, the private sector has some stunning examples of creative enterprise and improving the lives of millions, and my own view is that business can play a valuable role in creating a better world. Business leaders can be a force for good.
We need leaders in government who are willing to act from an ethical standpoint, to have a more intense scrutiny of corporate influence, and who are willing to stand up for what is genuinely good for everyone, not just a few.
We need leaders who will also empower individuals to make their voices heard, so that they too can influence positive change.
7. Ability to cooperate and collaborate
None of us achieves success alone, and we all gain when we support each other and share ideas.
We need leaders whose thinking has not been trained only in the ways of government, but who can look beyond that and bring in ideas and experience from elsewhere.
No one person, party or government has all the answers, and leaders of the future need to be willing to lay down their ‘Party’ hats and connect and work together with others across various divides.
We need leaders who are prepared to challenge inflexible rules and structures, who will listen, ask for input – and be curious about new possibilities that don’t necessarily ‘match’ a traditional model or ideal.
8. Ability to value communities
When David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK in 2010 he said in one of his initial interviews that he would now be “running the country”. I remember thinking how strange that statement was – because it’s actually people who make a country function. A country is made up of individuals who live and work in communities of one kind or another (some good, some not so good) – and individuals can often create positive change despite what a government is doing.
We’ve seen during the coronavirus lockdown time how people in many places have pulled together and how communities have got stronger. We’ve seen how people have looked out for one another’s welfare.
We’ve also seen more people growing food, more people supporting local shops, people getting to know their neighbours, and more community cohesion. We’ve seen more self-sufficiency.
Of course, this has not happened across the board. Many people have been very isolated, many have faced great hardship and many have been at their wit’s end – and still are.
But imagine a world where leaders put the core focus on communities – creating thriving local economies and supporting all individuals in their most basic needs. We need leaders who understand that kind of magic and where it can lead.
This is all very easy for me to say, of course. It’s much harder to do – especially in places where government has an iron grip and people feel disenfranchised. But let’s support and encourage leaders we see who do have vision and courage – and not just in politics but in all walks of life.
I believe that leadership actually starts with each one of us – in the same way that change starts with each of us. We each have a responsibility to do what we can to bring about the kind of world we desperately need. And in the process we can uplift and encourage those who are willing to step into positions of national and global leadership.
Maybe it’s you?