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The only option is to change, so why aren’t leaders stepping up?

The only option is to change

If Sweden’s most famous writer Stieg Larsson had been alive to write the title for the BBC’s recently aired documentary about Sweden’s most famous person it would have been entitled ‘The Girl With No Option’.

That is the overriding sense one has of Greta Thunberg. Yes, she is courageous and yes she is passionate but above all what drives her is an inner compulsion that leaves her with no option but to carry on asking direct, awkward questions many high profile business and government leaders would rather not have to answer.

Compulsion and repetitive patterns of behaviour are conditions of Asperger Syndrome which Greta was diagnosed with in her mid-teens. She explains it as her superpower and a gift that allows her to see things differently. That an autistic 15 year school girl with a fixation on climate change led to school strikes that swept round the world made her an overnight global icon is the stuff of superhero comic books and to me she is a superhero of our times.

When she first appeared it was the simplicity and delivery of her message that touched me. To see her tiny frame standing strong, totally un-phased by the ego and power of world’s leaders destined to be on the global stage is an image of our times that is hard to shake. Her quest is totally heartfelt and full of the kind of meaning only a child bewildered by the way things are can question. Every time I see her she reminds me of The Little Prince and the central concept I think was core to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s message: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

But she doesn’t want you to listen to her, she wants us to listen to the science.

I’m sorry to say that no matter the evidence it will not change anything. If evidence was to change anything we would have changed our behaviours decades ago. Evidence, scientific or otherwise does not change anything. What does is a combination of the kind of heartfelt emotional activism we saw snuff out the European Super League, the courage of leaders to take on the status quo and practical, fit for purpose, tools, innovations and technologies that allow us to leapfrog over the barriers that stand in the way of progress.

The tools, innovations and technologies already exist. The question is where are the leaders? The ones that actually care, recognise the urgency and are bold enough to stand up and say, ‘the time for change is now’.

In my experience it is when the leaders of businesses are motivated not only by the many commercial opportunities that exist in having a greater purpose than making money but a need and desire to do what matters most for people and the planet that we make real progress. Those who have engaged with the concept of a Single Organized Idea have done so because it makes commercial sense for sure, but the deal breaker is always that they know it matters.

When I wrote CORE: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good back in 2017, the world hadn’t heard of Greta Thunburg and public activism wasn’t the force it is today. I went on a world tour with the book, visiting 15 countries, participating in dinner debates and roundtable discussions with business leaders, sustainability experts, and academics, with big, heavyweight companies like Blackrock and Visa. I asked them all the same question:

‘Why is it that we’re not making progress?’ The answer was unanimous.

They said, ‘The evidence isn’t enough, we actually need leaders who are going to stand up and change things and we need tools like SOI to make the change possible’.

Greta said in numerous speeches that people don’t need to listen to her, they should instead look to the science. I respectfully disagree. We’ve known about the science for years and it's not made a scrap of difference. I think Greta is mistaken; it is precisely her voice, her passion and her conviction that has resonated with so many people and made her the force she is today. It is that same conviction that we need to see in business leaders, as ultimately, they are the ones with the power and influence to initiate the corporate change that is so desperately needed.

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