By Nick Wright
Rarely have new leadership and values been needed more urgently.
The COVID-19 pandemic follows hot on the heels of the migration crisis, plastic in-the-oceans disaster and climate change emergency. It feels like wave after wave of severe challenges, crashing into the eroding cliffs of a world created by 100+ years of blatantly, disastrously, unsustainable attitudes, thinking and behaviour. The last century has seen some major gains in human rights and social welfare, driven by inspiring individuals and movements – and yet the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost at an ever-increasing, alarming rate. Together, their shocking impact is rocking the world in ways that we had only previously imagined or feared. The blind, deluded or wilfully corrupt can no longer hide from this hard-hitting reality.
What we are seeing here is a crisis of leadership, the brutal consequences of a relentlessly short-sighted, narrow-minded, global culture of self-interest. How did we ever imagine that we could keep taking, exploiting, stealing, corrupting without ever reaping what we so thoughtlessly sowed? And so the response to this crisis can’t simply be tactical – about tweaking or rearranging structures and markets to do what we were so deftly doing before, whilst hoping to escape better next time. It’s a spiritual-existential crisis of vision, ethics and values that sinks deep, right to the very core, and cannot be resolved at surface.
If COVID-19 has given us one gift, it has been to experience a very small taste of the paralysing fear and vulnerability felt by billions across the world, trapped in abject poverty, every year. The nature of the pandemic, along with wider environmental catastrophes alongside it, reveals starkly the inter-connectedness and inequalities between people and systems globally. We need new leaders that pray, role model and call out the very best in people, organisations, communities and beyond. It’s a jolting wake-up call, if we will allow it to wake us. Less of cold competencies, more of character.
We have seen and felt glimpses of light and hope in the faces and voices of a radical new generation of young women: Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg are visible examples. I’ve encountered it personally in the face and voice of Jasmin, a vivacious activist among the poor in the Philippines who vividly imagines a different world and refuses to stay silent. Yet such individuals, no matter how inspiring, can only hold up the bright torch of possibility alone for so long. Across the world, we urgently need visionary leadership marked by courage, humility, integrity and love; leadership that mobilises and motivates the collective power and agency of individuals ready to answer the wake-up call.
The time is now and the window of opportunity is closing fast.
Nick Wright is a psychological leadership coach, trainer and organisation development (OD) consultant who is based in UK and works internationally. If you would like to read more about Jasmin, mentioned in this blog, read Nick’s article “A Radical Heart”.
Nick is one of a pool of consultants working with INTRAC who can provide mentoring and coaching for civil society leaders, and who can act as a critical friend to organisational reflections on strategy and vision. Find out more about how we can support you:
- Our COVID-19 project page acts as a hub for our adaptation and support offer at this time
- INTRAC Principal Consultant Rod MacLeod discusses leadership and the pandemic in his recent blog “How timely organisational support could help civil society in the South survive COVID-19”
- Read about our work to support CSOs with Organisational & Capacity Development
- Read the blog “It’s (almost) all about leadership” (2014) and the paper “Leadership transition: overcoming the thread of founder’s syndrome” (2019) by INTRAC Principal Consultant Rick James