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Taking the Bull by the Horns: What I’ve Learned from Watching Greta Thunberg

Current world affairs have me questioning a number of things, not least of all how we show up as leaders. Especially when things are dire, how do we persist and persevere? When action is demanded, but we feel like we are not respected or listened to or being taken seriously, how do we make our voices heard? 

In our world right now, we have a young woman who is a powerful model of exemplary leadership. Greta Thunberg is dynamic, well-spoken, knowledgeable, compelling. In short, she’s a dynamo . 

In fairness, she is not the first of her kind. Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, and Emma Gonzalez are but a few of the passionate young women throughout history who come to mind.  I realize that I am neglecting to name a myriad of others, including Autumn Peltier, another fierce young activist striving to draw the world’s attention to what is necessary; the fact is that while Greta is absolutely an inspiration, she has models to look up to and peers who stand alongside her. But I digress a bit. 

Greta is a leader who has taught me more about climate change and the need for humanity to find new ways forward than any other person to date. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying close enough attention; to which I say, shame on me. Greta has opened my eyes and prompted me to look more closely at what I do on a daily basis, the choices I make in my everyday life and how those choices have impact beyond me. Based on what I am learning, I’m committing to making changes, however small, based on the belief that if I do my part, it contributes in some way. And if we all do our part, the collective impact of those small changes can add up. 

Now, Greta suggests that small changes aren’t enough. She is pushing our world leaders to dive deep and move beyond the small changes to ones that will be bigger, require greater commitment and have proportionately greater impact.  

And here’s the kicker: she’s doing this all in the face of intense ridicule, while dealing with mockery and lack of respect from many of the very world leaders to whom she’s directing her comments. She also has a condition that stands her apart from the norm, namely, Asperger’s Syndrome. And, she’s only 16 years old. I tell you, she’s a gutsy young woman. 

As I watch Greta stand on the world stage, there are few lessons I’m gleaning that are applicable and worthy for all of us to note.

  1. Know your stuff. Greta is extremely well-versed on the issues related to climate change and is able to share her knowledge with conviction. She has facts at her fingertips and can pull them as necessary in the face of questions from any and all naysayers.

  2. Anger can be compelling. Greta doesn’t let “being angry” stop her from speaking; instead, she uses her anger to fuel her passion intelligently, and as a result she is extremely compelling.

  3. Let truth be your anchor. In other words, don’t get hooked by the attempts of others to “make you look bad”. There are plenty who are trying to say she’s a pawn for adults with an agenda, that she is a puppet of sorts. Greta is clear that this is not the case, and articulates this truth with clarity while continuing to pull the focus back to her message; she doesn’t get distracted from her mission.

  4. Have a sense of humour. Despite her very serious approach to the matter of climate change, Greta was able to deal with a jibe from President Trump with humour, making his tweet a part of her own twitter bio. Talk about turning the tables. Where he likely intended to demean and diminish her, she changed his statement into one of empowerment for her cause.

  5. Understand your supposed obstacles and find the gifts in them. Greta has Asperger’s Syndrome and there are plenty who are striving to make her out to be “less than capable” as a result. Greta is clear that Asperger’s actually works for her. In fact, she calls it a superpower. She recognizes that Asperger’s gives her unique insight into the world around her, unique capacity to see solutions in a way that others can’t. What others would call a flaw, she boldly claims as a gift.

Bottom-line: Greta Thunberg is an example modern leadership at its best. Yes, she is young. That does not preclude her from having an impact, making a difference or knowing what she’s talking about. As leaders we would do well to emulate her example. If we truly want to make a difference -- whatever that difference is -- we must be prepared to take a stand for truth. Let’s all seek truth, speak truth and live truth, in service of making our world the best it truly can be.