Blog: What we need in a leader

Australia has just learned a powerful lesson about leadership. Four years ago we thought a leader was someone who could make strong decisions, manage money and keep people safe. But is that what we need in a leader now?

We’ve been through a lot since then. For those outside of Australia, add to the pandemic the worst bushfires we’ve witnessed, loss of over a billion animals and what feels like almost continual natural hazards: floods, droughts and earthquakes.

As a country heaving with people who have moved away from their homelands, we have also had heavy hearts at missing our loved ones from afar.

During all this, our leader was absent, unsure of what to say, seemingly uncaring. This may not be the case because no-one can see inside another; but from the outside, it felt much like living with a bachelor father who never really wanted us. Our mother living just too far away over in New Zealand and we were resentful at the court’s custody decision.

We watched as Jacinda Ardern showed up for her people time and time again and Scott Morrison went away on holidays at inappropriate times, or showed up at the wrong events.

But I’m not here to talk politics actually. I’m here to talk about what it is to be human, and what it is to a be a leader.

The truth is, we look to our leaders as if they are our parents. I recently read a quote from a young person who described politicians as the ‘adults of the adults’. It’s a pretty great way to see it. If we were to apply this idea to leadership more broadly it gives us a new perspective on what we really want from our leaders.

Yes, we want them to run the household budget. Yes, we want them to keep us safe and healthy. But there’s something more we want (and need) from our leaders. It’s deeper than physical and materials needs. We need our leaders to see us in all our humanness. To feel empathy towards our struggles and to provide us with courage and hope that better days will come.

In global politics, these kinds of leaders are few and far between. But if you look to our most loved leaders, these are exactly the qualities they have. Even Yoda walked into the darkness with Luke to witness his struggle. Any good leader (or teacher) would.

We talk about emotional intelligence as if there’s a formula to it. As if it’s another buzz word. We are learning more every day about mindfulness and consciousness and empathy. But as a teacher or a leader – are YOU thinking about what it means to really be there for the big and small humans who look to you when they have no-where else to look?

It is true that we will not always live in the midst of crisis in the way we have over the past few years. Maybe we will – how we handle the changing climate will determine much of that. Crisis will always come, however; and what we need – and have always needed – is people who are willing to step up to the plate, look you in the eye, grab the fire-hose, hold you, give you inspiration when you feel like all hope is lost. We need leaders who lead from their hearts and are willing to witness the pain in other people’s hearts.

This is how healing happens. This is why I have hope. Because we now have a handful of world leaders in important places who have the strength of each other and their people. These are the adults of adults who will hold our hand while we cross the dangerous road and lead us to a place where we won’t have to be so afraid anymore.

Now I ask you – what type of leader are you going to be? What type of teacher? What type of human being? Will you be the absent parent, or are you going to show up?

Want to think more about leadership? Check out our Teacher Healer podcast episode featuring Kylie Lewis where she speaks about how important vulnerability is for leaders, especially in learning environments.

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