Reflections: Good Leadership

Lately I’ve been somewhat peeved about drought management in my beloved home state of California. We’ve been in a drought for four years and you’d think we would have gotten our act together by now. This situation prompted me to ask: what does good leadership look like?

Governor Brown recently asked for reductions in household water use. Given that household water use accounts for 4% of the state’s water use, it’s important to look at the other 96%. A whopping 80% of our water is used by agriculture, and yet farmers aren’t being asked to cut back. One of the top uses of water in agriculture is to grow alfalfa for local and Asian meat and dairy production. Logic (and good, progressive, strategic leadership) would suggest that we Californians examine our diet, and consciously shift away from meat and dairy in favor of less water-intensive plant-based diets in order to free up water for essential needs such as drinking.

Last week I was at Stanford University, as I often am, for a meeting. I noticed the sprinklers coming on and was unpleasantly surprised. A close friend informed me that the water is sourced from a lake, and is not grey water. I found this further surprising, coming from such an innovative institution, clearly perceived as a sustainability leader in Silicon Valley, and my alma mater. Good leadership, in my humble opinion, would entail planting beautiful drought-resistant plants all over campus. Leadership isn’t always conventional manicured prestige; leadership is pioneering a new look that exemplifies pragmatism, simplicity, humility, and adaptation.

A few weeks ago, in the inaugural Biomimicry for Social Innovation Immersion Workshop, my esteemed teacher and colleague Toby Herzlich indicated that good leadership is also stepping back from what we usually do, to take a different perspective. For example, I’m one of those people who speaks up unabashedly in classes and workshops; for me, it is an act of leadership to step back, listen, and allow others, who typically don’t speak up, to step up.

So, good leadership is about being humble, effective, and scientific; it’s about observing, adapting, being mindful and curious; it’s about examining and taking on different perspectives; and it’s about having a beginner’s mind.

With Toby and twenty-five other colleagues, I learned that good leadership, with nature as model, mentor, and measure, also includes integrity, decentralized authority, minimal or no hierarchy, cooperative relationships, simple rules, and tight feedback loops – these are covered in my previous post. Above all, good leadership means creating solutions that uplift and sustain life, the way nature does.

What else constitutes good leadership for you?

Succulents are beautiful drought-resistant plants - why wouldn't you plant them in a drought?

Succulents are beautiful drought-resistant plants – why wouldn’t you plant them in a drought?


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