Real Leaders

2014: Time to Pony Up

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

2014 is the Year of the Horse according to the Chinese Zodiac – a year characterized by people making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. Unremitting improvement. I like it; it sounds new, fresh, fierce. I love a good challenge. But, I have one problem. I despise New Year’s Resolutions. I appreciate the hope and optimism surrounding our resolutions. I love the creative process of concocting goals for the next year.

Here’s my gripe: New Year’s resolutions too often take the place of actually taking action. Only 8% of Americans keep their New Year’s resolutions – that’s the same portion of Americans that believe Congressional members are honest, or the same portion of your employees that eat lunch from a vending machine. Making a declaration to drop 10 pounds, limit Facebook use, or source meals from anywhere besides a vending machine can make us feel instantly better.

So much better, in fact, that our ambition is assuaged and the declaration of our dreams takes the place of actually doing anything to achieve them. If our resolutions were corporate initiatives we could allocate a budget, craft a strategic plan, build an entire team. But, New Year’s resolutions typically lack the type of resources we know are necessary for success and, even worse, are accompanied by the false assumption that if unsuccessful, we’re off the hook until next year. Well, you’re not off the hook and neither am I.

We, as a global community, have made notable progress in many areas including increasing access to healthcare, safe drinking water, and education, but tremendous challenges remain. The world’s largest generation of people is now entering reproductive years and they are inheriting a deficit of arable land and water, steadily rising food and fuel prices, shrinking rivers and lakes, increasing temperatures an era of extreme weather, and troubling biodiversity loss. The opportunity to markedly shape the world of 2050 is extraordinary, albeit laced with complexity and controversy. But, when has that stopped you before?

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “A leader takes people to where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t want to go but ought to be.” In 2014, we need more great leaders.

We need visionary leaders – champions who recognize that the status quo is unacceptable, and today’s best practices are just the best version of the status quo. We need people who know that (by definition) sustainability has no finish line and understand that means our knowledge, skills and abilities cannot either.

We need fearless leaders – pioneers that are comfortable exercising their nimble intelligence – acting, listening, and revising in flux – to drive creative leadership and chart a better course forward. We need tenacious leaders – people who realize that success is not attainable if you’re paralyzed by the fear of failure. We will all fail at some point. (From a recovering perfectionist) get over it.

The better world we imagine requires constant, mindful action and improvement. For 2014, let’s stop making resolutions and start taking action. Think big, Big, BIG! Be limitless. Be fearless. And, in the spirit of the Horse, seek unremitting improvement.

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