Responsible Leadership Starts with Me
This year, the SDG Global Festival of Action was especially inspiring. The opening ceremony was lit up by thought-provoking ideas on leadership and the pivotal role it plays in the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign, Marina Ponti, challenged us to have a re-think about our approach in tackling the challenges we face in achieving the SDGs. Eddie Ndopu, the Special Advisor for Impact and Corporate Sustainability - RTW Investments, implored us to stand up and fight for what is right. He explained during his speech that we all have the capability to lead - we just need to be defiant and take the lead.
As I sat down soaking in all the words and images, I began to reflect on my definition of leadership. In my opinion, it is clear that anyone can be a leader. Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean having a “big” title or looking “important”. Rather, it means having a profound understanding of self. In other words: raising self-awareness. As a member of the BMW Responsible Leaders Network, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend a workshop organised by BMW Foundation which further reaffirmed my position. The session was introduced by Cristina Umani from the Foundation and moderated by Pablo Handl, a fellow BMW Responsible Leader. The session was titled: What the World Needs Now: Responsible Leadership. Far from a conventional seminar, this co-creative workshop helped us to reconnect with our leadership experiences in the past.
In the session, we were invited to reflect on our individual leadership journeys and to pinpoint a situation that challenged us and what we learned from the experience. The guiding question that was discussed within a dyadic structure was: “What was the key moment on your leadership journey in which you felt truly challenged and you had to make a difficult decision?” This co-creative experience allowed participants to connect and exchange with one another and for me, it gave me a chance to share a challenging experience I had encountered previously, and I equally got to learn about the challenging experience of my dyad partner. By the end of the session, we were asked to share what we had learned from the exercise with the larger group. It was a truly powerful moment as people shared what being a leader meant to them and how the exercise helped them to recognise how their leadership challenges and decisions shaped their lives. Some impressions from the feedback session highlighted the need to step outside the proverbial “comfort zone”, to dream big, to let go of our biases, to defy the status quo.
I believe being a responsible leader means having a profound knowledge of self and using that understanding as an anchor to take on initiatives that can positively impact the lives of people near and far. If everyone felt and acted like a leader and worked and synergised with other leaders, how much easier would it be to solve the world’s leading challenges?
So, what stops us? Fear, hiding at the first sign of failure, not feeling supported, low self-esteem - among other personal “roadblocks”? We all go through these experiences and, for the most part, these challenges can arrest “potential” leadership opportunities in their tracks. But that needn’t be the case. Responsible leadership starts with me. It starts with understanding who I am, recognising what I can do, believing that I have what it takes and mustering the courage to try even if I fail.
At the end of her opening address, the Global Director of the UN SDG Action Campaign ended with a quote from Muhammad Ali and I find it relevant to repeat it here:
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
If impossible is nothing, then we have nothing to lose. We must keep working hard to address life’s challenges and, to tackle these challenges, we will need people who are willing to step into the role of a responsible leader. It will require self-knowledge, defiance, courage and a belief that the impossible is simply temporary. This role is available to everyone: just ask the incredible winners of the 2019 SDG Action Awards and our very own GDL member and BMW Responsible Leader Elsa Marie D’Silva, and countless others who continue to defy the odds by contributing in their special way for the common good.
Ms Amarachi Adannaya Igboegwu is an Equity and Empathy Consultant with vast international training and coaching experience. Her primary goal is to empower both private and public institutions with a view to enhancing and building their human capacity by improving communication lines and promoting belongingness.
Her doctoral research study connects critical self-reflection and self-knowledge to the conscious teaching of elements that are necessary for dealing with structural racism. She has pioneered pre-service teacher training courses on the topic of conscious teaching, led workshops and given talks on the importance of critical self-reflection and the impact of implicit bias in daily life.
Elsa Marie D’Silva is the founder and CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity), a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since Safecity started in December 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal.
Elsa Marie is an alumna of the US State Department’s Fortune Program, a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices and Vital Voices, and a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader. She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women. Moreover, she has won the Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award launched by Dušan Stojanović (European Angel Investor of the Year 2013) and the SheThePeople’s Digital Woman Award in Social Impact.
Prior to Safecity, she spent 20 years in the aviation industry, where she worked with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. In her last role in aviation, she was Vice President Network Planning.