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What Greta Thunberg Can Teach Us about Purposeful Leadership

September 30, 2019 Amy Shapiro
Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden, shows us that Purposeful Leaders don’t need to be in the C-suite, in the board room, or at the highest levels of government to have a major impact on how we see ourselves—and our world.

Greta Thunberg is the talk of the world.

Last week, teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg made a brave, impassioned speech about climate change at the UN Climate Summit.

She has captured our attention and our hearts. Regardless of her age, gender, and life experiences, she has united a diverse coalition of people around a central idea: the time to act is now.

Do you know how she achieved this? It’s her sense of purpose.

Greta, at just 16 years old, is showing the world what it means to lead with purpose.

The most effective leaders take on every challenge with a unique sense of purpose. Linkage’s research, which spans our work with more than 1 million leaders over the past three decades, has identified a framework for how the most effective leaders lead.

This framework doesn’t have to do with competencies, or behaviors or motivational speeches. Instead, our data shows that there are five commitments that the most effective leaders make to themselves and their stakeholders: Inspire, Engage, Innovate, Achieve and Become.

I believe that Greta takes all of these commitments seriously in her own way, but she takes a commitment to “Inspire” to a new and profound level.   

Purposeful Leaders inspire those around them to join the pursuit of a common vision.

Every Friday since August 2018, Greta has walked out of school to go sit, often by herself, outside the Swedish Parliament with a homemade sign, in order to raise awareness about climate change and the urgency of the crisis.

Her words—and her actions—have inspired others around the world to act as well.

Just a year after her first school strike, on September 20, 2019, she inspired millions of young people to lead and participate in a global climate strike in 150 countries around the world, including major demonstrations in India, Australia, Islamabad, Paris and the United States.

Her vision for the future, which she believes all young people deserve, is powerful and clear: If we don’t do something now, it will be too late.  As she eloquently put it, “I want you to act as if the house was on fire—because it is.”

Her approach to inspiring others may not “feel good” to everyone all the time. She is blunt and isn’t shy about calling out individuals—particularly leaders of business and government—for their role in the climate crisis.

She also pointedly puts the onus on these leaders to make change—to engage in the conversation, to innovate and develop new ways to tackle the crisis, to achieve real goals to lower emissions and avoid the 1.5-degree global warming line. 

Above all, Greta forces others to look inside themselves, to become more self-aware in their ability to transform the way things are done and to influence the people around them. She is asking all of us to join her as a purposeful leader—to do the tough stuff, to take risks, to really listen to what people are concerned about and take a stand. 

She does all of this by leaning in on the Inspire commitment. She has created a climate change army of young people, who will march by her side, all over the world, to take on the leaders that will not act, or act swiftly enough—all in the name of purpose. 

Greta shows us that it’s not about politics, false promises, fame or fortune.

This young woman has called out the previously held belief of what a leader is. Being a leader is not about where you sit, your title, or how much money you make. 

Being a leader is about defining your vision and your purpose—and then deciding what you’re going to do with it.

Status quo leaders…you’ve been warned. 

Is your organization developing purposeful leaders? To achieve superior results, leaders must inspire, engage, innovate, achieve, and make a commitment to leading purposefully. At Linkage, we pride ourselves on helping leaders advance on their own journey to Purposeful Leadership.


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