'I think consensus is a poor substitute for leadership' Charlotte Beers.
In his brilliant book; Originals - How non-conformists move the world, Adam Grant coins an important term that is at the heart of the leadership crises in so many of our institutions, its 'groupthink', he describes this as 'the tendency to seek consensus instead of fostering dissent'. Whilst Groupthink is what keeps the status quo, we need leaders who are willing to be peacefully disruptive for the sake of moving our world in a better direction.
Image: Kath Davis
With an estimated 2.5 billion people lacking access to proper water and sanitation, the statistics may make this human rights abuse feel insurmountable. For too long the consensus has believed this situation unsolvable, and the impact has been deadly, with scarce and dirty water sources contributing to the deaths of 3.3 million people annually. Lets get one thing straight (and a vital break from consensus thinking), its not the water that causes the deaths, its human beings believing the problem is not solvable. Great leaders solve problems, I know this because I work with great leaders who are doing it.
Image: Kath Davis
I am the co-founder of a social enterprise called The Possibility Project, we collaborate with below poverty communities and together we have created Sparrow Sanitation, an affordable, 100% biodegradable, energy efficient sanitary pad enterprise that is owned and managed by former slum dwellers. When you have limited resources, common sense becomes the most resourceful way to get things done. I learnt through common sense that menstrual health is a community issue not a gender one. This brings us to a founding principle of common sense leadership, be prepared to broaden your leadership approach from your humanity not your identity. As soon as we see menstrual health as everybody's issue we are better able to break the myth that it only concerns women, this nurtures a powerful inclusiveness where men and women work alongside each other to solve their problems. For so many social issues today, consensus thinking has not necessarily meant inclusiveness, disruptive leadership does not make an issue one sided.
Image: James Stibilj
If we are to transform our problems we must be willing to challenge the consensus. Leaders must be willing to facilitate change from what the majority believes into what the majority needs (a real conflict zone when it comes to environmental problems). Consensus will often maintain a status quo, but when 4500 children die each day because they lack access to clean water, the status quo has to change. When Rumi, the 13th century poet wrote "Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field, I'll meet you there" he was describing the ultimate level playing field for transformation, it's where common sense rather than consensus prevails.
When we lead with common sense we lead from a space of relatedness. Rather than working from our differences, such as gender, income and faith, we create solutions from our commonalities. I'm a middle aged, affluent, university educated woman and collaborate with some of the poorest, least educated and most vulnerable people on earth, I only know one word in common with the team I work with, 'Namaste', but this word summarises the entire vernacular needed to unite people into problem solving, it loosely translates as 'the creative in me recognises the creative in you" or the possibility in me sees the possibility in you. Inspired leaders know that regardless of income, age, gender, ethnicity, and circumstance, everyone has what it takes to create the changes that are needed.
Image: Deepak and Tulsi. Photo Kim Pearce
If you have seen the movie Lion you will have a very clear visual of the horrific abuses some of our team have experienced in India. Only a creative mindset can imagine the infinite potential within their adversity. Deepak and Tulsi, are the founding managers of Sparrow Sanitation and shining examples of how thinking beyond the norm leads to greater solutions.
Tulsi was orphaned at 8 years old and looking after her younger siblings, vulnerable to trafficking they came into the care of I-India, the NGO we work with. Years later, as Tulsi was graduating High School we asked her what she would do next, she happily replied that although she loved dancing, she would study nursing at college, as that way she could do both. With her nursing background, Tulsi was instrumental in the initial education that was needed to introduce sanitary pads into the community. Tulsi's ability to nurture win-wins has everything to do with holding a creative mindset based on common sense. She demonstrates one of the most powerful truths common to all of us, we are not what happens to us, we are what we choose to become. In today's climate of blaming, shaming and gaming, imagine the possibilities that can originate from a common sense leadership approach like Tulsi's.
Image: Kim Pearce
According to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers Global CEO survey, the fate of future business rests in part, on how well business leaders can anticipate change, demonstrate authentic leadership, maximise the power of their talent, and embrace social responsibility. In a world that has outsourced problem solving it is time to remind each other how resilient the human spirit can be, when people choose to believe they have the common sense needed to solve their problems - they automatically become leaders, they have moved themselves beyond a consensus and into the realm of originality - where anything is possible.
Why the sparrow?
The common house sparrow is incredibly resourceful, building their homes with whatever materials they can find. They remind us that we do not have to be big and beautiful to be worthy, we do not have to have the loudest voice to be heard, the sparrow is always 'actively' working towards well-being, and they derive power and protection by their numbers. In so many ways this common bird represents the spirit of the incredible human beings that live below poverty line and in conditions that no human being should. Her lesson is to use 'creativity' to get around in life. We share these lessons in inspired leadership to help ordinary humans like you and me, become extraordinary problem solvers.