When I was offered the role of Lead Facilitator for Homeward Bound 4, I was extremely excited but also a little bit daunted. Part of my job as lead facilitator is to enable a faculty of twelve exceptional women leaders from all around the world to deliver a leadership program to 100 women selected because of their leadership capabilities and potential. That is a lot of leaders! I also have to coordinate the delivery of our program with the ship’s expedition leader in the face of constantly changing conditions. I wondered how I could possibly do it. And what would it look like to lead amongst all these leaders?
As a transdisciplinary researcher, I’ve always worked to bring different people and types of knowledge together to solve real-world problems. This has required me to work across disciplinary boundaries and include a range of different stakeholders and citizens in environmental science and policy. Through this work, I’ve come to firmly believe that bringing diverse perspectives together creates not only a richer fabric of understanding, but also a more legitimate basis for decision-making.
Along the way I’ve also learned that effective leadership of diverse communities – particularly those full of capable and creative people – requires something beyond the dominant models of leadership in use today.
Most of the leaders (both men and women) I’ve worked under have used a ‘command and control’ style. This means their approach is to rely on their own expertise to set the overarching directions and make decisions. The group is then expected to respect their authority and follow their command.
Fortunately, I’ve also experienced a more ‘inspirational’ style of leadership. In these cases, the leader has been a charismatic visionary, who instead of commanding people to follow their lead, inspired followers through the strength and clarity of their vision. Rather than telling people what to do and how to do it, they used their creativity, energy and enthusiasm to motivate people to follow them. These leaders created exciting and vibrant workplaces where there was a shared belief in the importance of the work but the vision, organisational structure or mode of working was typically not up for negotiation or change.
To address the ecological crisis and move forward under conditions of uncertainty and change, we certainly need visionaries who can inspire us and people who can follow through on a decision. However, we also need flexibility, adaptability and resilience. If we look to Mother Nature as our teacher, we can see that she achieves these characteristics through embracing diversity.
To actively listen to and respect the diversity of our voices is one of the ways that the fourth cohort of Homeward Bound has agreed to be together. This is also something I have tried to bring to my role as lead facilitator as I adopt a more ‘inclusive’ style of leadership. This is a style that actively seeks out alternative views, values different voices and strives to learn and collaborate across them. This requires surrendering control and focusing on facilitating teams to collectively define and pursue their own guiding visions, goals and ways of working. After all, if Nature thrives through diversity, then so can we by embracing inclusive forms of leadership.
Fern Wickson first joined Homeward Bound as a participant of the HB2 program. Living and working in Norway, Fern currently works as the Scientific Secretary of NAMMCO (North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission), an intergovernmental organisation providing scientific advice for policy on the management of whales and seals. She also runs her own yoga and meditation studio, The Peaceful Wild.