Are Great Leaders Courageous or Crazy?

As I sit in my home office I hear the thump of a bluebird flying into my window over and over again trying to get into the fichus tree inside.  While this keep my cats entertained and off my keyboard, I shake my head thinking “crazy bird; you’re going to get hurt if you keep doing that.”   

 

I stop mid-stream while writing the leadership chapter for my forthcoming book “The New Corporate Facts of Life” to ponder the bluebird’s dilemma.  Is the bird crazy or courageous?  How often have we thought people were crazy, when they pursued a purpose that many thought foolhardy?  What seems an act of lunacy at one point can be visionary in retrospect.

 

All around us are people moving our businesses, communities and schools in new and exciting directions by bringing purpose and prosperity together.   Stories of these organizations and leaders, well known and unknown, are woven throughout the pages of the book.  Patagoinia founder Yvon Chouinard built the company on values of authenticity and responsibility.   EPA Presidential Green Chemistry  Challenge Award winning Clarke CEO John Lyell Clarke III.   Unilever CEO Paul Polman wants to restore sustainable value to capitalism.  Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus through the founding of Grameen Bank launched micro-financing and has pulled millions of women out of poverty by loaning them money to build businesses. Serenbe founder Steve Nygren brought people together to do the unthinkable and created a sustainable community less than an hour from the world's busiest airport.  The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick dedicated her business to environmental and social change.

 

Ray Anderson, founder of Interface and a legend in the sustainability movement was believed by many to have lost his mind when he declared that he wanted to turn his carpet company into an ecological leader, while growing profitably.  He boldly told his detractors “I hear some of you think I’ve gone around the bend.  Well I have! It’s my job to see around the bend.  That’s what leaders do.”  Ray often said over the last 15 years of his life, “Seeing around the bend is the very essence of leadership.  Someone has to see what’s out there.”

 

Mogens Smed founded DIRTT Environmental Solutions after selling his last business to Hayworth International for $300 million.  DIRTT, which stands for “Doing It Right This Time” builds attractive functional interiors for commercial spaces such as offices, hospitals and factories.  Viewing traditional building methods as archaic, costly and wasteful, their superior technology allows them to create spaces using environmentally responsible processes and materials that can be repurposed over and over again and recycled at the end of use.  Many thought Smed was a bit crazy when he started DIRTT in 2006 in Calgary expanded with two new plants in Savannah and Phoenix while the building industry declined by 60 percent.  Smed, who refers to himself as the head DIRTTbag, is known for spouting expressions such as David Ickes quote “Today’s might oak is just yesterday’s nut, that held its ground.”

 

Tilting at windmills often brings about far greater change than incrementally improving the status quo.  The bluebird bouncing against my window may be just a bit crazy or may be following his own blue-sky vision to build a nest in my fichus tree.  I’ve nicknamed him Don Quixote.  He reminds me with each bounce against the glass pane that when your gut tells you to do something important that seems impossible, go for it in spite of those who think you’ve gone around the bend. 

What leaders inspire you the most?  Who should be in the “going around the bend” hall of fame? Send me an email with your thoughts to drivenburgh@strategic-imperatives.com or comment on this blog.

 

Sources:

Read my earlier blogs about DIRTT and Interface

Bluebird’s name is unknown; nickname: Don Quixote

Patagonia's founder and CEO, Yvon Chouinard, talks with Joel Makower at the 2013 GreenBiz Forum 

www.Interface.com

“Confessions of a Radical Industrialist” by Robin White and Ray Anderson, St. Martin's Press, 2009.

Interview with Jim Hartzfeld formerly of Interface and Sancho Panza to Ray Anderson.

www.DIRTT.net and interviews with Mogens Smed, CEO/headDIRTTbag and others at DIRTT

Home Page Teaser: 
As I sit in my home office I hear the thump of a bluebird flying into my window over and over again trying to get into the fichus tree inside. While this keep my cats entertained and off my keyboard, I shake my head thinking “crazy bird; you’re going to get hurt if you keep doing that.” I stop mid-stream while writing the leadership chapter for my forthcoming book “The New Corporate Facts of Life” to ponder the bluebird’s dilemma. Is the bird crazy or courageous? How often have we thought others were crazy, when they pursued a purpose that others thought foolhardy? What seems an act of lunacy at one point can be visionary in retrospect.

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