Planet, leadership and direction of humanity.

Is there something about Antarctica that matters to business leaders? A contemplation on the state of the planet, leadership and the direction of humanity.

Fabian Dattner

Founding Partner

Dattner Grant

2016-17 Facilitator Rob Hunt Leadership Program

Leadership, in all its varied colours and forms, is a lifetime obsession for me. I think it comes from a confused childhood (doesn’t everything). On the one hand, I was raised in an artistic community, surrounded by would be poets, playwrights, artists, left wing aspiring politicians and dope smokers. And on the other hand, I was involved in and the recipient of business and the benefits of its successes and the costs of its failures.

I remember the first business book my father gave me aged 12. It was a book called “Sizzlemanship” – that taught me about haggling, trading, selling and buying; a book that shaped its philosophy on what’s respected in a Middle Eastern street market. I read it, strangely seduced by the idea of sitting on a Persian rug and being respected because the man I was horse trading with (who said his children would starve and he would lose his tent if I paid any less) smiled at me when I halved the price, respecting my negotiation skills.

In my family, I also learnt a lot about social justice. My father (who had ample opportunity to invest in property) told me that buying a house and renting to others was wrong. It was a constant mantra in our house that your success should never be at the expense of someone else. Though his advice may have lacked insight into the property market, the values of social justice where nonetheless thoroughly instilled in me.

This combination of business acumen and social justice has probably formed my model of leadership in more ways than I can name right now. However, it has never been so stark for me as today, when our world is confronted by some of the worst leadership imaginable, in a world that actually can be described as ‘post fact’, where the most powerful nation in our world is genuinely considering dismantling the EPA and is working through the notion that Government should not fund science.

As the founder of Homeward Bound, I have learnt more in the last 2 months than I have in the last 30 years as a leader.

In December 2016, on the back of two years of imagining and planning, we took 76 women with a science background to Antarctica. We were on the Ushuaia, a decommissioned spy ship, one of two small ships travelling to and from Antarctica.

76 women, a film crew of 5, no comms to home, in Antarctica on a transformational journey together to talk about leadership for the greater good.

Many times I wondered why I had brought such an initiative upon myself at the prime age of 62, many times I doubted my skill or chutzpah to see the project through. I missed home horribly, every night I wrote to my deeply loved husband, who would see none of my love missives until I got home. I thought about my family, our garden, my respected and treasured work team. I worried about my kids, as all mothers do.

I tell you, scientists can be a tough bunch, they have to be in many ways. They win their spurs through logic, tireless research, thinking skills, expertise and, that most winning of attributes, peer review.

We tussled and talked, debated and challenged, laughed and loved our way through 20 days together. Far, far away from everything that was normal in our lives.

Then we returned to normal – whatever that is.

For all the weeks since, I have been consumed with what leadership is in our world, what we all can digest and note needs to change and why, and how we might actually achieve the changes we see are so necessary.

One way is to listen carefully – that needs to happen in every quarter of our planet. Why would a young man blow himself up for a cause, why would a monk set fire to himself, why would women march, and why would Trump be elected as President?

I’ve come to think that lazy leadership is forming an opinion too soon, being sure of your own expertise, being terminally certain about a path. I’ve come to believe that ‘I’ leadership, a focus on who I am, what I own, my influence and status, will kill us all. I’ve come to believe that the style of leadership that got us to where we are today will not take us to where we want to be.

I’ve come to believe this: collaboration, inclusion, legacy mindset, and a real care for assets – people and money – matter deeply.

Leadership should be a respected, trusted and valued capability.

I am not sure it is. Making money and leading may be complimentary, but they are not guaranteed to be so. I think it’s time for all leaders, at any level, to think carefully about the craft of leadership.

Much has changed in our world.

This article courtesy of Fabian Dattner. For more articles by Ms Dattner click here.