What a Leader Looks Like
People often ask me who my heroes are, expecting I think my response to include perhaps a famous mountaineer, a sporting legend; or some other historical figure. I see the look of recognition in their eyes; the “aha, I get it” as I list them out:
“Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu”, until I get to “Bob Brown”…
“Who is Bob Brown?”
I first met Bob in 1995, huddled under a tarpaulin in a storm, by a campfire, in the northwest corner of Tasmania know as the Tarkine. I was with a group of activists known as the Tarkine Tigers; a ramshackle mob of young people who’d taken to protesting the destruction of the worlds largest intact temperate rainforest. Camped out to stand vigil, over weeks at a time in the middle of winter, was demoralizing work. We were few; the opposition many; the system “adjusted” to make it illegal for us to even be in the area. One by one they were picking us off; placing us under arrest and feeding us into a legal system that meant if we returned; next time we’d be facing criminal charges; not just a misdemeanor for not doing what we were told.
I’d been out doing some “surveillance”, and arriving back in camp; there was Bob, drying out his wet clothes by the fire; giving everyone an update on what was being done through the political channels to support us. A tall, bespectacled, lanky man; a doctor by trade, Bob looked totally at home surrounded by our crew; a pretty feral looking mob whom the media had painted as losers and no hopers who should go and get real jobs. Not only did he look at home; he respected us. Despite appearances and background; he was one of us; in many ways the grandfather of the movement we were now part of.
Three months later I was assigned to guide a young couple into one of our hidden camps. It was vitally important that we show people the Tarkine; that they get a taste for themselves of this wild place, and hopefully; moved by the experience, they would join us. Meeting early in the morning at our secret trailhead, I noticed the worn out boots on the man.
“Are they the only boots you have?”
“Yes” he replied, “they should be okay, shouldn’t they?”
At that moment another vehicle arrived, and out stepped Bob.
Greetings aside, Bob looked down at the mans feet and repeated the same question I’d asked earlier.
“What size are you?” says Bob.
Here’s where I should point out that at this point in time, Bob Brown was the leader of the Tasmanian Green Party.
We said our goodbyes; Bob wishing us luck, and after a dozen steps down our forest trail, I turned to see Bob walking back to his car; barefoot, carrying the mans shoes…
The next time I saw Bob was at his court case, whereby he was found guilty of breaking a court order that he not return to the Tarkine following an earlier arrest. He was bundled into a police car and taken to Risdon prison where he would spend the next nineteen days…
How many leaders have you seen display that level of commitment?
What would you do; how far would you go for a purpose bigger than you?
I watched Bob go on to lead the Australian Green party.
I watched him join the senate.
I watched him face ridicule as the lone voice for the environment amidst the muck raking and dirty politics he faced in parliament week after week.
I smelt the tear gas on the coat I lent him when he returned it to me after the S11 protest against the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, saw the bruises on his body where he’d been charged on the front line by police with batons on horseback. (This was in the year 2000 by the way, when people protested based on their beliefs; not because something had been taken away from them).
I watched him walk the talk.
That’s what a true leader does; he walks the talk.
Bob Brown is my hero.
Earlier this week, Bob announced his resignation as leader of the Australian Greens. It’s time to pass the baton. “After all” he said, “I am 67”…
I can’t thank you enough Bob for all you’ve done.
For the environment, for future generations; for humanity.
For the inspiration.
Many, many more will thank you as time goes on; including those happy to see you go.
I’ve had lots of people over the years tell me they’d love to climb Kilimanjaro, but that they didn’t think they could do it. My response is always the same.
1/ Decide to go. Make the commitment.
2/ Prepare. Put yourself in the best possible position for success.
3/ Enjoy it. Don’t turn it into a huge ordeal (see #2).
After all, if I could do it with no legs…
Well, the bar just got raised some.
Quadruple amputee and author of No Excuses Kyle Maynard just did it with no arms, or legs...
Now, I have to point out that Kyle’s is an awesome achievement, but that’s not why I’m writing this now.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, and have been making excuses?
Does Kilimanjaro seem just a little more achievable now that Kyle and I have done it?
Do you see your project now with a new set of eyes?
Good day Warren………….
A personal “thank you”!
I meet you 5+ years ago in San Antonio and you inspired me to do “Kili” – thank you!!! It’s been a bout a year since last I was in touch with Chris – but he seemed to be faring well!
This article arrived at the right time due to a few “physical” issues I’ve been dealing with (and not as well as I’d have liked). Thank you again!!!
What struck me was the “how we perceive” the event – (filter maybe) and then how we respond – with despair or with – “I’ll accept this bump and use it to grow and build that resilience – currency you spoke of.
Thanks again for the “hand up” my friend.
I hope you are well……………………………………….
Warren Macdonald says:
Great to hear from you and psyched you did Kili with Chris.
I need to check in on him also; it’s been a while.
Always amazes me the timing thing; how we get a message at a time we need it.
Of course it helps to be open to the receiving
Thanks again for taking the time to write; really appreciate it.
And all the best with the physical challenges.
Happy to have put some of mine behind me these last few years.
Of course there are more coming
Mary HH says:
I agree with your “New” stance. Sometimes you can’t expect the nasty things that get thrown at you. And what if it’s a situation totally “out of the blue”? Case in point… a younger friend of mine (in his late 40s) had a bad cold, which turned out to be a horrid case of pneumonia. He’s been in the ICU for over 3 weeks now, and is slowly recovering, but remains on a ventilator. He’s married, has two kids (10 and 6). In great shape, good lifestyle habits, nice guy.
Well, he and his family is ‘holding it together’ because his wife (what a champ!) is using this as a “learning experience” (my summary of her attitude). WOW!
On the one hand, you can say that having a loving family, a great support group of friends and age and good health would help him to “put resilience in the bank”. But really? How do you build resilience for something so totally unexpected that has had such a catastrophic result? You can’t…which is I think your point.
I guess then that BOTH views have a place in reality.
Warren Macdonald says:
Great to hear from you.
I agree, I think both positions have a place.
In your example, your friend absolutely changed the dynamic by how she framed the situation.
But it also helps if you’re already a person who isn’t afraid of hard work; who is already challenging his or her self in some way (I’m guessing two kids qualifies Staying in shape helps also).
The support piece is a little different.
I’ve seen people with incredible support not make it.
They simply couldn’t find the strength within themselves to get through their moment of crisis.
So support helps, but it’s not enough…
Thanks again for taking the time to comment; I really appreciate it