John Isaacson lives in Boston, Massachusetts. I have never met him, yet he has influenced both the work I do with clients and my personal life. A friend of mine who continues to influence me introduced me to John’s way of thinking: Tom Gilmore. More on Tom in another writing.
John has a point of view about what attributes are required to develop leadership capacity. Since I spend most of my time helping people who want to lead and develop their capacity, I am always interested in these points of view. I collect them. Most of what lives in my collection is bunk. But not John’s.
John identifies three important human attributes for developing leadership capacity: hunger, speed, weight. In this post I’ll explore Hunger. Speed and weight will come in separate posts.
I have been using these three attributes as a part of my coaching with clients for about six years; John’s on to something. It’s not my intention here to add to John’s thinking. His thinking is “good enough”. I do want to add some insights for building a leadership practice that leverages these three attributes.
Isaacson’s definition of hunger: Hunger is the marriage of imagination to ambition. Hunger is the drive to leave a mark, to build a monument, to make something out of nothing.
Three leaders come to mind when I think of hunger: Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and Greta Thunberg. I choose these three because they are agents of social change and that is my world of work. Mandela and Havel are heroes for me. Greta may become one. It’s not too much of a generalization to say that these three people never sought the role and form of leader that history would conspire to produce. In the beginning, they had more modest ambitions. Mandela sought freedom for himself and his fellow prisoners, so he learned to get along with his guards. Havel wanted the end of Communism and a free Czechoslovakia, so he wrote plays. Greta started by getting her parents to reduce their carbon footprint. Only then did she start skipping Friday school to protest climate change.
And yet what we now know about each of these people is that they possessed (Greta possesses) that deep hunger to carry on when it gets hard. When the political and human tests of commitment arise. We read it in their writing, we hear it in their voices and we witness it in their actions. Mandela and Havel used their voices to mobilize their movements (what Isaacson calls a monument) until their last breath. We will be hearing from Greta for a great while.
But why is hunger a necessary leadership attribute?
I have learned that hunger is necessary because all the hard work to leave that mark and build something lasting begins immediately. All the celebrated results are way down the road. Traveling this road is hard and will test a leader’s resolve. Therefore, a leader must have a deep well of energy, belief, kindness and grit to keep the work moving forward. This mixture is hunger. Without hunger, it is all an idea and ideas are cheap. No hunger, no movement, no change. All important social change begins with a hunger.
What do you hunger for in the world? Now what will you do with your hunger?