“You can’t motivate heart” or the power of inspiration

Let me start by saying that reading on sustainability leadership can be somewhat overwhelming! I recently read a very comprehensive paper called “Sustainability leadership: Linking theory and Practice”published by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. The authors propose a sustainability leadership model that includes at least 20 differentcharacteristics for sustainability leaders. They clearly acknowledge that one single individual doesn’t need to demonstrate all of them to be considered as an impactful leader. This is reassuring as diversity among sustainabilityleaders is probably as valuable as it is in any other leadership situation.

Nevertheless, among the mentioned characteristics, one got my attention as it was illustrated by a quote from Jan Muelfeit, former Chairman Europe at Microsoft Corporation: “You can motivate people’s hands or their brains, but you can’t motivate their hearts; it takes real inspiration”. I have led teams for quite a long time now, in very different environments from Europe to Australia and China and I fully recognize the power of inspiration. I also know that I can lose my inspiring style to enter into a kind of fight mode when I face people who behave or state ideas against my values. I received a very concrete feedback on this point during a recent development assessment, that I copied here as it will serve as a basis for the leadership challenge I want to take in the coming months: “While she has a proven track-record of engaging well with others across functions, is still on a journey in terms of moving from ‘convincing’ to ‘influencing’, especially in tense situations – could prioritize her battles somewhat better and continue to develop the internal relationships that will boost her natural impact, thus making the need to convince less important”. Reflecting on this feedback and Muelfeit’s quote, it is pretty clear that convincing is not going to get me far on my sustainability journey. This is especially true with colleagues opposed to the pressing need for businesses to positively impact sustainability issues or who still value more a philanthropic approach rather than the ambitious objective to embed sustainability in our company strategy.

I have some ideas on solutions that I already started to test in real life situations: the first step for me is to be aware when I am switching from inspiring to convincing and to pause to acknowledge it when it happens. This seems easy but I know that I am still tempted to react on the spot when my values and beliefs, especially when based on strong evidence, are challenged. The second step could be to explore opinions that I don’t understand or which annoy me by moving into inquiry mode and showing willingness to understand the agenda of the person in front of me. I read a very insightful book on this topic called “Humble inquiry: the gentle art of asking instead of telling” by Edgar Schein and I recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the power of inquiry in leadership. I am not yet there, but very excited to progress on my journey to switch from convincing to inspiring especially in challenging situations!

“On est prêt”: Ready… ready for what? A strike, to block the roads? No! French YouTubers ready to embark their followers in concrete steps to protect the environment!

I must say that I only understood the real power of YouTube influencers when my niece, Valentine, recently started an internship in a skin care start-up. She was responsible for digital marketing and was spending her days reaching out to YouTube influencers, sending them product samples and hoping that one YouTube star would start using, not promoting, just using their moisturizer or day cream.

YouTubers don’t promote products, they actually talk about themselves, their lives, their ideas in videos that they post on their channels. When your product gets a spot in their conversation: bingo! Easy to understand when you know that “around 7 in 10 YouTube subscribers say that YouTube creators change and shape culture and brand perception”.

Influencers reach millions of people daily. Norman, one of the top French influencers has 11 million followers, and he is among the 62 YouTube creators who started the “On est prêt” Campaign.

What I found brilliant is that they didn’t change the way they operate for this campaign: no scary data on CO2 emissions, insect mass extinction. They still talked about themselves, but this time about a very concrete habit that each of them decided to change in their life to improve their environmental footprint, and they challenged their followers to join them. Simple tasks like not leaving appliances on standby or sending an email to their local mayor’s office and asking for vegetarian meals in school restaurants. They also adapted the format of their communication to Facebook, Instagram and the web site www.onestpret.fr to give more power to their campaign.

What was the impact? From the 15th of November to the 15th of December, they received 50 million views. Not bad! 10,000 e-mails were sent to French mayors following Norman’s video idea to promote vegetarian food in school restaurants; 20,000 water bottles were ordered by followers and so much more. Interestingly, this campaign seems to have had a durable impact on the YouTubers themselves. EnjoyPhoenix, a famous French beauty influencer who participated in the campaign posted several videos this January on sustainable consumption and on her decision to boycott fast-fashion and to buy clothes second hand. With more than 3 million followers, if a recent market research commissioned by Google to Ipsos is true, 1.8 million of French millennials (6 in 10 You Tube subscribers following advice on what to buy from their favorite influencer) could be on the way to favor circular economy to Saturday afternoon shopping in High street.

These days, YouTube creators are more influential on 12-25 years old than stars of TV, film, music and any traditional media. They also have the power to influence the business world that counts on them to popularize their products, and they have started to demonstrate their impact with the French “On est pret” Campaign. A space to watch !