Christiana Figueres knows a thing or two about the art of negotiating, having participated in climate change negotiations for 20 years. As the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat she joined Ian Goldin, Director of the Oxford Martin School and Professor of Globalisation and Development, to share insights gleaned from the front line of leadership.

Both Christina and Ian have been leaders in some of the most important discussions in recent history with regards to the future of planet Earth. Christiana argues that action on any scale comes from a deep internal morality: “Independently of what’s out there, there is a guiding Northern Star in all of us.”

That instinct towards goodness is something Ian has had the enormous privilege of witnessing through the work and leadership of Mandela. Ian was his advisor and remarks that: “Mandela showed that leadership requires enormous sacrifice, and this is what business is going to have to do – it’s what we’re all going to have to do.”

Virgin Unite, Nelson Mandela

For those at the top, the art of leadership can be tough, but Christiana reminds everyone that leadership can be found anywhere – sharing a story about her chance encounter with a child in fourth grade in South Africa, who sang a song for her, closing with the words: “Do more, do more, do more, and when you have done everything you could, do more.’”

This is a powerful reminder that everyone is capable of achieving more than they ever thought possible. In the below Good Disruption video Uzo Iweala , acclaimed author and sociologist who chaired the discussion, asked how we can get leaders to do more – both speakers provided some handy recommendations which left no room for inertia. 

For Ian, it was about one fundamental behaviour trait: “Don’t ask others to do something you won’t do yourself as a leader.”

And Christiana rounded it out with three practical steps:

  • Help everyone come to themselves and find their own self-motivation
  • Help everyone see themselves in collaboration with the next person, and show them the power of achieving more with others
  • Help everyone reach the self-less, by guiding them to their higher purpose

Christiana further reflected on leadership and what it is to fail, speaking of the Copenhagen negotiations as: “a fantastic failure… because there is no better model for how you do not do cross-lateral negotiations.” “You can’t be afraid of making a mistake,” she said, in a nod to the fact that even the best leaders don’t get it right all of the time.

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