Have you heard of Greta Thunberg? In many ways, she’s a typical 16-year old student from Sweden. She’s an adolescent on social media who wants to change the world.
The big difference is—she actually is changing the world right now.
Greta was just named TIME magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. Yep. She’s the youngest person to ever win the award. In the words straight from TIME, we read why she won:
“Thunberg began a global movement by skipping school: starting in August 2018, she spent her days camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign painted in black letters on a white background that read Skolstrejk för klimatet: ‘School Strike for Climate.’ In the 16 months since, she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.”
The Unlikely Teenage Leader
Ironically, Greta looks like what lasting leaders have looked like for centuries. They just usually don’t demonstrate this kind of strength and conviction so young. She is 16 years old, but she looks 12. She’s barely five feet tall. She has auburn hair, parted in the middle. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning she doesn’t share the same emotional register as most people she meets. Journalists Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes and Justin Worland describe Greta this way: “She dislikes crowds; ignores small talk; and speaks in direct, uncomplicated sentences. She cannot be flattered or distracted. She is not impressed by other people’s celebrity, nor does she seem to have an interest in her own growing fame. But these very qualities have helped make her a global sensation.” Greta stands by her convictions regardless of the cost.
Wow. That does sound a little like Joan of Arc…or…Rosa Parks…or…Mother Teresa.
Four Qualities That Make This Teen a Leader Worth Following
1. She embraces long-term thinking.
“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.” Greta sees the world far into the future and cares about the world she’ll leave to her children. In fact, she’s frustrated that current politicians haven’t done more to plan ahead. She feels it’s as if all they care about is staying in office today. She says we must act today to save tomorrow.
2. She influences the influencers.
It all began when she traveled to her nation’s capital. In the next 18 months, she addressed heads of state at the United Nations, met with the Pope and sparred with President Trump. She’s interfaced with leaders on social media, and inspired millions to join her in taking a stand for climate change. She knew her movement would only catch on if she influenced those in positions of influence. In response, nations have begun to act to remove their carbon footprint.
3. She is bold.
“Thunberg arrived in front of the Swedish Parliament on August 20, 2018, wearing a blue hoodie and carrying a homemade school-strike sign. She had no institutional support, no formal backing and nobody to keep her company. But doing something—taking a stand, even when alone—felt better than doing nothing. ‘Learning about climate change triggered my depression in the first place,’ she says. ‘But it was also what got me out of my depression, because there were things I could do to improve the situation. I don’t have time to be depressed anymore.”
4. She possesses moral authority.
“I see the world in black and white, and I don’t like compromising,” she said earlier this year. “If I were like everyone else, I would have continued on and not seen this crisis.” She practices what she preaches, when many politicians hide behind their words. Millions now follow Greta in this movement. In fact, when an environmental leader from Belgium chided her—it caused an outcry of support for Greta and the Belgium leader was forced to resign.
The Bottom Line
Whether you agree with her beliefs or strategy, Greta Thunberg leads the largest youth movement on the planet. She is a model for youth activists around the world who are also fighting for causes ranging from gun control (Florida) to democratic representation (Hong Kong). But, consider the facts that make this leader so different. Know any students like this?
- She is a teenager.
- She has Asperger’s syndrome.
- She’s short at about 5 feet tall.
- She struggles with depression.
- She dresses humbly, not glamorously.
- She wants to change the world.
“This moment does feel different,” said former Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy work. “Throughout history, many great morally based movements have gained traction at the very moment when young people decided to make that movement their cause.”
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