Infectious, stubborn optimism and leadership lessons from Christiana Figueres at the 100th Crowd

Earlier this month I lucky enough to be guests at the 100th Crowd Forum. A milestone marked by conversation with Christiana Figueres and a celebration of 100 inspirational evenings, 300 speakers and 17,000 attendees who have contributed to a collective dialogue spanning nine years.


 Christiana is something of a hero to me, and if she wasn't before, she was by the end of the evening to everyone at the Crowd this week. She is known for her infectious, stubborn optimism and her extraordinary impact on the climate agenda. After inheriting the leadership role for the UN climate agreement in 2010, she played an instrumental role in persuading 194 heads of state signing and ratifying the Paris Agreement. It was the first time that climate talks had ended in agreement.

 ICAEW’s CEO, Michael Izza welcomed Christiana to the stage with a speech which hit home with me just how big a role we could play in shaping a vibrant economy:


Tonight leads us to an interesting juxtaposition. Hosting Christiana at a hall built for chartered accountants the guardians, of measurement and numbers. But we have a passionate vision of the world too.

 Of course measurement and numbers are and were absolutely necessary to the success of the climate change talks and, yes, there is a business case for acting on climate change, but this was secondary. My own experience and that of many CEOs is that it is also about wanting a planet where our grandchildren – and all future generations - can prosper. That’s where our vision of a world of strong economies  - and ones that work for the many not the few - comes from. I would argue that the business case is important but it comes second; firstly and most importantly this is quite simply the right thing to do.” 

 You can watch Monday evening's interview where Christiana and Axel Threlfall (Editor at Large, Reuters) explored the role business can play, how the climate change agenda can prevail in a world of shifting priorities and where the breakthrough solutions are emerging.

Watch: Christiana Figueres | The Crowd

 Climate change talks can often leave me feeling hopeless in the face of enormous challenges and failing complex systems that are too big to tackle and too broken to fathom. This was not one of those evenings. Christiana's energy is charming and completely contagious. The Q&A was dominated by requests for leadership tips and how to cope when times are tough. Here is what we learnt:

Tip number one, tip number two, tip number three: Listen, listen, listen. Until you learn the perspectives and journeys of others you cannot move forwards.

Its just fine to be stubborn: So long as you are stubbornly optimistic and stubborn for the common good.

Work with your sphere of influence. Everyone has one. Find yours and start there.

When you have identified your mission, never give up. When one door closes, another one opens. And if it doesn't, dig under the door, climb over it or find a route around it.

We already have the knowledge, we already have the technology, we already have the science and we already have the finance to tackle climate change. We just need to join the dots to get the darn thing done.

 The big losers will be self defined by those who are unable to embrace change and move forwards. A fossil fuel company must redefine itself as a provider of energy and invest in renewables and new technology.

 The 100th Crowd also marked farewell to CEO Jim Woods. I feel extremely privileged that he was chairing my roundtable discussion. His parting words of wisdom to us were a quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead.

 "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

And on that note I hope you are also feeling a little more stubbornly optimistic too.