It’s hard to think of any one civilian who’s caused more “no good, very bad, horrible” days for world leaders in recent years than Greta Thunberg. The teenage environmental activist has inspired worldwide political action, sparred online with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin (yep, they both let a teenager get very under their skin), and called out the entire United Nations for falling short of her standards.
She’s quick to tell the most powerful people in the world that they’re not doing enough; that they’ve crushed an entire generation’s hopes and dreams; that they need to up their game and do much, much better.
Her most famous line: “How dare you?” That one was lobbed at the United Nations General Assembly.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why any of these leaders would pay attention, she’s also been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Greta is a teenage poster child for the Revolutionary story type (the Challenger version, someone who lives to question what’s in place and present an often radically different point of view). Does it look like her teen years are turning out to be much fun? Well, no, but she clearly has other things on her mind.
Troubleshooting the things that don’t work
Greta in many ways is the purist’s Revolutionary, a person who betrays no qualms about taking a position and challenging those who disagree indirect and not especially forgiving ways.
It’s easy to think this is what a Revolutionary always looks like, but that isn’t exactly the case. There’s a wider-scoped definition for this story type, and it takes in people like Greta and many others who operate in much lower-profile ways to reform, improve, shake up or overhaul things that aren’t working very well. That can include systems, structures, products, processes, and just about anything they think is worthy of some troubleshooting.
This is my 10th post in a 12-part series about resilience and the unique gifts each story type brings to the table. With a global pandemic, climate change crisis, and enduring systemic social problems looming even larger over these last 18 months, I’ve become very focused on how resilience is created and sustained for each type—and what it looks like when that resilience is severely tested.
Finding ways to help people rebuild their resilience in the most natural ways seems like the fastest way for everyone to make a natural contribution in a world that needs those gifts. As this series nears its end, the Revolutionary zeal for challenging the status quo seems like a good place to leave top of mind.
In the enterprise world, most of us don’t have quite the free rein to say or do whatever’s on our mind that’s available to an unencumbered (in fact, jobless!) teen like Greta, though. The terrain is similar; the map is different, but it’s always about thinking differently.
Understanding the Revolutionary’s gift
A resilient Revolutionary is someone who’s deeply motivated to make things better in unconventional, sometimes radical ways. Revolutionaries can typically see what’s wrong with how things are being done, or how systems don’t work, or what’s unjust and needs to be reformed (potentially on a mass scale). They’re usually able to let go of old ways and ideas, often much more rapidly than others, and to take quick action without a lot of angst about what’s being left behind.
They show up in a variety of ways; some easier to spot than others:
- Like Greta, some Revolutionaries are focused on fighting for reforms with huge social impact—especially where crises loom or where threats are greatest for disempowered or disenfranchised groups who’ve been ignored or unfairly treated.
- Some are most energized by developing radical product innovations or shaping marketplace disruptions that really shake up what’s come before.
- Others can see how systems or processes can bog down (and what to do about that); others see how conventional ways of doing things in almost any field can block innovation and stop real progress in its tracks.
Whatever their focus, all Revolutionaries enjoy challenging the status quo, questioning the tried and true, and motivating others to think differently.
Under duress, though, Revolutionaries can become resistant, negative, and obstinate (at least that’s how it can look to the people around them!). This can happen when other people don’t appear to see problems and potential impacts as they do–which can create deep internal skepticism within them about the integrity and intentions of others.
Resilience is also tested for a Revolutionary when they’re continuously asked for help that’s ignored; or when too many people try to tell them what to do; or when others hold them up when they want to take what they see as essential action right now. If it goes on for long, Revolutionaries may just start ignoring rules or guidelines that don’t make sense to them. They can also withdraw and isolate themselves, and/or take matters into their own hands in ways that can trouble the people around them.
So what does the path back to resilience look like for a Revolutionary? Well, you could try the Greta route and build a global platform for your message. If that seems like a longshot—and if you really want to effect change inside an organization where other people have different styles and priorities—consider these other options:
- Apply your finely honed troubleshooting skills to your own situation and do some radical new thinking about what you could do differently to be more effective.
- Look for a problem inside your organization or team that no one else is working on (especially if others agree there’s a problem) and offer to take it on.
- Narrow your scope to something in your power to fix (and where others aren’t likely to get in the way).
- Look for like-minded people to join your cause (activism isn’t typically a solo gig, and going it alone can just up the frustration ante).
- Move on. Revolutionaries know when it’s time to cut their losses and shift their focus to something else.
At the end of the day, troubleshooting is a Revolutionary’s best friend and the key to making that important difference wherever you’re trying to make it.
So, let’s take a look at what our resilience chart looks like now with the addition of Revolutionary:
|Resilience-building attribute or gift
|Responsibility, Role Modeling, Influence
|Community, Justice, Fairness
|Service, Kindness, Development
|Ideals, Faith, Values in Action
|Action, Drive, Making a Difference
|Invention, Ideation, Expression
|Discovery, Individualism, Experience
|Aliveness, Appreciation, Commitment
|Insight, Clarity, Wisdom
|Vision, Intuition, Intention
|Closure, Unconventional Thinking, Reform
Activating the Revolutionary resilience quotient
So what’s needed to become a more resilient Revolutionary—or for that matter, to overcome negativity and resistance no matter what story type we relate to most? Consider these questions whenever circumstances start to trigger those emotions:
- Where do I need to find closure and just move on?
- What’s most worth holding on to (my personal “how dare you”)?
- What’s a wildly different way to think about what’s happening?
- Where would I find less resistance and more connection?
- What can I improve right now and scale up later?
- How can I push (not necessarily topple) a limitation that’s holding me back?
And if you can get an audience with the United Nations, go for it!
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams, and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (take the free version here: https://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/).