ACTivity/ Growing More #RiverLeaders

Photo by Glauber Sampaio on Unsplash

Photo by Glauber Sampaio on Unsplash


Manila, 30 January 2019 — Becoming a #RiverLeader to make your river healthy and resilient is a tough challenge. Are you up for it?

Horizontal Leadership

Can you imagine exercising your leadership without holding a position of authority? That is the challenge and the opportunity for leaders of all ages in the 21st century. 

In today’s workplaces, you can apply your leadership skills to influence people all around you. Think of it as a 360 degree circle, from your peers to your bosses and your reports.

Another way of looking at leadership without positional power is horizontal leadership—to influence others, wherever they are, without having authority over them. This might apply, for example, when you bring various team members or stakeholders together to create a shared vision or to achieve a shared goal. 

Across the world, horizontal leadership has already become a familiar challenge for young professionals, team leaders, as well as senior professionals.

Some years ago, the Center for Creative Leadership reported that horizontal leadership was also the area of lowest performance and biggest challenge for managers and executives. 

Of all of the horizontal leadership challenges I know, one of the toughest is in natural resources management, especially, to restore our rivers to back health and make them more resilient in the face of rapid urbanization, environmental degradation, and a changing climate.

Our Rivers ~ Our Lifeblood

Did you know that rivers are the lifeblood of our societies, economies, and environment?

And yet, precisely because every citizen, community, business, and organization has a stake in maintaining a healthy river—for our generation and the next generations—it is too easy to see river health as someone else’s problem to solve, not yours.

Sounds familiar? Can you recognize what I’m saying here? The situation will not change until we take the initiative to do so.

In my career, I have already worked passionately for more than 30 years to lead changes in how rivers are managed, especially in Asia, through many projects and programs, and also through my work in the international community.

Over the years, I discovered that most water problems are, actually, more about people than about water. That is because it is difficult to get people with all kinds of backgrounds and interests to collaborate with each other to manage our rivers.

Last October 2018, I listened to Don Blackmore, one of Australia’s most revered water experts, who is also well-respected as an international adviser on river restoration projects in countries around the world. He spoke in the Asia Water Forum 2018 at the Asian Development Bank, where I worked earlier as a water leader.

Don Blackmore (center) at the Asia Water Forum 2018

Don Blackmore (center) at the Asia Water Forum 2018

“The health of most rivers is moving backwards,” was how Blackmore summed up the state of rivers. “The situation is worse than a generation ago, and the pressures are increasing.” 

Asked by the facilitator what solutions he recommended to reverse this alarming trend, his message was clear: “Leadership, leadership, leadership!”

Heeding the Call for Leaders

Elaborating, Blackmore explained that ‘the conversation’ among the diverse river stakeholders needed to be stabilized around a common vision. He called for more leaders with integrative skills who can influence positive change.

One of the organizations that is heeding that call is the International RiverFoundation (IRF) in Brisbane, Australia. The IRF is all about leadership, collaboration, and celebration in championing integrated river basin management for the restoration, protection, and resilience of rivers around the world. That’s a mouthful and an important Mission!

So, when IRF approached me to help them in them in their mission, I accepted their request to join them as a Director on their Board. I’m happy to share with you that my focus will be on growing corporate and individual #RiverLeaders and on expanding international collaboration.

I warmly recommend that you take a look at IRF’s website for the work they do, including the international, regional, and local river prizes they award for rivers where excellent practices are demonstrated. They also offer awards for emerging leaders.

IRF has already made a name for itself among water professionals around the world by convening the annual International Riversymposium. And, at the 21st symposium in October 2018 in Sydney, the need to grow more #RiverLeaders—both corporate and individual—was put under the spotlight.

The health of most rivers is moving backwards. The situation is worse than a generation ago, and the pressures are increasing.
— Don Blackmore

Inspired by Don Blackmore’s insight, what we discussed in Sydney was to take a personal approach to making changes happen by growing more #RiverLeaders, starting with each of us in the river where we live.

What about Your River?

How about you? What is Your River ~ the river in the place where you live?

Can you help me get started as I take up my new assignment with IRF? I have three questions that I would love to ask you. You will find them in the mini survey below. It will only take a few minutes.

Thank you! I look forward to your feedback.

And, I will be sharing findings from the survey with you in a later post on this blog.


If you want to learn more about the work of IRF and become a #RIverLeader, let me know how you would like to make a difference, and what support you will need.

The theme for the 22nd International Riversymposium on 20-24 October 2019 in Brisbane is ‘Resilient Rivers’. Why not put it into your calendar already make it a priority to join, so that you can meet interested and concerned citizens, businesses and organizations from all around the world to rally behind a blueprint for river resilience.

At IRF, you will find support for your leadership in Making Your River Resilient!

Write me if you have any questions.

Set up a call to discuss how you can learn more about growing your leadership. 

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