With a booming voice David Suzuki broadcasted to the world; “The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space; a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home” (as cited in Huggan, 2008, p. 188). This quotation of Suzuki is very insightful to his personality as it displays the seriousness and passion that he places on protecting the environment and his belief that humans are the key to saving our planet. At the age of 76 he has many accomplishments: a vast and encompassing education, a 30-year broadcasting career, and developing a successful foundation. In order to achieve such success Suzuki had to be an effective leader, he did this through his confidence, locus of control, intelligence, Theory X leading and utilizing his personal power. Suzuki is an outstanding teacher; he attains this through being an exceptional leader.
On March 24 in 1936 in the port city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Sestu and Kaoru gave birth to a beautiful baby boy: David Suzuki. It was unknown at the time what a monumental day this was for the world. In years to come, Suzuki would flourish to be a prominent activist and environmentalist. Suzuki’s growth into his leadership roll took years of education. In 1961 he completed a PhD in Zoology from the University of Chicago. Following his education he authored 52 books. Among these books was the famous textbook “Introduction to Genetic Analysis” which was published in 1976 (Huggan, 2008, p. 188). The textbook was so successful it was translated into seven other languages: Italian, Spanish, Greek, Indonesian, Arabic, French, and German.
Alongside his writing career, Suzuki has also been a very successful broadcaster. He started on the television show Suzuki on Science, where he educated children on biological and environmental sciences. He continued to do radio shows as well as television. In 1979, Suzuki hosted the very popular television series The Nature of Things which was viewed in over 40 nations. Through this series Suzuki was able to bring light to a great number of serious issues and educate people on environmental concerns. In 1985 the hit series A Planet for the Taking averaged 1.8 million views per episode providing him with a large audience to warn the many flaws in society. Over the past thirty years of broadcasting, Suzuki has become a well know “Canadian campaigner and activist” (Huggan, 2008, p. 188). 2
Not only is Suzuki a successful writer and broadcaster, but in 1990 he launched the David Suzuki Foundation. His foundation is one of his most recognized humanitarian accomplishments. The mission of the foundation is to “protect the diversity of nature and humanity’s quality of life” (Huggan, 2008, p. 188). It is through the phenomenal work of this foundation that David Suzuki became “recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology” (Huggan, 2008, p. 188). The foundation has had many projects focusing on climate change, health, wildlife and habitat, and fresh water. Suzuki is always expressive about his vision for his children and grandchildren’s worlds. Through the foundation, he is trying to create “sustainability with in a generation” (Marchant, 2008, p. 44).
Suzuki wants everyone to take ownership for his or her actions and the effect they will have on the future. The theory that he preaches is that if we can make our own generation sustainable, and each generation does the same, then the world will flourish and all our descendants will have a future (Marchant, 2008, p. 44). The David Suzuki Foundation is still growing at an exponential rate 22 years after its conception. A leader can possess many qualities, traits, and styles. David Suzuki demonstrates successful leadership as he directs the public and his organization along the path of saving the environment. Of the nine traits of effective leadership, he clearly displays self-confidence, locus of control, integrity, and intelligence. Suzuki is a Theory X leader who uses personal power to influence his followers.
Suzuki’s self-confidence is evident through his style of speech. Through his bold style and particular choice in words his “self assurance in [his] judgement” is evident (Lussier & Achua, 2011, p. 38). When asked about the future by Rothschild, he bravely stated that “if there are still human beings around, they’ll curse us for two things: nuclear weapons and TV” (2008, p. 53). His conviction and belief in the possibility of humans being extinct proves the confidence he has in his judgement of the destructive path the world is on. Suzuki’s assurance is also very evident when he refers to himself later in the interview as being part of the “most distinguished group of scientists” (as cited in Rothschild, 2008, p. 53). This is a very clear demonstration of his confidence. In a 2003 interview with David Leibl, Suzuki made the brash statement that “if we carry on it is going to get a hell of a lot worse” (p. 18).
Through his word choice of ‘hell’, you can feel his pure conviction and strength behind his words. In all the speeches given by Suzuki his confidence seeps out of every word, this makes him an easy man to trust and follow. The traits of Suzuki’s locus of control and integrity are both very prominent by the way he takes ownership as a part of the environment’s degradation. When discussing the current climate he does not exclude himself from everyone but uses statements such as; “if we don’t make the right decisions now, we’re going to determine the future of humanity” (as cited in Rothschild, 2008, p. 53). In this statement, he includes both himself and the public as part of the problem. This demonstrates an internal locus of control by stating that people’s actions produce the future outcome. According to Lussier and Achua (2011), integrity is closely related to honesty (p. 39). When speaking with Leibl, Suzuki stated “we depend on clean air, clean water, clean soil and clean energy” (2003, p. 18).
This raw statement displays his honesty through its simplicity and lack of embellishment. By being clear and factual his sincerity and truthfulness is incredibly visible; this builds trust in his followers and allows Suzuki to be the effective leader that he is. In order to be a successful leader, one must be knowledgeable. The “cognitive ability to think critically” is Lussier and Achua’s definition of intelligence as it pertains to leadership (2011, p. 40). Suzuki is a great leader because his extensive education.
As an academic, Suzuki comprehends the scientific world and all of its current research, however his intelligence extends beyond that and allows him to portray all that he learns in a straightforward way to the public. In discussion with Leibl, Suzuki states that “we’ve changed the biological and physical make up of the plant” (2003, p. 18). Through this simple sentence he was able to convey the severity of the research in a way everyone could understand. He is able to apply environmental science to real life problems and educate the public. Suzuki’s intelligence is also apparent through his frustration that the public “no longer thinks about the interconnectedness of everything” (as cited in Leibl, 2003, p. 18). As an environmentally conscience and intelligent figure, he considers all his choices and their effect on the bigger picture. Before getting into his car to drive to the store, Suzuki considers the ramifications then decides to ride his bicycle (Leibl, 2003, p. 18). Through his understanding of the scientific world and his ability to translate it to the public Suzuki’s intelligence is an essential asset to his leading capabilities.
Suzuki leads with a slightly more traditional style. He has a “negative, pessimistic view” of his followers, which is Lussier and Achua’s definition of a Theory X leader (2011, p. 110). Suzuki’s little respect for others’ intelligence is evident by his exclamation that “limitless resources are a fools dream” after Marchant presented him with an economist’s prediction of space being a future resource (2008, p. 44). He then proceeded to explain his theory of preserving our current environment. His complete disregard for an alternative plan proves Suzuki’s feelings of superiority to his followers and need to micromanage the tasks. In another instant, Suzuki questions the scientific competency of Americans. He stated, “the fact that in America you’re still arguing over issues like intelligent design versus evolution is a sign of scientific illiteracy” (as cited in Rothschild, 2008, p. 53).
Suzuki’s statement was both disrespectful and pessimistic toward the Americans. Suzuki is very progressive when attacking environmental issues, however his leading style reflects his age as he is a traditional Theory X leader. When leading, one must have influence over his or her followers. Suzuki uses personal power to control and motivate his followers. His authority derives from his persona, as “charismatic leaders have personal power” (Lussier & Achua, 2011, p 110). A typical tactic of influential speaking is to use repetition. When interviewed by Marchant, Suzuki said “let’s look ahead a generation. Let’s imagine a Canada where air is clean….Let’s imagine a Canada covered in forest” (2008, p. 45). His speech was very charismatic through its positive uplifting nature, the repetition, as well as through the inclusive ‘let’s’.
Another proven tactic of creating influence is to build community with your followers. When speaking with Rothschild, Suzuki claimed “I’m one person. I’m not going to save the world and change its direction. But if there are millions and millions of insignificant people like me … there could be a irresistible force” (2008, p. 53). This declaration is very significant as is binds people through creating a mutual goal and builds momentum behind his cause. Through his use of repetition, community building, and uplifting word selection, Suzuki’s charisma is evident. With a deep routed passion, Suzuki tackles environmental issues though educating the public of the changes they must make. In his lifetime, he has achieved greatness through his extensive education, 30-year broadcasting career, and developing a thriving foundation. Suzuki excels as a leader because of his confidence, locus of control, intelligence, Theory X leading, and demonstrating his personal power.
Huggan, G. (2008). Suzuki on Suzuki. Canadian Literature, (197), 188-189. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Leibl, D. (2003). The Venerable David Suzuki. Canadian Dimension, 37(1), 18. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Lussier, R. N., & Achua, D. B. A. (2011). Leadership (Custom Edition). Toronto: Nelson Education.
Marchant, J. (2008). Special beyond growth: Interview with David Suzuki. New Scientist, 199(2678), 44-45. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.
Rothschild, M. (2011). David Suzuki. Progressive, 74(12), 53-54. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.