#International Men's day, #Movember, & leading by example | HBR Talk 60
This Monday, November 19th, is International Men’s Day, with men leading by example as this year’s theme. November is also the month of the Movember foundation’s drive to raise awareness of and funding for men’s health, in particular, testicular and prostate cancers and men’s mental health.

The Movember foundation is a great instance of men leading by example. It started out as a discovery made by a couple of guys, Travis Garone and Luke Slattery, who were originally just joking around about bringing the moustache back. They quickly realized they’d stumbled upon something fun in which many guys would enthusiastically participate. According to the Movember foundation’s website, “Inspired by a friend’s mother who was fundraising for breast cancer, they decided to make the campaign about men’s health and prostate cancer.” The first Movember initiative, the rules for which are still in use today, was in 2003 and involved 30 participants. In 2004, the concept was formalized, with a company registered, a website started, and a campaign run to increase participation.

The movement has grown annually, with increases not only in participation across Australia where it began, but internationally. Its reach has been expanded from its initial contribution to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia to partnership with multiple organizations. Today’s Movember foundation rallies 5.5 million participants to raise and contribute funding to men’s health initiatives all over the world, with 1200 projects funded so far… all because a couple of guys who figured out a fun idea others would enjoy, then took the lead to connect that with an area of need, and worked to keep people coming back to it.

So you can see, leadership as an aspect of masculinity doesn’t have to take the form of an authoritative commander who takes control of a situation and makes himself the decision-maker for those involved. As with the Movember Foundation’s humble beginnings, it’s an everyday quality that more often than not goes unnoticed, or at least, unidentified. 

We see this in men’s approach to ordinary experiences, in which they take practical responsibility for not only themselves, but their loved ones, and often their neighbors, their communities, even strangers. This doesn’t just manifest in CEOs and generals, but in small business owners, little league coaches, husbands and fathers, even the guy who walks his dog in your neighborhood when it’s getting dark out “just to keep an eye on things.” It’s not just the guy who organizes a rescue team like the Cajun Navy to help flood victims. It’s the guy who checks on his elderly neighbor after a heavy snow, because you never know if someone who needs help will ask for it. That tendency - taking practical responsibility - is why the cogs and wheels of society run… the bits nobody pays attention to unless a disaster takes them away, or the media draws attention to them. Much of men’s leadership manifests in service to others.

But… how is service an aspect of leadership? 

Our civilization was built and is maintained by men leading by example. If you want to see that in action, look around your home. It’s full of devices you use without thinking about their origin - things that facilitate tasks, make you safer, save you time and physical labor, help you communicate, even entertain you. Most of them were designed by men. They were manufactured and delivered, if not to your door, then to the retailer who sold them to you, by a mostly male workforce. Most of them rely on services you only have because men take responsibility for making them available. And when you don’t want a particular device any more, you’re assisted in removing it from your home, again, almost exclusively by men.

We have electricity because men’s response to their curiosity about their environment is to test it out and explore it, then compete with each other for the honor of having discovered and shared with their communities the most useful information. We have widespread, ready, reliable access to it because men take the initiative to apply that knowledge, build on it, and create tools to make the lives of the people around them easier and safer. 

We have sanitation and sewer systems because men’s response to adverse conditions in their environment is to figure out a way to eliminate, change, or manage them, and then do the work of applying those solutions.

But why do systems like the power grid and the sanitation and sewer systems consistently work?

While we know that Dads’ nurturing of their kids is vital, it’s also understood that men take financial responsibility for their families. Among those are men willing to earn hazard pay, men willing to do dirty jobs because they pay more, men willing to learn complex concepts and processes, perform heavy labor, or focus their attention on activities that are mind-numbingly boring to earn their living. They don’t have to be ordered by wives or bill-collectors, “Go work at the power plant,” or “go get a job as a trash collector!” They just do it.

In those positions, they take responsibility for doing the job right every time they do it because the goal of the job is for their part of that system to function as it is supposed to function. They take ownership of their jobs and responsibility for the community they serve. They are accountable for the results they produce. They don’t have to be the plant manager to take that degree of responsibility in their own positions. They just do it.

Each, by his example, ensures that his coworkers can rely on him, and can be inspired to be equally reliable. His community can rely on him. His family can rely on him. His kids learn the value of his reliability, diligence, and consistency. I am an example. During the years when my husband and I faced our toughest financial challenges due to changes in the child support system, our family’s financial stability was on my shoulders, and it was the memory of my father’s work ethic and dedication during my childhood that showed me the path to take. 

Much of what kids learn from their dads comes to them in this way. Yes, there are Dad Lectures. Yes, there are rules kids follow in their homes. But it’s what kids see their fathers doing, and what kids do together with their dads that really shapes them. From their interaction with their fathers, kids pick up lessons and develop traits that serve them throughout life, from enhanced cognitive development to their own demonstration of personal accountability and their approach to everyday experiences, right down to getting involved when they see initiatives like the Movember foundation and International Men’s day. Both events have grown from humble origins to international participation, handled controversy from some women’s advocates who wrongfully view them as competition, and helped bring awareness of men’s issues to the general public. 

This awareness is part of the main objective of International Men’s day, which exists to both celebrate men’s contributions to society, and highlight men’s areas of need, in an effort to promote gender equality. It’s a good day for men everywhere to speak up. There’s quite a lot to talk about.