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Rachael Carson, Silent Spring and Leadership

Leadership can come in all forms, in all shapes and sizes, even in an introvert. While most people assert leadership with traits such as charisma and aggressiveness, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” pointed out, leadership can come in less obvious forms.

Today we celebrate one such person who profoundly influenced not only the U.S. experience but indeed that of the world and who was assuredly an introvert: Rachael Carson. As noted by Nancy Cohen, in her New York Times (NYT) profile of Carson entitled, “From Calm Leadership, Last Change” Carson’s “life shows that individual agency, fueled by resolution and hard work, has the power to change the world.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carson’s seminal and transformative work “Silent Spring” which in many ways directly led to the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970; the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, which began operations in 1972; the banning of the use of the pesticide DDT in the United States and the enactment of both the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973; all of which began with Carson’s book.

What are the compliance leadership lessons that Carson’s experience demonstrate? Cohen sets out three.

(1) The importance of persistence in pursuing an objective. Business executives are usually struck by the ability to stay focused on goals in the face of obstacles.

(2) The importance of doing thorough research and taking the long view. This means more than simply knowing the facts but also an understanding of history and culture are essential to understanding what is at stake in difficult and uncertain situations. This also confers a sense of authority on the person who has acquired this knowledge.

(3) The juggling of personal demands and professional ambitions in dealing with obligations to others while following professional drive. Carson’s story shows that times of great productivity can be followed by fallow periods when ambitions must be put aside for personal reasons.

Leadership does not always come from the alphas but sometimes from the introverts. The world might have been very different today if this most soft-spoken woman had not been so determined.


Thomas Fox is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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