Building Sustainable Legacies


Speeding up for the 50+20 Collaboratory for Asia at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Mont Blanc

12 hours after having seen the gorgeous Mont Blanc stick out above the clouds in the dark blue evening sky, I find myself flying past small fishing villages on the way in from Hong Kong Airport to Kowloon. The air is freezing cold inside and like a steamy sauna outside. I had wondered about dress code and I am still wondering – a choice between freezing and sweating with no way of avoiding one or the other.

The airport express train shows a techie video far ahead of any discussion I have access to in the West: they are discussing a complex new way to automate food and health care deliveries in developing countries, fully banking on latest internet connectivity, showing young hi-tech talents talking excitedly about saving the world. Wow! If we could bring in these brilliant brains into the Collaboratories I am to introduce here. Our idea of places where engaged citizens meet to solve burning societal issues – or, in other words: the university of the future!

Hong Kong

Things are happening faster in this part of the world. I had a similar sense three weeks ago in Beijing. Suburbs of Hong Kong larger than Switzerland. A train travelling at mind-boggling speed. I am grateful for the blue sky that connects me with where I come from. What if we found a way to accelerate our Collaboratory idea? What if we could connect to innovation hubs where new solutions are worked on? Where are these? How do we connect?

In the meantime, I have moved from the fast train to a free hotel shuttle – all perfectly well sign-posted and with no waiting time. One hour after touch-down I have arrived at my hotel – mind-blowing! Time for a shower before my first dinner appointment – from breakfast right to dinner… Time is shifting differently. Let’s feel the flow of a river that is rushing forward, onward… Let’s see where this journey takes me!

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How to become a leader?

I have always been fascinated how leaders are “brought forth” by circumstance. Something out of the ordinary occurs – an accident, a coincidence, a conflict, an opportunity – and you see people step up and start doing what needs to be done. Such leaders who hold no formal power or authority express what I believe true leadership is about: the courage to fully engage with all we have – our acquired and dormant skills, competencies, fears and uncertainties – if and when the situation requires it. It may well be that such leadership makes the headlines once in a lifetime only, but I have noticed that there are countless opportunities every day before, during and after work that invite us to practice this kind of leadership that I call “personal responsibility”. This makes all of us potential leaders.

Imagine if each of us would dare to engage fully if and when the situation requires it! Daring to make a mistake, to shake things up and maybe to step on some toes; not to show off or to manipulate, but simply because you know what is required to happen and, since you are there, it is up to you to step up. And this is where it gets interesting: how do you know what to do, how to be and whether to engage in a situation or not?

Is it indeed possible to learn such kind of a enlightened courage? I believe, you can! You can learn to be connected to your inner quiet voice, you can learn to sense what is right and what feels wrong, you can learn to differentiate between your own subconscious autopiloted fear mechanisms and your true values-based intuition, you can learn to find that voice and speak up. Such learning resembles more of a journey than a 3-day executive course. It requires practice and reflection.

It is possible to create powerful and safe learning environments to develop not only your courage to step up but to develop your full potential so that you can engage with a maximum of resources that you have. And if we as business schools were doing what is required of us right now, this is – in my humble view – what we should be doing: developing globally responsible leaders equiped to deal with the emerging societal, economic and environmental challenges so that all of us can live well and within the limits of out planet.