Building Sustainable Legacies


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50+20 normative leadership model meets behavioural economics

I recently spoke at RECOL Switzerland about our vision for responsible leadership and presented our normative model developed as part of the 50+20 Vision:

Globally responsible leadership is built on a leader’s capacity for reflective awareness and contains three roles in which he acts and makes decisions – entrepreneur, leader and statesman.

Interestingly, my presentation was followed by an in-depth analysis by Gerard Fehr, who together with his Nobel-prize winning brother works on ways to apply behavioural economics to the real world.

He gave examples of their existing research to evaluate if and how our ideal leadership vision is reflected in the current realities of leaders. The discussion that followed couldn’t have been more inspiring: Are we really unable to be empathic? Are sanctions really the only way to maintain employee compliance? Is breaking down of cooperation really the norm and not the exception?

The hand-picked, high calibre audience first experienced their own gaps in their behaviour compared to their intention, through a smart real-time survey game operated by Gerard and his lovely assistant, Katharina Kaiser.

The Human Resources, Sustainability, and Compliance Directors of top Swiss firms contributed to a rich and controversial discussion, about the tension between the somewhat sad, actual state of the elements of responsible leadership and its ideal vision.

In a last segment, as Gerhard and I jointly discussed avenues of action and possibility to move towards the envisaged ideal state, we found insightful new options.

In conclusion, I must say that I was delighted to have been part of such a rich and thought-provoking experience and I hope that normative and quantitative research meet again in such inspiring settings.

Thanks to Joanna Hafenmayer Stefanska & RECOL for having orchestrated such a miraculous event!

Learn more about seeing through the jungle of responsible leadership and other relevant initiatives.

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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.


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What differentiates globally responsibly leaders from our existing leaders?

One realization that stands out among the many important research findings of the past two decades in the field of leadership: the need for a shift in consciousness of the leader. We have come to understand that leader development first and foremost is personal development, a capability for reflective awareness which can be observed by the way a leader relates to himself, his environment and various aspects of the world.

  • Reflective Awareness is expressed through a universal perspective. This includes: an evolved level of consciousness and personal awareness; clarity, focus and commitment on a personal and organizational level; deep values and ethics; humility and humanity; empathy and resonance with others. This attitude forms the non-negotiable foundation of a leader. As a matter of fact, without this attitude, the development of the three dimensions falls within an old paradigm and will miss its intention and impact entirely.
  • Responsible Leadership is reflected by a visionary perspective. This includes: strategic skills, extraordinary communication skills, an excellent adaptability and attitude towards learning, a talent as a motivator, enabler and team players, an awareness of patience vs. impatience or doing and being, the capacity to span boundaries and bear tension, respect for diversity, adhesion to ethics and anthropological values.
  • Sustainable Entrepreneurship is reflected through a long-term perspective. This includes: the ability to lead organizational sustainability transformations, an advanced capacity for creative, critical, and divergent thinking, both street-smarts and an evolved intellect, the ability to question the status quo and to dismantle complexity, a facility to handle general management challenges and to solve problem integrally, implementation skills, and advanced mastery of all relevant subject knowledge to get any given job done.
  • Enlightened Statesmanship is demonstrated through a societal perspective. It includes: the ability to formulate an inspiring, higher-order vision, a sensitivity and awareness for societal concerns, a capacity to serve a cause larger than oneself, a drive to serve the Common Good, the ability to create and function within broad stakeholder networks, fluency with all aspects of sustainability, and a profound desire to be of service.

Figure 1: The four dimensions of globally responsible leaders