Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


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.

Patrick Awuah on educating leaders

Sharing an astonishing example of a business school and shaping the next generation of leaders. Hope you enjoy watching as much as I did!


Guided reflection

An element dearly missed in traditional field work so far is guided reflection. There is little value in having participants take part in hands-on field work, if their experience is not thoroughly and professionally reflected. Such reflection includes the following:

  • What have I concretely learned in terms of skills and competences?
  • How have I learned, what elements/processes provided insights and how were they provoked?
  • What did I not expect to learn, what took me by surprise?
  • What did I learn in the interaction with others?
  • How effective are my inter-personal skills?
  • What have I learned about myself? Which situations do I find particularly challenging or rewarding?
  • What situations favor a learning attitude, what situations prevent me from learning?
  • What feedback do I get from my colleagues (boss, peers, subordinates) and how do I react to this?
  • What new questions do I have? What would I like to investigate in, learn more about, explore?

Guided reflection is a critical enabler to have a learner advance on his personal journey to mastery. It enables the understanding of where a learner is and what challenges he needs to embrace to advance. It also installs a practice of life-long learning, ensuring that a learner integrates self-reflection into his daily routine as an integral element of personal hygiene. Furthermore, guided reflection also opens the pathway of shared learning, enabling the teacher to understand core issues and challenges a class is faced with. Such a process is a first step towards creating a shared learning journey, involving participants in co-creating a course syllabus and therefore assuming responsibility of his learning.

A call to action – launching the 50+20 vision

During the 3rd Global Forum on Responsible Management Education the 50+20 vision is launched with the unveiling of the 50+20 Agenda and short film.

Business Schools Without Borders

50+20 visits the People’s Summit in Flamengo Park during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to host a collaboratory.


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Trans-disciplinary learning

The common thread among all of these learning environments is the way a subject is approached and therefore what skills are being developed. The innovative thought lies in fundamentally transforming single discipline teaching into trans-disciplinary learning. Rather than teaching marketing, finance, strategy, human resources separately, students will be looking at finding solutions to existing and emerging environmental, societal and economic challenges. Such dilemmas include water scarcity, pandemics, hunger, migration, social support for the elders, climate change, ocean acidification, CO2 emission control, etc.

This approach is fundamentally different than adding a bit of ethics and sustainability into an existing curriculum. Such approaches merely bolt-on responsible and sustainable considerations to a single discipline foundation; what we need is a full transformation of the curriculum to build-in these notions, turning around education by 180 degrees. As a consequence, subject knowledge is acquired predominantly in the context of a real problem, enabling students to anchor it in real stories.

Trans-disciplinary learning is based on the idea that critical competences such as holistic and divergent thinking, systemic understanding, consideration of multiple perspectives and integral decision-making, are critical for future leaders and need to be trained and developed above and beyond transmitting subject expertise. More explicitly, we believe that teaching disciplinary expertise in isolation may well have been the cause for numerous problems the economic system is currently facing. Developing an understanding for unintended side-effects and consequences in the larger system of any given decision in a specific domain requires fluency with systemic thinking and ability to dismantling complexity.

Rising to the challenge of effectively addressing and resolving global and societal challenges requires an understanding of human and societal developmental stages (i.e. from what perspective do stakeholders look at a problem?) and an ease to navigate between the most diverse fields of expertise (hi-tech, sociology, gen-tech, philosophy, psychology, neuro-science, medicine, architecture, engineering, bio-tech, etc.). Leaders for a sustainable future have learned to work with experts of these fields and are able to build bridges and lead a group of subject experts towards sustainable solutions for the world.

An important element of trans-disciplinary learning is the inclusion of relevant stakeholders in the class discussion and practical field work on global issues. This approach assumes that problems can no longer be resolved by applying single-disciplinary perspective. Such a collaborative approach ensures one of the most critical leadership skills for a sustainable future: fluency and ease in considering and shifting between multiple perspectives.


Being a part of something larger

We need students and participants – whether they labor in a narrow, disciplinary area or in a broad leadership capacity – to understand that they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. This realization encourages and empowers our students to embrace their responsibility towards the greater whole. It will also enable students to have a greater awareness of the inter-connectivity and complexity of things. Although it may be impossible to fully understand what happens when one tugs at an edge of the universe; a more holistic, comprehensive and systemic perspective will increase the probability that future graduates are problem-solvers, rather than problem-creators.

This perspective that will lead teachers and students alike to innovative models, frameworks, practices, structures, systems and processes that comprise superior solutions compared with the current global economic and social systems that often optimize locally but in the process create global challenges that threaten the well-being of the entire human race and the planet of which we live. With this perspective and a comprehensive portfolio of knowledge and skills, business leaders (and other leaders) will be able to create a positive impact far beyond what they imagined possible and thus contribute to a world that is optimized locally, regionally and globally on multiple dimensions: economic, environmental, sociopolitical, spiritual and societal.

We need to recognize that unlearning is equally important as learning. What we have learned in the past may represent a serious impediment to being able to become the kind of leaders the world needs. As a result of fractioning business out of its context and separating business functions into separate disciplines, we have created operating modes in business that represent serious limitations to a more holistic approach, whereby business defines its role as contributing to the well-being of society and, by extension, to all living beings in this world.


Issue-centered learning

One of the core pillars of management education for the future is to turn current functional-based, single discipline teaching into issue-centered, trans-disciplinary learning. The development of a question-based, creativity-focused approach that enables critical and divergent thinking is an integral part of this.

Future learning environments will be established both inside a classroom and as collaborative learning platforms for action learning and research (collaboratories) in business and other organizations as well as in communities. The choice among all of these different learning settings depends on what stage a student or participant is in the journey towards mastery. As such different settings are needed for acquire awareness and actionable knowledge than we need for guided practice and independent application.

Embedding business and management education in its larger context is an important way to ensure that students perceive the necessity of engaging multiple disciplines and develop the skills required to successfully apply knowledge. Historically, some business schools have attempted to do this through the case study method. Increasingly, innovative business schools are complementing the case method with action learning projects and in this sense are following the lead of medical schools, and also engineering schools that require field-based, engineering capstone projects.

Through learning and skills development that is conducted within a context selected both for its potential learning value and for its potentially positive impact on the problem being addressed, the role and purpose of business, the state of the planet, and awareness of existing and emerging societal issues is dramatically enhanced. Teaching disciplines in isolation may be an efficient way to transfer knowledge, but it misses the opportunity to develop in students and participants deep understanding of when and how to apply knowledge, and the skill to do so effectively.  Disciplinary expertise is a necessary but insufficient condition for success. It must be complemented by deep understanding and leadership skills if students are going to develop the competencies required to solve complex multi-disciplinary problems.

Issue-centered learning is organized around existing and emerging societal and environmental global issues (i.e. water, health, poverty, climate, pollution, migration, energy, renewable resources) on a global and local scale and ensures that students develop the following characteristics, skills and competencies that complements the functional knowledge they learn and enables them to become leaders for a sustainable future:

  • A global, holistic, long-term and visionary perspective
  • Clarity, focus and intensity of commitment
  • Highly motivated to do good; to do the right thing (ethical thinking translated into action)
  • Highly evolved capacity for creative, critical, holistic, ethical and systemic thinking and decision-making
  • Ability to navigate through uncertainty, ambiguity, setbacks, challenges and problems
  • Action and results oriented. Self-starter with a high need for achievement.
  • Patient (with respect to staying the course) AND Impatient (with respect to being driven to achieve results as fast as possible)
  • Highly skilled in learning by doing; adapting; making and learning from mistakes quickly and inexpensively
  • Integrative; skilled at boundary spanning
  • Skillful in figuring out root causes; determining critical success factors; and focusing on what is most important

An issue-centered education integrates disciplinary knowledge (finance, marketing, strategy, HR) when appropriate in the learning journey of attempting to resolving a specific issue (water, migration, climate change, poverty, etc.).  Conventional wisdom is challenges by uncovering underlying assumptions of the dominant discourse – in any domain. We need to develop innovators who will question the status-quo and challenge current assumptions. Issues-centered learning is critical for ensuring that graduates are able to embrace the larger context within which their organizations operate.


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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


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Collaboratories: the result of holding a space

The capability to “hold a space” becomes the central purpose of management education. The capability of holding a space grounds deeply in our human heritage; it represents the ultimate duty of the Elders among many indigenous people. In our world, this capacity is known as the fundamental skills of a good coach; the degree to which a coach is able to create and hold such a space determines the potential outcome of a coaching session[1].

Figure 2: Holding a space is about the ability to create the right frame. The black frames above represent the common thread among these different expressions of our vision: a) a fertile ground, b) putting the fire in the middle symbolizes respecting future generations in every decision taken, c) a visual of the management school of the future.

Collaborative learning platforms for action learning and research (collaboratories) become the distinguishing factor for future management school. They represent the preferred meeting place for citizens with a desire to act responsibly for the world. Participants come from all walks of life and from all 4 corners of the planet. They share a common passion for wanting to make a difference and they co-share the responsibility of learning with the faculty. They include both the so-called 99% including the 4 billion at the “bottom of the pyramid” as well as the 1% currently in function of responsibility and power.

Collaboratories can be located in business, in society, communities, at management schools, virtually or a combination of all of these. The key of these platforms is that they are organized around issues rather than disciplines. Issues addressed include: hunger, energy, water, climate change, migration, democracy, capitalism, terrorism, disease, violence. Systemic thinking and design thinking enable step-changing innovation and rapid prototyping as fundamentals of magic: finding solutions to the impossible. Action learning and research meet in order to jointly immerse in a new type of activity: issue-centred learning focusses on environmental, societal and economic issues both globally and locally.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”         Margaret Mead

At the management school of the future, we see the faculty as lead-learners and guardians of this space. They reflect a rich combination of stakeholders: coaches, facilitators, business and management faculty, citizens, entrepreneurs and elders [2]. They see themselves as transient gatekeepers of a world in need of new solutions and stand out with their attitude of service.

 


[1]    Students tell us that we are preaching to the converted; that they realize the world is at a critical place. They want to address the issues and perceive professors as self-absorbed by their own shift in consciousness. Source: GRLI Meeting Stuttgart 2011.

[2]    The energy of an elder, or the stereotypical grandmother, complements a learning environment with an essential factor: grand-mothers (uncles, retired professors, god-mothers, etc.) are storytellers able to put a current issue into a larger perspective. They have experienced many phases of success and failure, exploration and disappointment not only from a global, economic or societal perspective, but also from a human point of view of individual cycles of life.