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What to do when leadership practices collide, risking sustainable performance?

A military or agile approach?

Henley Finland arranged a Master Class at Restaurant Sipuli in the heart of Helsinki. The room was filled with a rapt audience for the outstanding and engaging presentations.

The Master Class focused on how to develop leadership for today’s rapidly changing and unpredictable business environment. Clarifying an organisation’s purpose was an underlying topic throughout the entire evening.

Annu Matula, Managing Director of Henley Business School Finland, kicked off the event by reminding the audience that “Henley offers education with a purpose, bringing together private and public sectors to exchange ideas for mutual advantage to build better societies and better businesses.”

West-Coast “chill” meets military “command-and-control”

The first keynote speaker, Dr. Manfred Boudreaux-Dehmer, CIO, NATO, spoke about the need for leadership change, using his own experience to illustrate extremes.

In 2001, he was selected to be the CIO at NATO in Brussels, another radical move. He suddenly faced a command-and-control leadership culture. The Vancouver ‘chill’ met with NATO’s mandate to ‘define roles, responsibilities and accountabilities (RRAs)’.

His thoughts on what makes a good, engaged leader come from his widely varied career experiences. He feels a leader needs to be able to move between often conflicting roles of a visionary, architect, road worker and coach.

As visionary, a leader needs to paint the North Star and make sure the vision is compelling. At NATO, everyone knows the purpose of the organisation: To guarantee safety and security for 1 billion people on the planet. As architect, a leader needs to build open, empowered teams, embracing inclusivity and diversity. As road worker, a leader must pave the way, spotting debris, removing blockages and building connections and bridges. And as coach, the leader must establish a direct line of sight to the organisation’s vision, while enabling every employee to realise their highest professional potential.

“Being able to navigate between all these roles is how I can help fulfil the purpose of the organisation,” he says.

Boudreaux-Dehmer’s job at NATO requires constantly convincing the members, committees and boards from 31 member nations – negotiating and persuading them – to find win-win solutions.

He feels the military needs to innovate faster, although there are now special NATO initiatives to help pitch ideas and fund start-ups. Boudreaux-Dehmer is proud of the work he’s been doing at NATO to help bring a more agile West-Coast mindset to the procurement to help accelerate the process.

Boudreaux-Dehmer says that the military is going through a crucial transition. Younger generations are entering with different leadership styles. Geography, too, plays a role, not just age. There is an opportunity for businesses to learn from the military’s approach, recognising that it is sometimes better not to ask but just to do as told. Likewise, the military can benefit from business by adopting an agile mindset to improve competitiveness.

“Finding the point of maximum value is a delicate balance,” he says. 

Enabling sustainable leadership

Bernd Vogel, Professor in Leadership at Henley Business School, was the second keynote speaker.

Vogel shared three ideas on enabling sustainable leadership. The first idea is to embrace multidirectional leadership. “Leadership sits with relationships. You lead WITH people,” he says. This means you must be accountable in all directions: towards the upper echelon, your peers, your employees and your stakeholders. To make your organisation less vulnerable, leadership quality needs to be everywhere within – not just at the top.

His second idea is that organisations constantly need to focus attention on sustainability. “Sustainable leadership in business is like diving. You need to come up for air to revitalise,” Vogel says. It is perfectly OK to slow down before starting up again. To illustrate his point, he showed various scenarios of overheating or rollercoaster transformation curves, like in the case of Lufthansa. Their initial results looked promising, but sustainability was never achieved.

His third idea was spotting the knowing-doing gap. “There’s a big difference between knowing the path and walking the path,” Vogel says. “We need to close that gap. You need to make a ‘footprint’ to be sustainable.”

He also feels we need more examples of positive, optimistic leadership. “We need to find heroes and learn from them,” he says. This is happening in South Africa, where he currently is a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg. As the country’s key purpose is to build leaders to help build the country, it recognises and awards prizes for outstanding leadership development.

Fireside chat ignites warm spirits

The evening drew to a close with a group session. As rain began pounding on the windows outside, the two keynote speakers were joined by Maria Lundell, EVP People & Culture of Blastr Green Steel, and Heidi Gutekunst, Learning Director of Henley Business School. Dr. Paula Kilpinen of Henley Finland moderated the session. The group discussed the key learning points of the evening.

Vogel defines leadership intelligence as being able to move between the 4 leadership roles that Boudreaux-Dehmer presented. “You need to decide how to engage, depending on the context. It’s fluid.”

Gutekunst agreed that leaders do not need to show up the same way all the time. This is a relational skill that must be learned.

From Lundell’s experience, she said it is important to convey to your organisation why culture change is important. Then you need to keep the momentum, build on strengths and reward what goes well. This is the way to achieve sustainable results.

Vogel summed up: “As leaders, do we need all the answers? No! We need responsibility and accountability. The most essential issue is to set the tone for the organisation’s purpose. Purpose is that invisible underlying idea that all will follow.”

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