People - 28.11.2012 - 00:00
27 November 2012. Professor Jenewein, selected students from all the HSG’s Master’s programmes deal with Responsible Leadership during the CEMS Annual Events. What issues do you focus on in your course?
Wolfgang Jenewein: We deal with the question as to how we can lead, in a complex environment, in a way that ensures that people work well together. Complexity, social orientation and values such as empathy, sustainability and ethics occupy centre stage. An example: New business models emerge through interaction with customers. A manager’s success is therefore strongly dependent on how well he or she can empathise with customers while still being able to take into consideration all the other stakeholders’ expectations.
This integrative perspective may not lead to results all that quickly but will pay off in the long term – because it leads to more sustainable solutions. We discuss such complex leadership tasks with visiting lecturers from the world of practical work. “Stuttgart 21” is an ideal case in point. Dr. Volker Kefer, a member of the executive board of Deutsche Bahn, discussed the management of the construction project with students.
Is Responsible Leadership a generally valid term, or are there big differences in the way it is conceived of – particularly if we compare the management cultures of Europe and Asia?
Jenewein: Good leadership is always about people and values. A good leader stands for certain values and convinces his or her staff as a human being. This basically applies to every culture – although the values vary. Thus the leadership culture that is called for in Asia is undoubtedly different from the one that is called for in Europe. Experience has shown that in Asia, tasks must be planned and structured in more detail. Integrity and responsibility, however, are in demand worldwide and in every form of organisation. No matter whether I work on an assembly line in a Chinese factory or in the R&D department of a company in Sweden, I must feel that I am taken seriously and be able to stand by the values the leaders represent. This is the essence of responsible leadership.
We are living in a world of economic uncertainty at present, which we can observe far away in Greece but also close up in St.Gallen. What are the characteristics of a responsible leader personality in politics and in the economy in such times?
Jenewein: A leader should first and foremost be a convincing personality and champion his or her values. Responsible leaders think in terms of networks and take into account a wide variety of perspectives in their decision-making. For this purpose, they come to an agreement with the different stakeholders and take their views into consideration. This can be a lengthy process, but it will finally lead to the best solution for all those involved.
The EU Commission recently demanded that the boards of directors of Europe’s listed companies should be made up of 40 per cent women by 2020. How do you rate this proposal, and are women the better leaders?
Jenewein: Leaders should be convincing people – regardless of whether they are women or men. Studies provide evidence of the fact that diversity in decision-making bodies leads to better results. The more perspectives regarding experience, gender and culture are integrated in the solution to a problem, the better the outcome. Empathy and an integrative perspective are frequently underrepresented in the boards of directors of big groups. However, both aspects are indispensable for responsible decision-making. A higher degree of diversity in these bodies is desirable.
And finally: What insights and practices would you like students and future leaders to adopt and take to heart?
Jenewein: We would like to impart three ideas to the students of the CEMS courses: Firstly, responsible leadership is not possible in isolation. Leaders always make their decisions in a complex environment. Secondly, leadership is a matter of personality. It is not the position that counts but people and the values for which they are respected. Thirdly, responsible leadership requires a certain amount of passion for an issue. A good leader’s professional goals should take their bearings from interests and ideas, not from hierarchic structures and bonuses. A lack of credibility makes bosses founder. Leading by example and with enthusiasm for what you do, however, enhances both the leaders and the led.
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