The last word: The impact of modern leadership 

Leaders should be aware of the effects of their own actions and interactions and ensure that decisions are made on the basis of both short- and long-term considerations. 

Next week I join the Pakistan CIO Summit and Expo in Karachi to take part in a session focused on future leadership, or modern leadership, as we define it within the Future of Emerging Europe programme. This has prompted me to reflect on effective leadership now and in the future. 

Technological and medical advancements, innovation, globalisation, demographic changes and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine have had a tremendous influence on how we live and what we aim at in life, how we work, how we communicate and how we do business. As a consequence, I don’t think the definition of modern leadership is constant — on the contrary, it is an ever-evolving and ever-transforming concept, based on reflection, experiences, constant learning and responding to societal, economic, geopolitical and technological developments. 

Ten years ago, when Emerging Europe was set up, we knew there were things we wanted to do differently. We wanted to contribute to the region’s social, economic and democratic development by boosting sustainability, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as collaboration within the region and with external stakeholders. 

We already worked from home or from wherever our team was or wanted to be based and had a central office for meetings with partners and customers – quite a few of them insisted on meeting with us on our premises. We never asked our team to touch in at 9am and touch out at 5pm — we focused more on agreed and achieved results and less on the basis of working hours. 

We have always made sure we had a diverse team, not only based in different geographies across the emerging Europe region and beyond, but also diverse in terms of nationality, background, gender, ethnicity, religion, identity. 

From day one, we have worked in the cloud to increase flexibility, accessibility and security but also reduce costs. One of the things we realised when we entered strict lockdowns in March 2020 was that suddenly almost everyone was forced to work the way we had worked for years. While a lot of organisations had to reinvent some of their processes and ways of working or even start from scratch, we had had them in place for quite some time. That doesn’t mean that everything worked perfectly well, but we were definitely a few steps ahead and could invest our time in achieving more strategic objectives.  

Now, just a few days before the Summit in Karachi, I have made a few points that I believe are particularly important based on my observations and discussions with political and business leaders. 

Agility, resilience and foresight 

Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that the only constant in life is change. In fact, the only thing that will never change is the presence of change itself and that change might be expected or unforeseen such as Covid-19.  

The pandemic showed that businesses must be more agile. And leaders must be able to recognise failure fast, learn from mistakes and pivot in order to react to persistent change. Diversification is also vital. 

Resilience is being prepared for the unexpected as much as possible and being able to bounce back from the adversity that has thrown the organisation off course as fast and as efficiently as possible. And foresight is the ability to make correct judgements about future developments and plan actions based on that knowledge.

Agility, resilience and foresight have become buzzwords but are now a business imperative and the case of the Ukrainian IT sector proves that.  

Constant improvement and learning 

That constant change requires that we learn, and improve our knowledge and skills constantly. In fact, leadership is a learning process. We learn based on our experiences and mistakes and the experiences and mistakes of others. 

I have learnt to invest in relationships, to pay attention to people and to do my best to understand them.  

We meet different people as our life progresses. Some of them stay around, and with others we part ways. But every single conversation, every single meeting is worth our while. Some help propel us forward and give us new ideas and tools — whilst others give further clarity about what we do not want to be or do. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a meeting that brought no extra knowledge or insight. 

Diversity equals increased creativity 

I have had the privilege to speak with a number of female business leaders and the insights they have shared are eye-opening.  

That insight brings me to relate to what Winston Churchill said, that diversity is the one true thing we all have in common, and we should celebrate it every day. We should also stop thinking that our differences make us superior or inferior. 

My nephew is 17 now and at an early age, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He keeps saying “everyone is different”. He might be less able to learn about historical events and sometimes understand the cause-and-effect relationship. However, while I can handle that, I have no knowledge about computer games or cars (apart from being able to drive the latter) and my nephew is absolutely brilliant at both.  

We are all needed and valuable because we complement each other. I wish everyone could understand how much they can benefit from diversity and from making everyone feel part of the community or a group, or a workplace.  

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Partnership and collaboration 

Giving voice to the team, regardless of the experience, age, status, position in the organisation’s hierarchy and listening to that voice is essential. That comes from creating an environment in which everyone is eager to contribute with their own strengths and concerns toward organisational success. That can only be achieved with influence and inspiration, not with control. 

That leads me to refer to governance — the process of decision-making and decision implementation — as an important element. In my view, it is about effectiveness and efficiency, equitability, responsiveness, inclusion, consensus-building, transparency and integrity. The latter might sometimes mean having to take tough decisions

Covid-19 also unlocked the power of partnerships helping to achieve common goals. So did Russia’s war on Ukraine. We clearly need more of that to face present and future challenges. 

Responsibility for the future  

I believe leaders should be more concerned with the collective than with the individual good. For businesses that also means balancing profits and impact, and perhaps not prioritising growth over safety, as in the case of the current artificial intelligence (AI) arms race.  

Leaders should be aware of the effects of their own actions and interactions and ensure that decisions are made on the basis of short- and long-term considerations. 

There are limits to economic growth and we need to understand that we have to shift beyond economic growth as a goal and look at the impact we make as an organisation. We have to act according to key values such as cooperation, sharing, social justice and ecological stewardship, on local as well as global levels in order to improve the world for future generations. 

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