ECONOMY

Leadership is the most crucial element in modern business

MBA programs have increasingly come to focus on bringing out and developing qualities of leadership, becoming known as a major source of competitive advantage for enterprises. «An executive’s career no longer depends on his professional and managerial know-how and skills. It mainly depends on a person’s ability to function as a leader in his domain,» said Professor Dimitris Bourantas, director of the Athens School of Economics’s Executive MBA program, in an interview. «In today’s environment, capital, strategies, products, systems and technology are not sufficient to secure continuous competitiveness and success. For one thing, they are no longer scarce resources, and, for another, they are easily copied by competitors. Perhaps the sole source of continuous competitiveness that remains is people.» He cites the disposition, enthusiasm, faith, passion, mentality, commitment, cooperation, brains and hearts of people as the means for effectively implementing strategies, policies and programs. People who keep learning, change and create new ideas and knowledge. «Such elements are the only ones that can secure continuous competitiveness and success in the modern environment, but they are not ‘bought,’ ‘ordered’ or secured through contracts. They are gained through the leadership qualities of staff at all levels, not just at the top,» Bourantas says. How does a leader differ from a manager? Two fundamental differences could be cited: First, a leader differs from a manager in that he makes other people follow him voluntarily and willingly. In other words, he gains the confidence, the commitment, the brains and soul of his people; and secondly, he creates a better organization and future, making small or big changes, depending on his level in the hierarchy, while also developing other leaders. But what are the skills and basic characteristics that distinguish a leader? A lot has been written and the list is a long one. But some of them I consider fundamental: strong will, passion for high performance, humility, integrity, values and social responsibility, courage and endurance, emotional intelligence, ability for systemic thought, creative decision-making and communication and persuasion skills. But there is one that refers to a fundamental skill that not been the concern of either research or bibliography to date, and that is the solitude of the leader, the ability to tap solitude as a source of inspiration and creativity, introspection, decision-making and effective behavior. Bourantas considers this a «post-skill,» a prerequisite for the development of some of the other qualities of a leader. But why does a leader have to feel solitude? In order to be inspired, to create new ideas, to cast doubt on established thought and practice, to conceive of a better future, take initiatives, head forward and open new horizons. He must be able to endure solitude, when he challenges established truths, sacred cows and taboos. This fundamental quality of enduring solitude contributes to a leader’s introspection, necessary for being clear about who he is, who he wants to be and where he wants to go, to operate with values, integrity, honesty, transparency and face opportunism, dishonesty, backstabbing and the arrogance of others.