A very timely conversation around leadership in a changing world took place in Athens, Greece in the beginning of December. Global Thinkers Forum organized its annual event and the GTF 2013 Awards for Excellence under the theme ‘Leadership & Collaboration’ convening over 30 leaders and thought leaders from 18 countries to discuss leadership, ethics, collaboration & cross-cultural understanding. The agenda also included topics such as cross-border business, investment & trade opportunities.
Among the GTF 2013 speakers in Athens were the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Mr Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyiannis who talked about Philanthropy and creating positive change, Geir Lippestad defense lawyer for the Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik who shared his experience about the impact of terrorist activities on a society, leading ICT expert Reem N. Bsaiso who gave a lecture on entrepreneurship in the knowledge economy.
One of the elements that make GTF so timely, interesting and successful is the very prolific and multicultural nature of the speakers and participants. Naturally also the fact that there is a great –and worldwide- need for idea exchange around new leadership practices and that speakers are carefully selected to be forward thinkers and world acclaimed authorities in their areas of expertise.
The day of the Forum opened with a keynote by the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser who also received the GTF 2013 Award for Excellence in Leadership and who highlighted the importance of leadership responsibility calling it a ‘huge and vital task’ at an international level if we want to achieve mutual goals of harmony and security. Originally from Qatar, the HR’s mission as the force of the UNAoC, is to shatter cross cultural barriers and to promote intercultural dialogue. Mr Nassir also said that:
‘traditionally a leader is one who commands power and guides others. But over the years, time has changed this definition transforming the traditional role of the leader. Leadership is no longer just a position, it is a mindset. When leaders see a need for change they have to be able to take action. Leaders have to turn their talent, knowledge and ideas into constructive strategies to address social political and humanitarian issues of all kinds.’
Participants expressed the view that a leader should be able to accumulate social capital in addition to economical capital. Dr Tu Weiming, Lifetime Professor Humanistic Studies University of Peking, emphasized that:
‘Leaders have to cultivate cultural competence and have to ensure that people are able to distinguish the difference between data and information, between Information and knowledge, between knowledge and wisdom.’
Among the points that these thought leaders agreed on was that in addition to emotional intelligence, ethical intelligence is very important. When the audience brought up the issue of leadership in China, participants expressed the view that the main challenge for leaders in China today is not the leadership’s ability to enhance economic productivity. But it is how to become sophisticated in the political, social, cultural and ecological senses.
Ambassador Heinrich Kreft who represented Germany in the discussions, argued that:
‘Those who lead should always look behind to see if there are still people following them; a leader needs a critical mass to go forward. Leaders have to be willing to pay a price, because inevitably they will come up with unpopular solutions.’
A very interesting angle was about internal social change and regional tensions of international character and how can nations we preserve strategic national focus, maintain reason and protect stability. Geir Lippestad, defense lawyer for Anders Behring Breivik argued that:
‘The biggest lesson that Norway learned from the terror attack was that when we are talking about values we need a common compass. Human rights, human dignity, the value of justice. I think the most important thing a leader can do is to be able to communicate values and also provide the society with a platform to communicate values. Then people start thinking about them and act on these values.’
Today we are much more horizontal, because of empowerment which comes from electronic interconnectivity between citizens. The notion of a civil society has never been more powerful than it is today. Civil society us much more universal and as the world becomes more interconnected, leadership in the traditional sense is challenged.
Dr Daniel R Fung explained that:
‘It is much more of the conversation and a partnership between the government and the governed. Cross-border, transnational communication enabled by technologies and allows for instantaneous eruption or communication between nations’.
Said Business School Professor Marc Ventresca who spoke on the panel about Entrepreneurship, expressed the view that successful entrepreneurial initiatives and culture need investments by firms, government agencies, and civil society organisations in order to build platforms that connect with schools, religious organisations and other agencies that serve the youth. These partnerships are critical for youth entrepreneurship, where young people can experiment with ideas and initiatives that address the waste of potential, frustration and discontent.”
GTF 2013 Athens was held under the auspices of the Municipality of Athens.