By Elizabeth Filippouli
What does success mean? One can rightly claim that success is something very subjective. How each one of us defines success is personal. For example success is becoming a tycoon; or an a-list Hollywood actor or a best-selling author. There are of course some commonly accepted criteria, by which accomplishments are praised, acknowledged. For example, we commend those people who have successfully climbed up high in the hierarchy ladder or made a lot of money or became influential opinion leaders. These people are considered, by most of us, successful.
Success is the result of an aggregation of advantages and circumstances: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, what the factors of your upbringing were, your surrounding environment, your friends and what stage in history was your nation going through-all these factors make a critical distinction in how well one does in life.
As Malcolm Gladwellargues in his fascinating book, Outliers:
When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances — and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds — and how many of us succeed — than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.
It is not industries that grow leaders; it is societies. It is the education system and, therefore, it is actually the responsibility and duty of various societal stakeholders to nurture competent, intelligent and forward thinking leaders.
Leaders are, by definition, at the pinnacle of any society’s largest organizations. Their actions have the capacity to change the course of history. Be it business, social, academic or political leaders. And this is a major responsibility.
Let’s come to successful leadership now. There is not as big a margin for personal interpretation here: a successful leader is he or she who opens news pathways for positive change and progress and their decision-making adds value to people’s lives. That’s it. It has to be clear, specific and positive.
Are leaders made or born? Let’s for a moment forget the ‘talent’ or the ‘high IQ’ arguments. Studies have shown that neither is worth anything without motivation, guidance, encouragement and hard, hard and even harder work. You need to be ten times faster and work ten times harder to succeed as a leader. Leaders are made. They are the result of a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience. Leadership is learned.
Successful leadership is affected by culture. Cultural legacies are weighty powers. They have profound roots and extended lives, they hold on, pass from one generation to another, virtually whole, and even when the economic and social and demographic conditions that brought them forth have vanished. In fact they play quite a function in steering behavior and thinking, so much so that often we could not comprehend our world without them. Leaders have their particular notable identity. But at the same time overlaid on top of that are tendencies and suppositions and reflexes passed on to them by the history of the community that they grew up in, the culture they were raised by.
For example, in her book World on Fire, Amy Chua argues that no matter where we look around the world, we will find examples of what she calls “dominant minorities” — ethnic groups that have demonstrated a remarkable leadership ability to succeed in business wherever they may live. Ethnic Chinese in the Philippines, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population, control 60 percent of the nation’s private economy! The Lebanese have become the entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa. It seems that national culture impacts successful leadership, yes.
Today the fusion of technology and the Internet, as well as rogue newcomers such as the revolutionary, divisive Wikileaks, are shaking up conventional leadership shedding light on the traditionally hidden political and corporate backrooms enforcing much needed reform in leadership practices and demanding much faster and more efficient problem solving in complex environments. Leaders need to understand that the narrative has changed and a series of new challenges require skilful and intelligent handling. Globalization, technological convergence and complex political issues have acquired a wicked nature: they create problems that resist obvious solutions.
Furthermore, it is necessary that leadership, regardless of professional realm, pursues excellence through global thinking and ethical governance. We need to train leaders to successfully challenge incumbent behavioral patterns, invest in social capital and re-engineer group thinking in ways that promote productive collaboration and progress. This is the challenge that Global Thinkers Forum is addressing by bringing together innovative avant-garde minds and successful or aspiring leaders to discuss progress and excellence in governance.
Global Thinkers Forum Amman is taking place in the capital of Jordan on Oct. 6, 7 and 8 2012 and focuses on Women Leaders in MENA. It is an international gathering of about 250 successful leaders from the Arab world and beyond who meet to promote knowledge, positive change, create more incentives and offer support towards women to help them pursue their careers or become successful leaders in the realm that they will select.
The expanding size of the global economy and the limited capacity of traditional governments and their international institutions to control a crippling economic model, have created an asymmetry that results into failing governance. The Arab revolutions, Greece’s financial tragedy, the failures of a problematic eurozone are all results of fatal mistakes, critical omissions and terrible misjudgements on behalf of political leadership.
To effectively tackle existing and new challenges, it is necessary that civil society joins hands with companies and governments in the analysis of the problems and in reform implementation. In order to achieve excellence in leadership and governance Global Thinkers Forum proposes a ‘triangular’ framework where civil society joins hands with government which joins hands the private sector. GTF attempts to fill this gap and be a bridge for promotion of ideas, understanding, innovation and cooperation among leaders across all disciplines. The pursuit of excellence in leadership is an imperative, today more than ever.
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