Skip to content

Leadership: new models and values to gain competitiveness

    • Rome
    • 11 November 2010

          “Today, people are much more crucial to competitiveness than in the past; and when you talk about people, you’re talking about values”. This observation by Ennio Presutti, entrepreneur and manager who was one of the co-founders of Aspen Institute Italia, provided the starting point for a debate focusing on new models for effective and ethical leadership in a globalized world. This issue, a recurring theme in all Aspen Junior Fellows debates, was examined in-depth from the point of view of its temporal and cultural aspects (as determined by the historic changes currently taking place), geography (in terms of national and international leadership), and different fields of activity (including the political, economic, business, defense, public administration, professional and academic spheres).

          It was stressed that leadership, unlike management, is not a technique, and therefore, is not a transferable “skill”. One becomes a leader “almost” by accident, when circumstances give rise to the emergence of an individual’s talent for leading a given community towards a shared objective. Schools of excellence are accelerators of such talent, as quality training and education tends to bring out the leadership potential of individuals. The participants thus noted that, in Italy, alongside recognition of merit, there is also a need to focus attention on education and training resources aimed at educing leadership qualities (in this regard, the United States was seen as providing a useful point of reference). University centers of excellence in Italy, it was felt, must be further strengthened, including with help from the private sector. The participants also discussed the idea of supporting worthy students by paying a government study allowance, the amount of which could vary depending on how well they perform.

          Much was made during the debate of the constant interplay between values and a leader’s charisma. Depending on the particular sphere of activity, a leader is called on to represent the culture of his/her organization, to face and tackle issues of team morale, to behave consistently, to anticipate change, to take risks, and to communicate. Leadership, it was stated, has to do with the ethics of responsibility, and thus with pragmatism, not ideological principles. It must be open to being questioned and challenged, otherwise it takes on an authoritarian bent. It must also be inclusive. It takes the form of a temporary monopoly of a key market for any organization: that dealing in consensus and, conversely, in legitimacy. However, the participants emphasized that the contestability of positions of authority requires courage on the part of those who wish to assert their leadership. Often, organizations (particularly in the political and business world, for instance) fail to prepare for leadership succession. The debate concluded with the acknowledgment that social mobility in the field of leadership calls for young people to win their own ground in the “war of talent”, including by going into battle where necessary, and perhaps even taking a step back when the time is ripe for a change of guard, in line with an American principle which holds that the progressive stages of a professional career are to “learn, earn, and serve”.

            Related content