What is a good leadership
Good leadership is often invoked as a prerequisite for social change and economic growth. This is especially evident in transitional societies of the Western Balkan region, which had paid a high price for its bad leadership during the recent times of great social change. Today, people in these countries are highly critical of their leadership and perceive them as corrupt and disconnected form the people’s political views¹ (see Figure 1 and 2). On a larger scale, the world has seen tremendous changes in the last two decades, when political, economic and social changes have been fused with the technological revolution driven by information and communication technologies. This resulted in the increased pressure on leaders in the developing and transitional countries to be more committed to new governance models that should respond more favorably to the people’s needs.
Interestingly enough, the global economic crisis can be seen as a leadership crisis of the developed world, even though developed countries have a much larger social capital, stable political environments and advanced business ecosystems. Hence, as pointed out by the World Bank Institute², the world is “shifting away from old-style management towards a new concept of good leadership”, but this process is more challenging in developing countries, where “the accountability framework is often weaker, lack of transparency is often a key issue, decision making processes occasionally fail to operate effectively and efficiently, the informal sector is ubiquitous, and economic, political, legal, and social systems may not accept the rule of law”.
The world needs a new generation of leaders, who can see beyond the current depressing economic trends and start building the foundations of the world of tomorrow – socially just, technologically driven, business friendly, and politically stable.
Irrespective of the society or culture where these leaders will strive to lead, they will have to demonstrate2:
1) the capacity to engage people to produce a shared vision of the future;
2) the effectiveness in identifying problems and obstacles and prioritize among posed competing challenges; and
3) the accountability in a form of serving the public good and personifying individual and professional ethics.
It is important to keep in mind that leaders not only lead, they define social norms3. Leadership is grounded in a relationship with their followers under the umbrella of the common goal. Hence, exemplary leaders in both the public and the private sectors have six competencies3:
• they create a sense of mission,
• they motivate others to join them on that mission,
• they create an adaptive social architecture for their followers,
• they generate trust and optimism,
• they develop other leaders, and
• they get results.
Some people will acquire these competences by chance or will be driven into leadership by certain life situations. However, leadership is today recognized as a combination of transferable skills and certain personality traits. Leadership is in many ways a performance art, where a good rhetoric is a necessity because leaders must have a vision that they are able to convey and share with their followers³. This communication with followers happens either through a direct contact or through media channels. Effectiveness of this communication can be significantly increased by a proper training in public relations and various verbal and non- verbal communication techniques. A good leader also has to understand how modern media work and the extent of media power and media biases. Moreover, getting results requires a good notion of modern lobbying process and forces shaping modern entrepreneurship. Also, leadership policy decisions should be guided by objective evidence, where a scientific rigor is applied in the analysis of possible options, their implementation process and their results. In addition to these skills, a leader has to express some intelligence, toughness and determination. But a recent research at nearly 200 large global companies has shown4 that truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.
Promoting leaders who miss these traits can create a brief impression of a good leadership, but will inevitably end up with unfulfilled strategic goals or even as a highly destructive force.
Therefore, we put together an initiative to encourage a new generation of young leaders in all segments of our society, who will embody all these traits and skills. Challenges put in front of the contemporary society are such that “the art of leadership in today’s world involves orchestrating the inevitable conflict, chaos, and confusion of change so that the disturbance is productive rather than destructive”5.
Our goal is to identify potential future leaders and help them develop themselves.
The need for such an initiative arises from the lack of leadership and entrepreneurship oriented education within the formal educational systems of the Western Balkan countries. Educational practices within these systems are not fostering excellence in education. Instead, they promote average level of knowledge and do not prepare pupils and students for real life problems6. These educational trends keep the local societies in turmoil and their economies and cultural products non-competitive on the global markets. This problem is escalated further by the shortage of local workforce with competitive science and technology skills, as well as underdeveloped innovation business environments.
Global and local challenges cannot be addressed in the modern world without an active policy of promoting science and technology7. Unfortunately, local leaders have to face the fact that the science and technology innovation in the Western Balkan countries lags dramatically behind the EU average6,8,9. These countries do not produce enough high quality scientific research to remain on par with the global competitors, nor do they show the ability to transfer whatever science they crate into technology that would benefit their business sectors. Even though small and medium enterprises strive to be innovative to place new products on the market, true cooperation between the private and public sectors barely exists, due to a longstanding preconception of the private sector entities as exploitative and the public sector as corrupt.
Modern leadership has to tackle these issues and understand the intricate connection between education, science, technology, research, entrepreneurship and technology transfer.
Transition of the local national economies from efficiency-driven to innovation-driven economies requires a new generation of leaders with a vision how to achieve growth in innovation9. This task seems almost unattainable, since, due to recent violent conflicts and accompanying devastation of the human capital, this region lost a great deal of its capacity for science and technology development. A recent report on human capital in Central and Eastern Europe10 is a sobering reminder of what is at stake. The report concludes that “for the countries that scored poorly – there is a realistic chance of being stuck in relative poverty to the European average – since no other resource but human capital can lift them out of the situation they are in today”.
Even more troubling issue for local leaders is an extremely high unemployment of the Western Balkan youth – among the highest in Europe. Youth unemployment is a monumental challenge for the economic and societal development the Western Balkan countries. The high rates are so persistent over the years that the youth unemployment makes impact on a deeper societal level, reshaping the political narrative and the vision of the future in the local communities.
Moreover, a large fraction of the unemployed have higher education, which is a direct consequence of structural problems with the education system. Nevertheless, the number of tertiary educated youth is increasing, together with investments in higher education that lacks meaningful connection with the labor market’s needs. Although youth unemployment is a global challenge11, the Western Balkan region is lacking political courage (or knowledge) and leadership vision that could address the roots of the problem and change the trends. Participation of young people is often emphasized as a prerequisite of any policy measure aimed at addressing these problems. As noted by the regional youth policy experts12, “policy making and politics have to make different approaches, according to country specificities. What needs to be unique is a commitment to already accepted policy and to new improved guidelines. In this process young people need to participate actively as stakeholders in the process of youth social, economic and political positioning”. Unfortunately, the concept of youth participation is still an exotic policy measure in the Western Balkan countries13.
Hence, our program is helping young people to learn skills and build networks required for boosting their participation in societal changes that affect their life and future.
1) Gallup Balkan Monitor, 2010 Summary of Findings, www.balkan-monitor.eu
2) Background Notes on Leadership, 2007, World Bank, Washington, DC (PDF)
3) W. Bennis, “The Challenges of Leadership in the Modern World”, 2007, American Psychologist, vol.62, pp.2–5
4) D. Goleman, “What Makes a Leader?”, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1998
5) R. Heifetz, A. Grashow, M. Linsky, “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis”, Harvard Business Review, July 2009
6) T. Linden; N. Arnhold; K. Vasiliev, “From fragmentation to cooperation: tertiary education, research and development in South-Eastern Europe”, World Bank, 2008.
7) John P. Holdren, “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being”, Science, 319. pp. 424-434
8) PRO INNO Europe, “Innovation Union Scoreboard”
9) UNESCO, “UNESCO Science Report 2010”
10) “The European Human Capital Index: The Challenge of Central and Eastern Europe”, the Lisbon council (2007), Policy Brief Vol. 2, No. 3
11) “Global Employment Trends for Youth”, International Labour Organization
12) D. Potočnik, report on the seminar “Youth Policy and Youth Employment in South-East Europe” for the Youth Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe, 2010
13) F. Denstad, “Youth participation in youth policy development the case of Southeast Europe”, Coyote magazine, vol.14, 2009.