Die BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt bringt Führungspersönlichkeiten aus unterschiedlichen Sektoren, Kulturen und Nationen zusammen, um gesellschaftliche Innovationen voranzutreiben, den globalen Dialog zu fördern und Entscheidungsträger zu verantwortungsvollem Handeln zu ermutigen. Zur Eröffnung des fünften Weltforums „Responsible Leaders“ sprach Michael Schäfer, Ambassador (ret.), Chairman of the Board of Directors, BMW Foundation, über seine Vorstellungen verantwortlicher Führung.
Foundation Responsible Leaders, dear friends,
Welcome to Germany, welcome to Munich, welcome to the BMW World! On behalf of the BMW Foundation team I am thrilled to welcome more than 500 participants at the 5th World Responsible Leaders Forum representing some 70 countries around the globe. We are proud to have you with us, we are proud to count you among our Responsible Leaders network, you are the most important asset of our Foundation. The other day when I sat down to reflect about how I may address you today, I started to wonder what „responsible leadership“ really means to you and to us, to our extraordinary network. Let me share a few thoughts with you.
It is a world of paradoxes.
We all live in an increasingly complex environment. Our societies are torn between progress and regress. It is a world of paradoxes. Compared to previous generations, we are living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history. For us here, the cold war is over, Germany a united nation, Europe an island of peace and prosperity.
And yet, every morning when we look at the papers or check out other media, we are confronted with a multiplicity of civil wars, acts of terror and massive violations of human rights – not somewhere far away in the world, but next door to our societies. Never in history have so many people been lifted out of poverty as in this past generation, and yet 800 million men, women and children must survive with less than one euro a day.
Inequality and lack of social justice in seemingly far-away places are challenging our comfort zones at home, which is manifested by an increasing influx of refugees and migrants into our societies. But because the EU has become an island of peace and prosperity, people are starting to build new walls to defend their fortune and integrity, they even start questioning the very value system on which we have built this unprecedented success story.
to advance human dignity
Around the world, there is a new generation of people like you who are connected by technology, and driven by idealism and imagination, working together to start new ventures, to hold governments more accountable, and to advance human dignity.
And yet, there are tendencies to exclude people in need – for reasons of religion, color or race. We see the reemergence of nationalist trends which we thought we had overcome. Confusion, timidity, and insecurity are paralyzing parts of our societies, preventing them to move forward, to open new doors for ever more people, to trigger cooperation between our cities, provinces and countries which are more interconnected in this digital age than ever before.
Instead of making big leaps forward, the radar system that all people need, this common set of values guiding us, seems to evaporate. Many citizens are losing their sense of direction. Insecurity settles because what has been right yesterday seems to be dramatically different today. This insecurity results in frustration, opposition to authorities, sometimes even in outright denial of the existing social contracts and constitutional foundations of our societies.
We need a new quality of responsible leadership.
This, dear friends, is one of the consequences of globalization, the flipside of the common market place in the global village that so many are profiting from. Our world has become extremely complex and difficult to understand, leaving more and more people at a loss. A loss which needs to be explained. Explained by our political leaders, by those in business, by all of us. We must not let large parts of our society drift apart into helpless populism. This changing world requires leadership, but leadership has become a rare currency. We need a new quality of responsible leadership.
With Henri-Claude de Bettignies I regard five dimensions as essential in transforming a leader into a responsible leader. Allow me to touch on each of them shortly.
While many of us are locked in homogeneous niches of our society, we are increasingly challenged by stakeholders who come from very different horizons, from different social and political worlds, from different traditions and cultural backgrounds. We need to become aware of these differences, which requires meeting others as equals and with respect, listening to each other, trying to understand their legitimate interests, sensing where a communality of values and interests may lie.
This process of meeting of minds and of becoming aware of complexities is the starting point of all our dialogue formats at the BMW Foundation. We are convinced that authentic encounter is the precondition for building trust and bringing about transformation.
Why are we doing what we are doing, where do we want to be in five or ten years’ time? Our daily life is fragmented by a myriad of decisions and impulses which are mostly reactive in nature. We react to what others are saying or doing. Very often there is a lack of strategic vision, both in business and in politics. This is one of the reasons why our stakeholders are losing their sense of orientation.
If business leaders are brave enough to present bold visions, this will eventually lead to dramatic changes within the whole value chain. If politicians are brave enough to regard a vision not as a problem to be discussed with their eye doctor, but as an invitation to rethink the world, it has the potential of transforming areas of conflict into regions of peace. My wish is to see this organization, this extraordinary network of leaders, become a powerhouse of change, using their talent, creativity and enthusiasm to enhance our social impact, to transform our business organizations and governments. To make us a force that is able to help realize the sustainable development goals of the UN both at home and in all our regions.
Transforming business and society requires creativity, courage and constant change of perspective. By sticking to our respective position, we may change this or that attitude, but the glass will only be half empty or half full. If we really want to be agents of change, we have to expand our point of view. It is outside the box where lies the potential for change, a result of what psychologists call „flow“, the combination of challenge and joy, the motor of evolution.
That’s why the BMW Foundation so strongly believes in cross-sector exchanges. Only if we start thinking out – of-the box, even leaving our safe box for a period of time, interacting with like-minded people from totally different boxes, only then will the range of our imagination widen and allow us to think in new and unexpected dimensions. Only then will we be able to perceive a different reality, allowing us to reach previously unknown borders, to achieve previously unthinkable solutions to complex challenges.
Being accountable starts at home, within our families and the organizations we work in. Responsibility means first and foremost leading by example, doing what I am expected to do, with empathy and compassion for people and the natural environment, driven by a clear set of ethical and legal principles.
I do what I do, not only because I will profit from it personally, but because the common goal requires my active contribution. It takes the courage of a leader to stand in for ethical norms, for one’s values in situations where they are being contested. Our network of leaders helps facilitate the exercise of joint responsibility. It helps leaders to come together on the basis of common values, takes the burden off the shoulder of a single person, and thus serves as a platform and a protection at the same time. Exercising responsibility together, supporting each other, results in more than the sum of what individuals can do on their own.
Yes, it is important to listen to each other, to understand different positions and interests, to exchange ideas and identify new avenues. But it is equally important to implement these ideas, to take action to change things for the better. You are all part of this network because you engage, as social entrepreneurs, as agents of change in business and government, as start-up innovators. Going it alone can be satisfying by itself, but doing it with the support of others is key for transformative processes.
The network can be our power station.
The network can be our power station recharging our batteries in our constant striving to make a difference and contribute to the common good. What we need are new alliances, transgressing the borders of public and private. You guys can be instrumental in doing that. The 5th World Responsible Leaders Forum is ample proof how energizing it is not to feel alone, to know that there are like – minded people who support you. The BMW Foundation wants to be a catalyst for this dynamic support system, we want you to team up and support each other to realize the ambitious, creative, transformative projects that are the driver of this network. This is the spirit we would like you to remember when you think back to the 5th World Responsible Leaders Forum.
I wish you unforgettable moments, many new insights and contacts, and the conviction when you leave Munich next weekend that you are proud to be part of an extraordinary group of responsible leaders who work together for the common good. I am confident that you will be a wonderful inspiration for each other.
Text: Michael Schäfer; Bild: BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt