Jacques Rogge on leadership: “Self-knowledge is probably the most difficult trait to have.”

Mr. President Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee honored yesterday Antwerp Management School with his lecture on global leadership for the André Leysen Leadership Chair. Expectations were high. Dr. Rogge is the only Belgian leader ranked in the top 68 world leaders of Forbes magazine on #67. What has a global leader of his kind to say on leadership? How does he manage and unite the Olympic movement and the conflicting interests of sports, commerce and politics? How does he universalise the Olympic spirit in a sustainable way, dealing with threats as the ecological footprint of the games, the dark side of globalisation, doping, illegal betting, bribery and the overall commercialisation of sports?

Jacques Rogge excelled in three domains: in sports, as Olympic athlete, in medicine science and practice, as surgeon and teacher, and as sports administrator. What insights did he share with his audience? As an academic he talked about the basic concepts of leadership. He quoted Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker and even George Burns, thought leader on transformational leadership. As a sportsman and with more passion he shared the insights of Vince Lombardi, famous American football coach on the importance of teamplay and the power to inspire others to follow: “winning is not everything, it is the only thing”. And as a sports administrator he stressed the importance of operational excellence: “the ambition to be organisational, financial and media-related excellent.” Combined, you get the Jacques Rogge leadership style.

“The organisational, media and financial success of the Games olbiges us to be good managers and business entrepreneurs. But it is the defence and promotion of the immaterial and intangible values that make us sports leaders, and oblige us to be social entrepreneurs.” That says it all. The IOC leadership in sports is not based on statutory power. It is not due to financial success. It is due to “transformational leadership on moral and social values. The legitimacy of the IOC’s leadership stems from the capacity it has to inspire the youth of the world.”

A lot of leadership thinking is prescriptive. Also Jacques Rogge named a number of “must have’s” and “must do’s” for excellent leadership. “A leader must be an optimist. A pessimist can not transform people.” “A leader must definitely be a role model and lead by example.” And so forth. Remarkable was his emphasis on self-knowledge: “A leader must have great self-knowledge and be aware of his or her personal limitations, and this is probably the most difficult trait to have. Indeed, someone who has vision and drive, and is fully dedicated, has the most difficulty in being objective about his own performance, and it is not easy in this state of mind to show humility and a sense of humour, which I believe are very important in life.”

Did he laugh during the evening? When he was questioned by the audience? And/or during his acceptance of the first Antwerp Management School Global Citizen Award? Was he humble and did he connect with everyone, not only the VIP’s? Yes. And in that way he talked the walk. No army of bodyguards around him nor communication officers. He followed consciously & obediently the program and outed himself “to be proud to be a ‘grey mouse'”. He answered to the questions directly and with self-relativism, which is also the hallmark of the other Belgian leader on the global scene, Herman Van Rompuy.

Q: “How does IOC defend equality between women and men?”
A: “We do a lot of things… To give you an example. In our organisation we strive to have 20 % women in executive positions.”
Q: “Only 20 %?”
A: “We have to be realistic, we don’t find easily women for those positions.”
“I’m available!”, said the young student.
“Give me your card!” smiled Rogge.

Other questions were more challenging. He answered them to the point.
Q: “How did your experience as an athlete help you to become the leader of the IOC?”
A: “It’s clear that having been an athlete helped me to understand sports administration. But I learned even more as a doctor. You learn to listen. You only have 20 minutes to analyze what a patient has to say.”
Q: “Which were your role models?”
A: “Gandhi & Mandela. They had no institutional power, they ended up in jail for their ideas and they transformed the world.”
Q: “How do you feel about the future of the world?”
A: “I visit more than 40 countries a year. And I’m optimistic. The youth is much more aware of their duty.”

The toughest question was on the limits of the ‘altius, fortius, citius” adagio of the Olympic movement: “how can you care about the health of the athletes, when you know at the same time that they suffer and have pain during and after their sporting careers.” His answer was rather evasive: “sports in general brings more good than bad to health.” But perhaps the strongest moment was when a student wanted to ask two questions. The audience wondered what would happen, as the rule was “only one question at the time”, as explained at the beginning of the Q&A. Mr. Rogge interrupted her, before she could ask her second question and answered to the first one. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

The first Global Citizen Award could not have found a better destination. Not only because of his success as organizer of the Olympic Games. Not only because of his reputation as “Lord of the rings” and “Mister Clean”, concretized in his continuous efforts to fight doping, corruption, racism and violence. To use sports as a motor of development for poor countries and athletes and to improve the position of minorities and women. Not only because he talks about the importance of being self aware, working together, having a global mindset and taking social responsibility. But because he’s able to ‘laugh at himself’.

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About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 5. Awareness & empowerment, English, Leader interviews & opinions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jacques Rogge on leadership: “Self-knowledge is probably the most difficult trait to have.”

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