Officially my leadership journey started on February 2nd 2010. I was invited to the inauguration of the André Leysen Leadership Chair and the Academic Session for the 50th Anniversary of Antwerp Management School. I already had several informal contacts to join the school as director for the leadership competence center. Decision time was near. I was still struggling with my ambitions. Why give up on a well paid, respected & secure position in a company with great possibilities and a bright future? Why letting go a strong internal network and a sound base of expertise?
The evening was remarkable in many ways. More than 2000 alumni attended the evening. Philippe Naert gave an impressive speech on the history and future of the school. Newly elected president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy came in with spot lights and body guards. His inauguration speech for the Leadership Chair was witty and egoless. He greeted André Leysen personally as one of his long time mentors. Leysen was touched to tears. Robert Burgelman closed the evening with his keynote speech on leadership. Burgelman is professor at Stanford University and an academic heavy weight on strategic leadership thinking. I was impressed and excited and wanted to be part of that dynamic. That night I made up my mind.
One year later, I come to realize that two of Burgelmans thoughts still guide me in my leadership thinking.
“The realisation of your vision of career and life depends on the consequential actions you take or fail to take.” A consequential action marks a point of no return. There’s no way back. The difference lasts. Such actions materialize a process of reflection and sense making. Without reflection actions don’t have consequences. They add up to more of the same. Defined in this way, leadership is reflection in action or action in reflection. Or as Napoleon said, “on s’engage et puis on voit.” It became the life motto of the successful entrepreneur André Leysen. It’s the difference between someone who stops smoking and starts again a week later and someone who stops smoking and never touches a cigarette again.
“Leadership is helping your team to continue to win.” Leaders are teachers. They help and support. Secondly, it’s about winning: reaching the goals, succeeding. And thirdly: it’s about continuing to win. This is the hardest part. It means that leaders have to win from themselves: they have to evolve, to grow. Otherwise they won’t last. Leadership is never-ending.
Probably these two thoughts still resonate with me because I was so present that evening, listening with all my heart to grasp my possible future.