Jan Van Acoleyen: “Strong bosses make people powerless.”

“Never waste a good crisis. It’s the rule nr. 1 of the Obama administration,” says Rahm Emmanuel, former chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago. And probably that’s the essence of leadership, to make the adaptive changes to new realities. For more leadership thinking on this line I can recommend Ron Heifetz, professor at Harvard Kennedy school. “Change through leadership and leadership through change” was also the theme of the leadership summit of the Student Council of the Antwerp Management School last evening. Some 150 students and alumni came to listen to real life stories on leadership.

Peter De Keyzer, chief economist of BNP Paribas Fortis, drew the big picture: world’s economy is interdependent and world governance is needed to keep things in balance. “Where is the G20 now?” he wondered. “We survived the financial meltdown through unseen collaboration at world level. But soon afterwards, the G20 turned into the G0. The surplus countries Germany and China call the shots. But one country’s surplus is another country’s deficit.” Peter made a clear case for collaboration and governance on global level. It’s the only way to prevent a fall back in ‘survival of the fittest’ behavior. He’s not very optimistic.

Global economic interdependencies are one main driver for change. Nicolas Collette, VP business development Telenet, showed us the other one: the digital wave.  “You’ll never walk alone anymore”, paraphrasing the famous football hymn. “We’ll be mobile-connected at all times, cross devices. Location based apps will show us at any moment who & what is around us that can be of interest.” It’s the story of Peter Hinssens ‘New Normal’ with impact on our way of working, living and relating.

Barco seems not the have wasted their crisis. In two years time the high-tech company with close to 1 billion EURO turnover and 3500 employees turned around from close to shut-down to renewed growth and profitability. How? “Well, it was not easy. And we are still struggling. The most difficult part is culture and leadership. We developed a new strategy and adapted our structure. But we found out that we needed to change the culture of the organisation to enable the new strategy and structure. Command and control was no longer the recipe. We could no longer control the world from Kortrijk. We could no longer be entrepreneurial or ingenious in silo’s and neglecting the economies of scale. We could no longer have strong bosses who, at the end, keep their people powerless.”

Barco discovered the hard way that culture eats strategy for breakfast. And structure at noon. “Culture is not a free lunch,” Jan added. “We have defined our values. We measure, develop, talk about it. We have our leadership code. We are serious about leadership behaviours. We want to develop the power of engaging people.” Catalyst for this change is the new CEO. “He’s a story-teller. He’s able to explain what needs to be done in simple wordings to the workers on the floor in China as well as to the chief engineer in US R&D.”

Newnormal leadership faces the real challenges. It’s bringing in the reality of changing economics & technology. It’s developing a clear, personal story about dealing with this reality. And it’s ensuring that everybody has an equal role to play in the happy never-ending of the story. We all lead together.

Any comment?


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in Comments & events, English and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Jan Van Acoleyen: “Strong bosses make people powerless.”

  1. Pingback: Eric Van Zele en de kracht van een goed verhaal | Thefutureleadershipinitiative

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