Bringing leaders together
Itijah – or ‘direction’ in English – is one of many Common Purpose programmes designed to expand, enrich and energise relations between leaders in different parts of the world. The latest took place in Doha, Qatar and brought together 35 leaders from the cities of Alexandria, Amsterdam, Amman, Doha, Frankfurt, Istanbul, London and Tripoli. These participants came from a range of backgrounds and from sectors including business, government and the community.
They were given the challenge of answering this question: “For every 10 million euros invested in legacy events, how can we ensure that 100 direct jobs are generated by and for young people in business and social enterprises?”
Using Doha as the base, they immersed themselves in the task by getting input from a wide range of leaders and making site visits to organisations working in the field of legacy, job creation and entrepreneurship.
New approaches to problem-solving
These types of complex problems, which cross the divides of typical business functions, roles and geographies, occur increasingly within the changing global environment and require leaders to work in new and innovative ways. First, they must focus on working collaboratively. This involves taking full advantage of the diversity within the group to have courageous conversations that challenge norms and encourage disruptive and creative thinking.
Often, organisations try to solve problems by convening groups of people who operate in the same field and think in similar ways. But by forming diverse groups – individuals who have very different ideas, perspectives, experiences and values – you can create a very different outcome. It is also important to let go of the kind of traditional thinking and over-analysis that so often inhibit creativity and innovation. Leaving behind the status ascribed to you on your business card and the desire to be ‘right’ as a leader will bring a sense of freedom that allows creativity to flourish.
As Noura Kamel, development programme manager at Silatech in Qatar says: “Learning to voice the first idea that comes to mind allows a space for opportunities that we could otherwise miss.”
Next, explore the challenge of cultural intelligence (CQ) – the ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures. As a leader, while you might claim to operate effectively in any situation with anybody, it is not until you are actually required to do this that you can trip up.
By throwing leaders together on a difficult task within a very diverse group and with limited delivery time, finding a way to work effectively across boundaries – whether these are cultural, sectoral, religious or gender-based – can be very challenging. You can work through this, explore what is core to you as a leader and what you will flex. This will help to develop your CQ: the ability to thrive in multiple cultures and develop a global mindset.
Lessons for HR leaders
The Itijah group has come up with prototypes to address the challenge and will be taking these to stakeholders in their cities to test and move towards implementation. This kind of training fosters collaboration as it engages and empowers people across the whole organisation. It creates the chance to break down the silos that develop within organisations. Encouraging individuals to learn from others – within and beyond the boundaries of their teams – is hugely beneficial for leaders as they increasingly have to work in new ways, with people who don’t report to them and are based in multiple locations.
According to Sir David Bell, former chair at Financial Times Group: “The view from your office window seldom changes. If we want our leaders to see the bigger picture, they must see the world through other people’s eyes.”