The ability to work well as a leader is essential in 21st-century organizations. The price tag of dysfunctionality, particularly in teams, can be staggering. For example, in one of my latest books, The Hedgehog Effect, I present the case for leadership group coaching as an experiential training ground for creating more effective leaders. My leadership group coaching model, incorporating the life case study, has been developed over more than 20 years of delivering programs to top-level executives, and is now successfully applied all over the world. It is a process whereby people are gently nudged to reinvent themselves. Fortunately, what helps in working with so many leaders, is the discovery that they all are quite normal—until you get to know them better!
As I said earlier, one of the hats I wear is that of a psychoanalyst, and that leads me to focus on the darker side of organizational life. It is now more than a decade since I truly went into the leadership development business, creating with the help of many others (in particular my wife Elisabet) a leadership development center that has become the second largest in the world—and the largest in group leadership coaching. Through my work in this center, I have been trying to make human hedgehogs more effective and humane. I have been trying to help leaders create what I have called authentizotic organizations—places of work where people feel at their best. In these kinds of organizations, people find meaning in their work; they enjoy the people they work with; they have pride in what they are doing; and they trust the people they work for and with. Such a view of organizations may be idealistic, but (as I said before) without hope, there is no life.
For many years, I taught the core Organizational Behavior course in various MBA programs around the world. I always enjoyed giving this course. I felt it was a gift to be able to guide these young men and women in making life choices about their interpersonal relationships and career. I wanted to help them understand better their own elephant, hedgehog, and Ouroboros.
In my final class, I used to show the students an old black-and-white masterpiece called “Wild Strawberries” made by the famous film director Ingmar Bergmann. It tells the story of an old man, Isak Borg, who is making two journeys—one from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary doctorate (now you know why I have been thinking about this film so recently)—the other a more personal journey, a trip into his inner world. Helped by a mixture of dreams, daydreams, fantasies, and various encounters on the way to the ceremony (including one with his very icy mother—very different from mine by the way)—we obtain a remarkable insight into his personal inner theater, the quality of his interpersonal relationships, and the kind of muddles and mistakes he has made during his life’s journey. We really come to understand his elephant, his hedgehog, and his struggles with the Ouroboros. In spite of all the setbacks he encounters, it is a journey of hope. Even at his advanced age, and guided by the various people he meets on this journey, he opens up to change. One of the messages of the film is that it is never too late—but as we all know, a sine qua non in any change process, is the will to change yourself.
A goal I have set myself as a teacher is to help people feel better in their skin—to help them attain a modicum of happiness. In that respect, I tend to be a believer in the notion that happiness is not merely a question of good health and a bad memory, but more importantly, having something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. Happiness doesn’t come as a result of gaining something we don’t have but by recognizing and appreciating the things we do have.
The ancient Greeks believed that our life’s journey lies at the intersection of the Morae, the three Goddesses of Fate who spin our inescapable destiny; the goddess Tichy, symbolizing luck and chance; and the daemon, who is the elephant that represents our inner theater, guiding our steps. The way these various dramatic personae interact will always be a work in progress. And in dealing with this work in progress, it is not good enough to complain about the poor hand of cards we may have been dealt. The challenge of life is to make the best out of a poor hand. True leadership shows itself in tough situations. And as I said at the beginning of this speech, many of today’s leaders fail that test miserably. They badly need to get in touch with the Ouroboros inside them.
I would like to end my speech by paying tribute to Danica Purg, who is one of these rare transformational leaders, the kind of people who are so badly needed in difficult times. More than most of us, she must have pondered the question of what we would like to leave behind as a legacy in life. How do we want to be remembered? I believe that true leaders take the kinds of action that will benefit the next generation. Danica certainly has done so. Just look around you. And for that we should be very grateful.
I would like to thank you all for the honor you have bestowed on me today. Once again, thank you very much…..