Partner Perspectives: Return on Character Pays Off

Leadership takes opinions, attitude, integrity. Why many 45+ leaders step out (when they can), and many younger people don’t step up (or want to).

Interview by Karin Bauer, Der Standard, Austria, March 2017

With Günther Tengel, Managing Partner of Amrop Jenewein in Austria

Point of View

STANDARD: The leaders of the future are educated in business schools. Are they really equipped to be fit for our future? And what future is that?

Tengel: In 1964, Peter Drucker wrote his book: Managing for Results. It was about influencing our commercial environment – achieving results. But who really influences whom, these days? Do managers change the business environment, or is it the business environment that has changed managers? Who decides anything today? What room for maneuver do managers have, in terms of decision making? And do they feel remotely able to implement the conditions they’re presented with?

STANDARD: Why do you have doubts?

Tengel: Acting on a daily basis at the decision making coalface makes one thing clear: the disconnect between what leaders decide, manage, direct, and what they think and feel as individuals. This dissonance is hard for many people to deal with.

STANDARD: Why? Because decisions are increasingly taken centrally, or because of the oft-criticized matrix organization?

Tengel: There are many reasons. When sales don’t grow, costs have to go down. Companies are permanently reducing head counts, countries are bundled into regions. Business are clustered, and new, add-on projects are spread out between existing personnel. For the most part there’s no synergy between all these tasks. It often means different goals, reporting lines and responsibilities. It can be draining.

STANDARD: And the speed of decision making is continually increasing.

Tengel: Exactly. Everything is becoming more short term, more dynamic. Back in the mists of time, we used to think in five and three year plans. Today, the face of whole industries can completely change in the space of five years. Many people are aware that core competence can quickly lead to core rigidity. Successful companies can fail on the basis of superlative competence. Think Nokia or Kodak. Resting on success can threaten the future. It was ever thus, but today everything is getting faster and more aggressive, in many ways.

STANDARD: So this is why more and more 40 and 45 year olds are stepping out, if they can somehow afford to?

Tengel: Yes, but also many young people are not even stepping up in the first place – something that would enable them to afford to step out. When business life is defined in terms of money, status and power, needs such as doing things with meaning, the team approach and societal relevance fall by the wayside. We have a whole generation that is growing up with these needs - and articulating them.

STANDARD: We’re back in the realm of New Leadership…

Tengel: Leadership takes opinions, attitude, integrity. Often it’s still the wrong people who are leading, people who have been doing it for a long time and have adapted. But what we need are new ideas, innovation, openness, transparency and – trust. Trusting in one’s own strength, but above all, trusting others. The financial crisis is causing less suffering than the trust crisis.

STANDARD: So what does that leave us with?

Tengel: Integrity is the basis for everything. The good news is that according to a study by KRW International, companies that purposefully live their values, radiate trust, have ‘character’ become more profitable in the long term. So the moral of the story seems to be that ‘character pays off.’ Let’s hope so, in any case.