Notes from the Field: The Power of Vision for Leadership: Open Day at the European Leadership Academy, Berlin

Notes from the Field / August 2009

Anja SchmidtIn June the European Leadership Academy invited guests, partners and friends to its first Open Day. This is a report from Anja Schmidt, Head of Marketing and Customer Services at the European Leadership Academy.

What is the European Leadership Academy?

It is “A place for leadership. A place where people are given the opportunity to learn about, train and experience effective and good leadership. It offers a leadership that is inspired by core values in European society such as democracy, tolerance, peaceful conflict-resolution and a respectful use of the world’s natural resources. That is the European Leadership Academy’s purpose as introduced by Guido Fiolka, CEO of the European Leadership Academy, to his guests. More than 50 entrepreneurs, business leaders and personnel development professionals gathered on June 12 in the ELA’s newly renovated venue to get a first glimpse of the Academy’s work.

The ELA is an executive education and training centre, which is focused on leadership. Its trainings and programs are following an integral, systems-oriented approach to leadership. The Academy’s programs are geared towards two levels of leaders: senior executives in companies and organisations as well as young leaders with evidence of high potential on their way to board-level positions. Situated in Berlin as the dynamic, matured and multicultural metropolis in the midst of Europe, the European Leadership Academy attracts executives from countries in Europe and the rest of the world. The ELA offers a ten-month (ten three-day sessions) extra-occupational executive training, the New Leadership Development Program (NLDP), and a range of multi-day open or in-house trainings and events.

Why a Leadership Academy?

“What is needed is a different kind of leadership and a place where this can be learned”, answered Guido Fiolka, one of Germany’s top executive coaches. “It was about a year ago, reading day after day about the financial crisis and the critical situation all over the globe that I knew things have to change and the time for change is now!” His vision of an academy for leadership was inspiring and convincing. In December 2008 the European Leadership Academy was founded by him and 22 associates from four different European countries.

Forty years ago, Aurelio Peccei, an Italian industrial manager, might have had a similarly strong vision concerning the need to bring the limits of the world‘s natural resources to the attention of decision makers in politics and the economy, worldwide. Back then, he banded together ambassadors of economics and sciences over a vivifying discussion about the central challenges for human kind in the Italian capital, Rome—this was the hour of birth of the Club of Rome.

On the ELA’s Open Day, Uwe Moeller, former Secretary General of the Club of Rome, gave the opening address, kicking off the day with a passionate speech focusing on key-values for leadership.

What moves people?

The coming-into-existence of the Club of Rome and of the ELA illustrate one major component of ‘leadership’ as it is defined by the European Leadership Academy. Leadership is about leaving the trodden paths, going from one ‘place’ to another—hopefully—better ‘spot’ even if this is an uncomfortable journey. It is about movement, moving oneself as a leader, moving people, moving whole organizations and companies. According to the ELA’s definition the first task of leadership is, therefore, giving orientation.

Individuals who practice effective and good leadership consciously and actively give orientation and direction by developing and communicating a vision. Their vision resonates with the collective values of the people in their team/organization/company. Their vision gives the group a purpose and eventually triggers movement.

What tasks are involved in effective and good leadership?

In addition to giving orientation via a shared vision there are other leadership tasks. An effective and good leader shows new or tested ways for how to attain the vision and its associated goals. Successful leaders work out strategies, agree with their group of people on highly effective principles of cooperation and define the necessary resources, standards and processes.

Besides giving orientation and showing the best strategies to act, leaders have to initiate the change process. They continuously implement or help others to implement the next steps on the way to achieve common goals and vision. Leaders carefully observe the processes of conservation, development and dissolution within their system and influence these processes by means of decision-making and action.

Any kind of movement challenges the status quo. Change provokes resistance. Thus, another important task of an effective and good leader is to continuously clarify the interests, intentions and goals of all internal and external parties involved in the process. This constant ‘journey’ creates relationships, resolves conflicts and enables constructive communication internally and externally.

What is the ELA’s New Leadership approach?

As outlined above, the European Leadership Academy’s approach defines these four tasks of any kind of leadership work. The ELA’s approach is called New Leadership, indicating a leadership that defines success not only in terms of profit or similar economic measures, but also aims for healthy development (of organizations, teams and individuals) including social and ecological bench marks. New Leadership is not originally new; it is not an invention. However, New Leadership defines a leadership that always strives to re-new and improve itself every day.

New Leadership offers a comprehensive and varied view on leadership. There is a lot of unknown or hidden knowledge about leadership that is helpful for leaders. There are important principles of system behavior that are keys for successful leadership. Most of all, there is a lot to discover for any leader in his or her leading behavior, leading skills and leading potential. New Leadership is about shaping each individual leader’s personal path to an integrated, effective and good leadership performance by making use of his or her full leadership potential.

What topics were discussed on the Open Day?

Guido Fiolka started his Open Day workshop on leadership with the general question: “What is Leadership?” His audience was quick to point out the relationship and interaction between leaders and followers. And soon, it became clear that in addition there are organizational factors that influence leadership and participate in the emerging and steadily evolving phenomenon of leadership.

Leaders mostly work under challenging conditions. The constant pressure often takes its toll on leaders’ physical or mental health. “How to maintain healthy and balanced as a leader?“ was the question tackled by Dr. Joerg Lauprecht, who is a medical doctor and a successful health consultant for executives.

The influence of inner concepts and emotions on leaders‘ performance results was examined in workshops held by Sabine Graf and Ellen Pachabeyan. Throughout the day the “Emotional Mastery“ session was continuously booked out, indicating the audience’s strong interest in a topic that touches on very personal issues.

Each workshop was guided by the integral, system-oriented New Leadership approach of the European Leadership Academy and linked up with ELA’s core programme, the New Leadership Development Programme (NLDP).

The Open Day ended with a thought-provoking discussion about the future of leadership and the role the ELA and its New Leadership approach will play in shaping its evolution.



Anja Schmidt heads the European Leadership Academy’s Marketing and Customer Services unit. She holds a Diploma in Journalism from the University of Dortmund and a MA in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. Before she joined the ELA, she worked as a media specialist for the European Patent Office.