Trichet of ECB, Suttle of IIF, Aziz of Pakistan – these names are like near-deities in the pantheon of international finance gods and the IE community was fortunate enough to welcome these guests during the IE Alumni Forum, held on 13-15 September 2012. The IE Alumni Forum is an annual gathering of the IE community where alumni, students, professors and boards get together to share knowledge, ideas and experiences.
Day Two was inaugurated by His Royal Highness Prince Felipe of Spain. Other high profile guests that day were invited to share their perspectives on key global political and economic challenges. Former European Central Bank Governor Jean-Claude Trichet for example shared his view on Europe’s economic outlook and how to improve Eurozone governance.
Perspectives on global challenges at times verged on the technical and esoteric level, but beyond the talk about liquidity injections and bank capitalization, the underlying theme was one that was clear and familiar to us all in the IE community: teamwork and leadership.
Self-determination versus collective sacrifices, harmonization versus fragmentation – these gradients are as relevant in a team context as they are in intergovernmental organizations like the EU. In any group effort, individuals – through an implicit social compact – give up some “sovereignty” over their personal time for the collective good. For students and alumni, the IE experience is characterized by intense group work such as those in our academic sections. Even students who have ever planned leisure or extracurricular activities – like section parties as well as the Football Club tourney, Oktoberfest weekend trip, Social Responsibility Forum, Asia Finance Trek and the Graduation Ball – become mini-decision making bodies.
The IE Alumni Forum’s panel of experts discussed a few rules and mechanisms that facilitate effective teamwork. Former Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz for example discussed the need to “define what the end-goal is” and “ask if we are willing to do what it takes to get there”. In a team context, this is a proposal for ongoing dialogue, collective goal setting and implementation.
Sometimes, however, stakeholders in voluntary unions are challenged by seemingly irreconcilable differences and existential questions – such as those currently facing EU governments. Members must decide whether to stay bounded to one another, re-write the terms of the compact or at the extreme, sever ties.
Finally, our guests discussed leadership challenges during these trying times. Going beyond being a team player, leadership requires instilling a sense of unity while respecting diverse and individual personalities, opinions and other idiosyncrasies. Robert Lovelace of Capital Research acknowledged that crises – and conflicts – are inevitable, which underscores the need for vigilance and continuously monitoring the stability of a system and anticipating elements that pose a risk to its well being – something that good leaders often do.
Leadership also requires taking action, but this is easier said than done. Phil Suttle of the Institute of International Finance noted that “people are reactive” and this heightens the risk of “unintended consequences” and “wrong takeaways”. Before jumping into decisions, he encouraged leaders and policymakers to have a little humility to understand that one’s initial diagnosis and policy prescription could be way off mark.
All in all, I left Day Two of the Alumni Forum feeling at once inspired while also a bit puzzled by the daunting challenges of the 21st century. But simple answers are rare in an ever-complex world and this should be a fact of life for teams and leaders of tomorrow. Nevertheless, IE has given us ample opportunities to develop and demonstrate our team and leadership skills. As one IMBA class finishes its journey this December and another begins, it is perhaps a good moment to reflect on what kind of leader we have been and want to be – one that is reactive or proactive, a wallflower or a whistleblower, a problem finder or a solution seeker, a joiner or a thought leader?
Long after we leave IE as alumni, hopefully we will have received enough training to confidently face our own seemingly insurmountable challenges – whatever these may be. And this would be one invaluable takeaway from our IE experience.