Interview with Dr Angelica V Marte on Leadership in times of the Corona pandemic. Are Leadership topics changing at the moment?

LEIZ: Dr Angelica V Marte
LEIZ: Dr Angelica V Marte

Dr Angelica V Marte, Guest Researcher and Senior Lecturer at Zeppelin University’s Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin | LEIZ in an interview with Evelyn Pachta, Manager External Relations and Communication | LEIZ

Dr Marte, as well as running your company mim_more is more and filmmaking, you are a visiting researcher at the Leadership Excellence Institute Zeppelin | LEIZ and senior lecturer in Leadership, Diversity and Networking at Zeppelin University. What are the core topics you address in your lectures at ZU?

Basically, it is about why, how, who and with whom leading and leadership is possible? Leadership, Diversity and Network development start with observing how we observe, as Goethe put it: “We only see what we know”, therefore “we need to know what we see.”

This goes for individual but also for organisational narratives. All my lectures are based on self-reflection, feedback loops and changes of perspective. Of course, key elements are historical developments, selection of theories and a lively academic discourse.

Are the topics changing in these ‘new normal’ times?

In the new normal, which we create now by creating it, I observe an even stronger, worldwide focus on my topics: how leadership is demonstrated, discussed, and criticised, especially when we look at the strong tendencies on the one hand for autocratic leadership, and, on the other hand, for inclusive, participatory leadership or “stronger together” concepts. How diversity gets an explosive push on the worldwide agenda. How networking or, in other words, collaboration is enabling, empowering and leading all this, especially in digital settings.

In my opinion, there is now a chance for a real change to the economic system by focusing on, as Jeffrey Sachs (2020) put it, prosperity, progress and transformation, and not only on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth and expansion. Therefore, these topics also need to adapt to lead this in a sustainable, socially just and inclusive way.

But unfortunately, in crisis mode old patterns become even stronger, and we can observe a stronger reversion to short-term decisions, hierarchy and exclusive control. Of course, this is happening when leaders are even more affected by their own fears and vulnerability, evoking self-preservation; therefore, there is an understandable desire to maintain control.

What was your methodology before CoVid-19, and what has changed for you in the context of a typical lecture day with a distance lecturing approach?
The way of learning leadership is first and foremost personal (leadership) development, and second academic growth. Leadership development starts with an inner process, so we enablers are only here to kick off, accompany, and nudge this process by facilitating dialogues, relations, networks, and discourses.
From my perspective, leadership development happens in the ‘friction’ between personal, inner paradigm and outer, new ideas. Only if the friction is high enough in this process, will irritation develop in the form of contemplation or even an epiphany, and then a real change or educational process will happen. After that, our students will be able to experience different contexts, social ranks, power dynamics, organisational roles differently, and will be able to take their first steps in leading themselves, others, even an organisation or a movement in society.
In addition, my lectures provide future areas of development of observing, understanding and leveraging leadership, diversity and networking in real-time situations. This has not changed with my distance lecturing approach.
Today, I am looking back to 20 years of experience of digital learning, starting at the University of Zurich. In our recent digital offerings, we are mixing different formats of self-learning, group-learning, online presentations, plenary presentations and discussions. The offers are designed to have flexible, asynchronous time in between the lectures, so the learning impact can be significantly higher than with traditional lecture styles. The technical infrastructure at the ZU is evolving with our learnings and continuous feedback. At LEIZ, we have lively exchanges among the lecturers in order to develop ourselves as a continuous learning system.

What are the main skills you would attribute to a good leader at the moment or what knowledge, skill or even personality is an advantage these days?
The time for leaders and their leadership to react to the coronavirus epidemic has shrunk dramatically. We are confronted with unprecedented levels of uncertainty, human disconnection, unpredictability, unpreparedness, and of course fears and stress. No one knows all the answers and therefore the focus should (finally) shift to participatory, inclusive and collaborative processes: in short to inclusive leadership.

This dynamic and collaborative process can tackle an organisation’s most pressing problems. But we need to carefully look at the “illusion of inclusion“ (Love 2016). “How together are we in this together” is the starting question of an inclusive leadership process (empowerment, participation, fairness, equality, sharing). The criterion for inclusion has to change from a normative approach to an examination of procedures and decision-making processes in real leadership situations. Are all stakeholders affected involved in the decision-making process (Habermass 1992, Zips 2002)? As a leader you need to trust (yourself of course) and your co-workers, also to be able to transfer responsibilities.

At the LEIZ, we provide the basis for that with research into relational concepts. In addition, transcultural competence will become a key factor to being able to handle this new normal. Why is this the case? In a word: New Work. The new normal in this global and digital age is pushing new ways of working by ever decreasing physical, cultural contacts and communication but an ever increasing globalised, cultural, digital world. Therefore, we look at four main qualities needed as: awareness (as in “we only see what we know”), empathy, vulnerability, and benevolence. “We get together on the basis of our similarities; we grow on the basis of our differences” (Satir 2018).

So, we can describe an inclusive leader as having a diversity mindset, being able to facilitate participatory communication processes, having inclusive competences (equality, fairness, participation), fostering collaboration via co-creation (e.g., with approaches as co-presenting from Scharmer 2018) and trust, using dialogical competences, and practicing inclusive decision-making.

What do you personally take away from this situation and what impact does it have on your research and lecturing?
My personal take away is the confirmation that there is no work-life balance only a life-balance. This has always been my understanding and it has now been confirmed. And therefore there is no ‘home-office’ or office-office, so to speak; there is only one office, just different contexts. So we have to develop a different understanding of how to balance our lives and our office(s).

The impact is best described with one of my favourite poems: ‘Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trodden again. Wanderer, there is no road -- Only waves upon the sea.‘ (Antonio Machado, 1912)

Thank you for the interview! With pleasure – also many thanks!

LEIZ Communication Management
contact: evelyn.pachta@zu.de

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