Navigating Major Challenges As A Leader By Maureen Metcalf

This blog is a companion to the interview with George Papandreou on Voice America “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 13, 2016 focusing on the importance of building and sustaining vitality for leaders.

During the radio show, Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, spoke about how he navigated major challenge as a leader. One of my key take-a-ways was the importance of building trust and demonstrating courage as foundational skills to leading in turbulent times. He talked about his personal experience as a refugee when his family was in exile to provide context for his views on the importance of inclusion and building alliances across borders. At the root, this interview is about how do we, as people, build common values and common rules to promote fair competition that enables us to work together across borders to solve the challenges we face as a global community. How do we emulate the metaphor of the Olympics rather than the gladiator pit? This interview offers a glimpse into his perspective.
Former Prime Minister Papandreou (George) was born in Minnesota, and spent his early years in the US. He is the third-generation of his family to hold key leadership roles in Greece. George, his father, and his grandfather were all refugees at different times in their lives. In addition to the US, George lived in Canada and Sweden, and said that refugees can benefit societies because of the alliances they have built and the broad perspectives they develop by having lived and worked abroad.

I took away some key points in our discussion:
1. We are interconnected. Problems in Syria and other countries impact all countries. We need to build our capacity as societies to bring in new populations. We need to invest in policies to help individuals and refugees, and help society integrate them. A significant key is to see people as positive contributors. An example of the challenge of integration is: How much education do we provide to ensure immigrants can speak a second language and contribute to a new society?
2. We need to be clear about our values. Peace depends on having basic values everyone must agree on and uphold. These common values can unite people across borders and build on their common interests. Identifying common values will take dialogue and openness to different points of view.
3. We need to attend to the complex challenges we face with courage and diligence. We are balancing humanitarian needs with, among many others, the need for security. This requires courage and compassion and clear policies that ensure values are upheld and that there is a clear path to accomplish the objectives—and that there are consequences for people who are not upholding our values.

Prime Minister Papandreou emphasized his recommendations with an example of the dialogue he started with Turkey, a border country with whom Greece historically has had an adversarial relationship. He talked about how he and his counterpart started discussions and found small areas of commonality upon which they built. As they focused on their common interests and built trust and agreed on values they shared, they could address increasingly more complex issues such as removing land mines from borders. After an earthquake, Greece came to the assistance of the Turkish citizens. A key take away was that including the population and exercising people’s diplomacy was key. This diplomacy meant the peace was not just an alliance crafted by politicians, but rather it was a peace that reached across the population.

The question then shifted to: How do we take these lessons from running a country and convert them to leading within an organization, or a family, or community? How do companies we adapt and change? How do we adapt and change in our roles? Out of a small window of opportunity, how you can build momentum to bring out the best in people? How do you go about building alliances? Here are some recommendations:
1. Identify the interest of both sides (interests and concerns of both).
2. What injustices do you observe that you can work on by mobilizing the best in people to solve the problems?
3. Where there is shared interest, what actions can both parties take to build trust and strengthen the relationship and move to positive outcomes?
4. When there are differences, where can we work together in a mutually beneficial way?
5. Look at what others are doing effectively. Find the best examples in industry, or in science, that have solved these problems.
6. What is the platform we maintain, and what do we change? Maintaining our values and compassion are terrific examples to start with.
7. What are the experiments we can take to improve our environment and lives?
8. Take clear actions based on shared values that continually build the foundation of trust and mutual interest including the broad population (not just senior leaders) until the alliance supports the common interest of as many individuals as possible.

We then focused on the question: What keeps you up at night?

His answers followed in kind: Facing these difficult problems and the pain society is going through—there are those who promise easy and false solutions. They are welcomed because people want problems solved. This growth of fear, and the politics of fear and scapegoating and denying the real problems, is creating tribalism and fearing of “the other.” Authoritarian leaders aren’t the solution. In the face of fear—we need cooperation across borders! We need to build solutions based on research, science, and facts. We need to build solidarity with problems around the world. We need fair competition with rules and values.
I was inspired by this interview and the idea that the best leaders use the challenges they face to find paths of success that leverage strong values and a belief in the goodness in most people, to create the best outcome for as many people across the planet as possible. This goal is accomplished by leaders who are strong thinkers and courageous in their behavior—leaders who do not look for easy answers, but rather invest in understanding and navigating the complexity of the universe.  

About the author
Maureen Metcalf, CEO and founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, consultant, author, speaker and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

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