“New-style Leadership and an EMBA”
Benoit Auger exemplifies a leader from the “new school”. Currently positioning his own consulting business so as to respond to the corporate need for leaders with modern skills and capacities, Benoit has spent more than 60% of his career working in far-reaching destinations such as Milan, Barcelona, Zurich, Chicago, Oman and Saudi Arabia…each a far-cry from his native France! He has worked for numerous companies, including EDF, Air Liquide, Alstom, BNPP, Carrefour, Nexity or Cartier...each of which with a completely different corporate culture and business requisite. His career began by focusing on improving systems and organizational structure. Shortly thereafter, his career logically evolved into more strategic and large-scale project. He was addressing changes in procedures, corporate branding and strategy and ultimately found himself focusing on a truly key element…people and leaders. With a foundation, not in business, but in biology, his talents led him to explore the neurosciences and their impact on behaviors such as adaptation to stress and the value of the imagination and agility. Today, Benoit is well-positioned in terms of experience and breadth of knowledge, and has a distinct vision for where leadership as a discipline is headed. A graduate of the Kedge Global MBA in 2000, he now helps build the leadership development module for the programme today.
Imagine a world in which everyone is a consultant (of a sort) and leaders will have evolved into co-leaders. In this scenario, the old-style, top-down leaders will be obsolete.
“Just in order to survive, companies will have to focus more on the nature of their assets and scalability. The extent to which they can do this will prove how much they can grow and thrive,” says Benoit. He cites the example of Accor that is today challenged not only by Hilton or Marriott but by the growth of AIRBNB, the younger and more dynamic of the two being able to out-perform the industry veteran through the use of technology and strategic practices (much more a new business model).
According to him, it’s all about strategy…and strategy involves incorporating networks and functioning collectively. Consumer behavior is changing faster and faster. Consequently, management will have to change as well. Benoit even predicts a “mid-air collision” as the winds of technological change come at businesses become faster and stronger. An effective leader must not only be aware of this situation, but must actively be a part of these changes…altering, developing and growing knowledge and skills daily.
“Leaders must, therefore, be innovators. And, this means innovators become everyone…millions of us often in our own homes, garages and even in airport lounges...,” Benoit emphasizes.
Successful leaders today are more traveled and more aware of global cultures and generational differences and this makes them better able to respond smoothly to changes and design appropriately for future consumer behaviors and trends. The world has become both a monoculture (with shared ideas, trends and technologies) as well as highly-localized (with respect to tastes, preferences, point of sale, functionality, aesthetics, presentation…). It is only with an innovative and holistic mindset that leaders can find the happy formula between these very clear poles.
“Leadership is pushing the limits of authority!” states Benoit more glibly, “Come work with me if you like my project!” And, ironically, money is not necessarily the main motivator. The leader is the person that can bring everyone together around an idea or a concept…and then get others on board. A great example of this is the infamous “Ice Bucket Challenge”, which brought in over 100 million USD in its first month, and has since become a viral phenomenon.
So what should the “new leader” have? According to Benoit, quite a few things… they must have an appropriate mindset…one that understands the importance of both technology and networks. They must have a demonstrated ability to work effectively within and growing these networks. New leaders must be autonomous as well. They should be mobile, dynamic, fluid and adaptable. They have to be able to bring people together and get them working collaboratively around a common idea or vision. And, as things stand today, it is helpful that new leaders are comfortable with trial & error approaches.
However, because the world is changing much more quickly – becoming virtual, English-language dominant, multi-cultural and multi-generational – future leaders will have to espouse these changes in order to lead, innovate, adapt and thrive in business. Projects that used to take a year can now be done in a matter of months…or even less!
Benoit assures us that the fundamentals of good leadership do not change and he asserts that we must continue to examine leadership fundamentals in detail. But even more importantly, MBA’s must provide ample opportunity for participants to test and experiment. From these experiences, MBA’s must then openly receive valuable feedback not only from professors and experts, but also from peers and colleagues.
With respect to how leadership development fits into an MBA perspective, we asked Benoit a few specific questions…
Q: Is leadership merely “trendy” or, is it in fact something real and lasting?
B.A. When we type « leadership » into google, we get more than 14 million responses ! In other words, the subject is not merely trendy or passing fancy! Articles, books, seminars, conferences, training: all avenues are good for trying to improve this element in managers and leaders.
Q: As a consultant to key businesses, why have you focused on leadership?
B.A. In my 15 years of consulting (Accenture 10 years, Hewitt Associates 2 years, Heidrick & Struggles 2 years), my principal objective has been to support corporate heads in transforming their enterprises.
During this period, the most salient point has been leadership. How to motivate and build team cohesiveness in an environment of change. How to engage multicultural and multigenerational teams.
Q : And today, where do things stand?
B.A. Even more than before with the digital wave that is taking (and has taken) over companies, leadership will be a major differentiating factor in the success of these very same companies. Effectively, the digital era is going to make companies more reactive, bring them closer to their clientele base. This will thus require streamlining within the organization, more transversality between teams and ultimately greater flexibility in the hierarchy.
Q : How does Kedge approach this?
B.A. So…how do we develop leadership ? There is no miracle formula for this but the true accelerating factors that we have chosen to put into place in the Kedge MBA: Finally, I think that the Kedge MBA knows how to put into place both a structured programme while, at the same time, leaving a large place for autonomy and requiring the personal responsibility of each participant to develop their qualities as a leader.
Join us for one of several MBA Master Classes this Fall and experience first-hand our approach to Leadership Development...