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20 June 2024

In conversation with Jean-Yves Mercier, Executive Director, EMBA, University of Geneva

You have said that in today’s business context, “there are no given answers,” which is why strong self-leadership can act as a compass to guide business decisions. How difficult is it for students to transition from seeking definitive answers to self-directed leadership?
It can be challenging for those who have been used to structured environments with clear directives. Historically, companies sent students to executive programmes with a set career path in mind. However, in the early 21st century, things began to change. Students began to realize they could no longer rely on promises about their future from their companies. They needed to take their careers into their own hands and learn to drive them independently.

What common challenges do students face in the self-leadership modules?
A key challenge is to move away from preconceived ideas about their future. The self-leadership module helps students explore what they truly want and how to align their aspirations with their environment. Another aspect is gaining deeper self-awareness, as the programme helps students foster a more holistic understanding of themselves.

Do students find that the self-leadership work leads to personal transformation too?
Absolutely. The transformation is often profound. A deepening self-awareness enables students to develop initiatives, be proactive, and ultimately become the best versions of themselves. The collective coaching aspect of the programme also plays a significant role, as students receive feedback from peers and coaches, which further reinforces their growth.

What observable behaviours differentiate a manager who embodies self-leadership from one who lacks this internal guidance and direction?
Managers who embody self-leadership are clear, confident, and conscious of their desires and abilities. They are credible and human, able to communicate their vision effectively and inspire trust. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, which allows them to collaborate effectively and leverage the strengths of others. They don’t need to be authoritarian; instead, they lead with empathy and adaptability, making them more effective in dynamic environments.

How do self-leadership qualities influence decision-making processes and the performance of managers and their teams?
Self-leadership enables managers to make decisions that are not rigid but adaptable. They understand that decisions are steps in a journey rather than final answers. This mindset fosters a culture of continuous learning and adaptation, crucial for navigating today’s ever-changing business environment.

In your view, how do managers without a strong foundation in self-leadership differ in handling setbacks and challenges compared to those who have robust self-directed leadership capabilities?
Managers lacking self-leadership often struggle with setbacks because they are not as self-aware or adaptable. They might react with frustration or rigidity, rather than seeing challenges as opportunities for growth. In contrast, self-leaders view setbacks as part of the journey. They are more resilient and resourceful, able to draw on their strengths and seek support where needed. This makes them better equipped to navigate difficulties and lead their teams through tough times.

What would you like the workplace to look like in the future with the integration of self-leadership principles?
I envision a workplace where people are conscious of their freedom and responsibility in making decisions. They should recognize that their actions are their own choices, regardless of the environment – and if the environment is no longer a good fit for them, they can decide to stay or leave. This awareness fosters integrity and accountability. I also hope for greater acceptance of emotions, where employees can express their feelings without judgment, leading to more authentic and effective communication and collaboration.

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