SAPPHIRE NOW brings together the best of SAP every year, when nearly 30,000 customers, partners, and employees convene for a week of impactful conversations about the future of leadership, technology, and innovation. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of hosting what has become our unofficial start to SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP’s Call to Lead Summit.
What began as a small women’s breakfast has now grown into a world-class leadership event featuring former presidents, first ladies, secretaries of state, athletes, entertainers, and business titans from across every industry. Each year, attendees get to hear from leaders who are shaping our world and learn from their insights on how they think, lead, and navigate their own career journeys.
It would be impossible to adequately summarize all the insights and learnings from this event into one piece, but I wanted to share a few interesting and inspiring takeaways from Call to Lead speakers President Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, and Abby Wambach.
1. The power of different perspectives
One of the ways I’ve always anchored my leadership style is in the idea that “if you focus on your people first, the numbers will follow,” and that notion was affirmed by many of our speakers who made clear that – whether you’re in the White House or the C-suite – this leadership principle still applies. To survive and thrive in today’s constantly changing geopolitical landscape, leaders must not only be agile; they must also invest in a workplace culture that embraces diversity and inclusion of all types – spanning ideas, experiences, and perspectives that differ (sometimes sharply) at every level of the organization.
President Obama said he often benefited from having “diversity of opinion around the table.” Whether surrounded by his cabinet, his advisers, or even his family, he tried to ensure that every decision in front of him was considered through a variety of prisms and experiences that were unique and apart from his own.
Diversity of thought doesn’t just help leaders make decisions, it also builds stronger teams and organizational cultures that are primed to flourish.
2. Leading in moments of crisis
Leadership is never easy, but the best leaders make it look effortless. We’ve all had moments, particularly as we are coming up through the ranks, where we assume the leaders above us have it all figured out. The truth is there is no magic formula for leadership – and that’s particularly true during moments of crisis. When I spoke with Condoleezza Rice about her memories of 9/11 as the national security adviser, she reflected on the degree to which the events of that day changed the administration’s posture and focus in an instant. Secretary Rice and the rest of the president’s leadership team had to steady a country reeling from the first attack on the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812 and ready the nation to respond. There was no blueprint or playbook for what to do next, and that principle holds true for any leadership team managing a crisis situation. There are often no perfect solutions, but to lead in moments of stress, great leaders must be ready to shift their strategies and focus on a dime to keep their teams calm and collected in addressing the task at hand.
3. Champion each other
I’m fond of the idea that even as we become more technological, we also have to become more human. Abby Wambach reminded us that, on any team, personal relationships are what makes the difference, particularly when it comes to pioneering a successful organization. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion offered valuable advice for leaders today about the importance of teamwork and championing each other.
Among her rules to live by, Abby pointed out that the entire team plays a role in an organization’s success, saying: “You will not always be the goal scorer. And when you’re not…lift each other up.”
The complete measure of any team is not fully told by the numbers on a scoreboard or its financial results. Winning is about how you behave and comport yourself when no one is watching. As leaders, it’s important to support each other and to share the ups and downs that accompany long-term success.
4. The best chance for the best life is now
In the final discussion at Call to Lead, President Obama reminded us all that no other time in history has presented so many opportunities to succeed and to lead.
When asked what he is most hopeful about, he said, “For all the problems we are facing, for all the horrible things you see on the news, for all the disappointments that you experience in institutions, if you could choose to be born at any time, the best chance in human history to lead the best life would be right now.”
Leadership is often about sharing a vision of hope for your team even when they are having a hard time finding it themselves. His comments were a reminder that in the long arc of human history, we are living and leading in some truly remarkable times.
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