Charlene Li is our first guest of the podcast “The Dialogue”. Charlene is founder of the leadership consultancy Altimeter and member of the Regional Executive Board of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) for Pacific Region. She talks to our host Sammy-Miles Geiger about leaders’ challenges in a disruptive digital age, the meaning of purpose as an anchor point in this and how many leaders fail in putting the theory of Responsible Leadership into practice in complex situations like the Corona crisis. Charlene says: “We need compassion, humility, vulnerability. We need to know that our leaders are feeling the same pain as we are. And that is how we trust them.”

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(00:24) – Introduction

(02:16) – Purpose as a long-time anchor

(06:46) – Do we need better leaders? Leadership improvement 

(11:20) – A disruptive age needs continuous steps out of the comfort zone  

(22:29) – Theory vs. reality of Responsible Leadership

(31:32) – Audience question by Gabriel Keubgen 

(34:50) – Outro

Further Readings

1) Charlene Li has written and said more about Responsible Leadership than we can add here. For starters, have a look at her webpage, her twitter and linkedin accounts or her TedTalk “Efficient leadership in the digital era”. She also published a book about disruptive leadership.

2) During the days of COVID-19, politicans are highly visible, as Charlene Li has mentioned. Especially in the US, the daily press briefings are currently very important as Vulture writes, a news page which is normally more concerned with movies and culture. In fact, the visibility of political parties can have an effect on their come off in elections which was shown by Estevez, Dominguez and Grana for Spain in an early-stage research.

3) It is surprising how everyone suddenly is working from home during COVID-19, is it not? Especially in Germany, many companies had trust issues before the pandemic, as our host Sammy mentioned. But our mindsets have changed. Already in 2012 a study by Glenn Dutcher in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization found that employees are more productive doing creative tasks from home. While in the UK in 2019 the amount of homeworking was low but constantly growing, the US report massive increases during the pandemic. A good overview of the advantages and disadvanteges of working from home provide Alan Felstead and Golo Henseke in a research article for ‘New Technology, Work and Employment’ in 2017.

A responsible leader should ask him/herself always the question: How do I serve the world?

If you have that purpose you have to put it at the center of every activity every day. A purpose can help you especially in times like the Corona-pandemic.

Responding with small changes, with which one is comfortable with, does not help because the world is moving so fast. A leader has the responsibility to adapt to how the world is changing right now. Therefore, leaders have to leave their comfort zone.

Leaders think about disruption in a positive way, Disruption is always a window of opportunity.

Leaders need the inner motovation that the status quo is not enough and they want to actively change it for the better.

Holding up to our or any definition of Responsible Leadership is the most difficult part.

In theory, everyone wants to be a responsible leader. In practice, leaders often do not act responsible in both hard and good times. Example: Do you think dismissing thousands of employees during Covid-19 is really responsible?

"We often think of leaders being the strong person up in front. That is not what we need right now! We need compassion, humility, vulnerability. We need to know that our leaders are feeling the same pain as we are. And that is how we trust them."
Charlene Li
Founder of Altimeter, Regional Executive Board of the Young Presidents Organization, Pacific Region