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PREPARING FOR LEADERSHIP: FROM MONASTERY TO BECOMING A MINDFUL LEADER

Dr. Andreas Dürr, alumnus of Steinbeis University, discusses preparation for working in a leadership position

“You have to strike the right balance between ‘being there as a buddy’ and ‘banging a fist on the table sometimes’,” says Dr. Andreas Dürr, alumnus of Steinbeis University and Head of Connected Vehicle Solutions at Daimler Mobility AG. Dürr was invited to share his thoughts on what makes a good leader with an audience of more than 60 people at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) in Stuttgart.

One of the main things Andreas Dürr highlighted was the preparations one can make for a position as a leader, outlining the five key components he considers essential. The first is personal character: You should consider who you would like to be as a manager. Furthermore, Dürr outlines the four key roles that should be played by (future) leaders. They should be communicators, facilitators, providers of meaning, and coaches.

“Leadership starts with yourself,” says Dürr, with a sense of conviction. He himself spent some time in a monastery, where he meditated about his own inner attitudes. Additionally, he attended seminars on the topic of leadership, which still influence his leadership style today. It is inspired by the three Benedictine values: discipline, gratitude, and humility. These values allow a leader to provide co-workers with a positive environment to work in. According to the SIBE-alumnus, this is one of the most important factors of everyday work, because “even the most awesome job won’t make you happy in a bad environment”.

Andreas Dürr gained a degree at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) of Steinbeis University in 2012 before completing a PhD in business model innovation at Clausthal University of Technology. He now prefers to talk about “leadership” rather than “management.” Managers organize, delegate, and often have the last say, whereas leaders pose questions in keeping with the concept that “knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.” Dürr believes that even if a leader is a communicator, their job is not actually to say much themselves. Instead, the emphasis should lie in actively listening, asking questions, and ensuring communication is open and productive. He has no doubt that good communication is first and foremost about providing clear structure and seeking to find solutions. “The aspect of ‘how you talk’ is extremely important,” he says, describing communication with colleagues by making a reference to the philosophy of football team manager Jürgen Klopp: When dealing with people, ask yourself “How would I like to be treated?”

To lay a foundation for open communication, a connection needs to be established between people. Dürr says that this starts with an “acceptance point,” which often comes about through a shared interest in a topic. He says that a leader’s role as a facilitator is to create a framework for their own team to produce good work. It is about bringing out the best in every individual employee. So this also involves forging links between people through relationships, or bringing people together: “Because when the team feels comfortable, team spirit develops” says Dürr.

This is why it is also important for a leader to act as a coach for employees. “Why should people follow you? There are several possible reasons: Because they have to, they like you, you help them perform, you support them, or because they can identify with what you represent,” says Dürr. For him, the two last points are extremely important. This is because a positive environment still needs to offer an opportunity to develop. Leaders should make this possible for their co-workers and provide them with support. Also, every leader should have a clear vision and mission so they can clarify for their team team what they are working toward. Dr. Dürr sees leadership as a service, because in some respects it is like providing support to other people. “Leadership isn’t about a position; it’s about the influence you have on others,” says the SIBE-alumnus.

One of the biggest topics in the panel discussion that followed was addressing conflict when you are a manager. When asked to what extent a manager should be expected to deal with difficult employees, Dürr’s advice was to enter every meeting without prejudice. “You should not take your own interpretations into a meeting” he says. Instead, dealings should be based on the principle of impartiality. That is the only way to take in all aspects without judgment and form a picture of the situation.

A common challenge for younger leaders is dealing with established employees. Dürr’s recommendation in such situations is the same as dealing with co-workers: appreciate people and recognize the experience they have to offer. To avoid jumping in at the deep end, he encourages young and ambitious managers to take the size of the team into account when they first take responsibility for a team as a manager. One advantage of leading a smaller team is that you can talk to people personally. When discussing things with people, it becomes possible to bring them on board and point to all the things that can be achieved together. This creates commitment to achieving goals, and if problems do arise, employees can be given support.