A Simple Truth about Leadership: Stand Up for What You Believe In.

But what does “believing” mean? Who can tell if your beliefs are right? How can humanity ever live in peace if we as individuals believe we are absolutely right? On the other hand, can we exist if there are no absolute truths?

My name is Max. I’m the global vice president partnerships of a youth-run non profit called AIESEC. AIESEC’s mission is to develop global leadership qualities in young people so that they can lead change for a better world. AIESEC has many restraints. It is youth-run which means nobody in the organization has profound experience in what they are doing. The membership changes almost 100% every two years, the leadership bodies even every year. As any non-profit it has very limited resources and it is confined by a lot non-profit dogmas. Finally, it is run democratically across 122 countries, whose diverse beliefs, values and realities make fast decision making and ever faster aligned actions almost impossible. Nevertheless, AIESEC has been around for almost 70 years.

I took on my current role with the aspiration to lead changes I deemed as the most relevant ones to make the organization bigger and better. To date, I spent already 11 months in this role. 11 months that have taught me a lot about the art of global leadership. In a context as diverse as leading AIESEC from a global level, the attempt to define what is right or wrong is futile. No single person has the cognitive ability to grasp the right ways to prioritize, to manage, to execute, in a global context.

What I observe is that people are caught up in the dogmas they grew up with. They make decisions based on their individual experiences which are framed by the context they grew up in. This context is so unique, that all decisions drawn from it are doomed to fail for a global context. An individual that grew up in an affluent family in a mid-developed country, went to school in a big city, or studied engineering, or got bullied in high school, or succeeded in sports through hard work, or has worked her way up to the top of an organization through a specific way of working, will naturally view the world through the glasses of her experience, and therefore, take decisions based on that view.

A global leader needs to be able to let go of that narrow, individual view. A true global leader needs to be able to see the absolute truths that exist in our world today, being fully aware that the longer the timeframe the less absolute any truth is. From this clarity, a global leader’s role is to create an environment where people can leverage their full diversity to work towards one common goal. If a leader tries to build a system reflecting his individual view, he will loose out on the biggest asset of humanity: our diversity and creativity.

A global leader though also needs to be fully aware of his values, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses. Only with this awareness, the leader will be able to see all the things he is missing. This understanding of one’s individual shortcomings will enable the leader to see that completeness is only possible through diversity. Realizing this will free the leader of any negative feelings of self-doubt or self-consciousness, thus allowing him to put his personality 100% into the game while seeking the elements necessary to complete him on his endeavor.

A global leader always acts in the best interest of humanity, never himself. She or he needs to inspire people to accept short term pains for long term gains. His most powerful tool for that is creating powerful images of the future. And constantly reaffirming them.

In the end though, every leader needs to know what he stands for and live up to that. Nobody is gonna follow someone who is not clear on what he stands for. Let it be a vision, values, a way of acting. A person that is not consistent cannot lead. In a global context, in this huge complexity of diversity, a leader needs to be compass for those following him to achieve a common goal.

A natural leader will feel depressed when he is not leading. He might not know it, but he will bitterly feel it. If you want to be a leader you need to stand up for what you believe in but you must never believe that your beliefs are the only right ones or the final wisdom. Only when you stand up you can make others learn and progress from your beliefs, only when you stand up you can make others challenge them and help you progress as a leader, only when you stand up for your beliefs will you be able to make the world a better place.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts! I’m curious on your thoughts what makes great global leaders, get my ideas challenged, and develop together with you an image of the ideal global leader.