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Guillermo Cisneros of Advantere School of Management On The Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

“The most important things I’ve learned, as a leader, are not a result of my successes. Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from failures and mistakes. Success teaches far less than failure, and success cannot be repeated in the same way that failure can.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Guillermo Cisneros, Managing Director of Advantere School of Management — a new school dedicated to revolutionising business education and creating future leaders who can effectively confront the biggest challenges facing industry, society and the planet.

Under the inspiration of the Society of Jesus and through a strategic academic partnership between Comillas Pontifical University and Deusto University in Spain, and Georgetown University in the USA, Advantere seeks to develop professionals who are not only technically, digitally and academically competent, but also humanely driven.

Guillermo has a deep-rooted connection to business education and what it takes to make inspirational leaders. He joined Advantere after spending more than three decades with the faculty of ESADE Business School and more than 15 years with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD).

Advantere’s core objectives are to transform education in management, to create a tangible positive impact on society and to develop people on not only an academic, but also a personal and spiritual level. Guillermo believes that providing such an education is vital if leaders are to succeed in a rapidly changing world. Advantere, he says, will make “re-solutionaries” out of students.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

You are welcome! One thing I learned in life is that the more things you do, the more time you find — and I’m happy to share about me. The most important thing in life, in my opinion, is how you build your character, that happens in your childhood and it is shaped through key moments in your life. My father was a dreamer and entrepreneur, and I lost him suddenly when I was a kid, but he has always been my source of inspiration on how to look further. My mother, setting an example raising three kids in extremely adverse conditions, taught me about responsibility, facing bravely hardship and sacrifice. She was my hero. Hardship and working from very young age taught me independence and to rely on myself.

A college professor broadened my perspectives in life and encouraged me to go beyond my self-imposed boundaries and take risks. I also had the chance, at the beginning of my career, to work with great people from whom I learned many things and who trusted me in spite of any mistakes and failures. Opportunities arose and I grabbed them without fear — and here I am, still kicking! I’ve been very lucky in my life and I should thank many people for it.

What motivates you?

Many things motivate me. One of my passions is education. At a certain moment of my life I decided to put it in the core of my career, as an educator and a manager because, through education, you can change people’s lives and contribute to a better world. Nothing makes you prouder in life than to see your former students’ growth and achievements.

I love creating things, leading new projects and making new ideas possible. I never considered a job as solely an employment opportunity but as projects and new challenges.

I am an extremely curious person. Being able to learn every day is a gift. I believe there is always room for improvement and personal growth and that stimulates me. I believe that diversity in people and ideas is a source of enrichment.

It is these motivations that inspired me to take up the responsibility of helping to create, shape and launch the new Advantere School of Management, and allows me to pass my skills, passions, and perspectives on to others.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership and why?

For me the three key words are what I call the “Three P’s”: Purpose, Principles and People.

Leaders should have purpose and create purpose — giving meaning to others.

Purpose is working for something bigger than you. It is easy to differentiate a boss from a leader. When you work for a boss, you work for him and his personal goals. When you work for a leader, you, him and everyone else in your network know and feel that you are working for something bigger than yourselves.

Principles are your guide in how to behave and how to react to conflicts, opportunities, organizational needs, and hardships, All dealings with people and stakeholders and should be strongly based your values. Authenticity, being faithful and consistent to your principles and values is, for me, the second pillar of leadership.

People are what makes leadership possible and worthwhile. You never walk alone. You are committed with others. Leadership is a privilege and a responsibility towards others, not a right or a title. Always try to be surrounded with people better than you. Be ready to step back in certain moments and give leadership to others. Leadership is like a jazz band, you lead the band, but others take leadership when needed and even improvising because all of you share the most important to stay tuned together: the Purpose and the Principles.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Dealing with uncertainty is one of the most important roles of leadership. Executives manage risk, leaders manage uncertainty. Risk can be statistically predicted. Uncertainty is the unknown, the unpredictable, what goes beyond statistics. And as a leader you should face uncertainty and, at the same time, reduce it for the rest of the organization. Great leaders create direction, to show a path to walk with confidence under uncertain times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In my opinion the most important is what not to do. The key thing is not to discourage people. I always try to have teams of people who possess intrinsic motivation — and I want to be able to provide the same for them. I do not need a boss motivating me, what I need is a boss not discouraging me.

Never hide the truth. Leaders should be realistic and transparent with the challenges they face. By doing this Leaders can be demanding with their teams, and get great results, because they feel their leader cares about them, believes in them and in their capability of making it.

Most importantly, do not let the fear enter in the room. Fear is a leader’s worst enemy. It blocks people, ideas, and drives them to make the worst decisions. Great leaders know to protect people from fear.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

As Seneca said, “There is no favourable wind for the sailor who doesn’t know where to go”.

If you really are clear to your purpose and goals you can sail against the wind, making a zig-zag path, maybe taking more time to arrive at your destination, but you can still make it. Understanding how to read and to adapt quickly the changes of the wind, even in unfavourable conditions, without losing perspective of purpose and goals or getting mislead, is the best way to manage an unpredictable future.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each if you can.

The most important things I’ve learned, as a leader, are not a result of my successes, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from failures and mistakes. Success teaches far less than failure, and success cannot be repeated in the same way that failure can.

Each situation has different conditions and organizational contexts, so will always require different solutions to be found. Many failures come from leaders simply trying to replicate previous success by applying the same formulas they used in the past. One well known example in the history of management is when John Sculley tried to sell Apple computers using the same formula that made him successful with Pepsi. When Steve Jobs took Apple back, he showed that to “Think Different” was the way to rebuild which has become one of the most successful companies in history. This is why I believe that one of the most important things a leader remember to do in challenging times is to think differently. Use their imagination. As Albert Einstein said; “Imagination is much more powerful than knowledge”.

I’ve already mentioned some of the key things, in my opinion, for leading in turbulent times: purpose, and not losing perspective in your mission and goals, adapting quickly to the changes in wind without derailing, and always focusing on what really matters for your organization. Another I’ve already mentioned is blocking fear — avoiding panic, providing trust and having confidence in showing the way.

Besides the many things you as a leader can do, I believe it is also important to have the right conditions for successfully navigating turbulent times. You build success upon how you lead in turbulent times. It is very easy to sail with a favourable wind. In my experience, the key conditions that gives you a solid base to manage in turbulent times and to find success in your projects are like a three-legged stool — if you lose just one of them you’ll fall.

- The first one is yourself as a leader: Having a vision of what to do and how to do it. And, most of all, having discernment. Having the ability to judge situations properly, gain perspective beyond your emotions, listen to others, and bring purpose and value through what you do will enable you to make the right decisions.

- The second one is your team: Gather people who are better than you at what they do, who can complement your weaknesses, provide strength to the organization, who are well-aligned with the mission and purpose, and who are engaged and committed. People who are also leaders themselves — leaders grow leaders. Never surround yourself with people who always agree with you and cannot bring diversity in their opinions.

- The third one is governance: In times of trouble and adversity governance is critical in giving you support and good advice, in sharing with you purpose and mission, and in providing your organization with solid ground. Governance should not lose perspective by overreacting, thinking only of short-term results or adding more turbulence to the existing problems.

Finally, you will likely have to make very tough decisions which can affect people. Remember to be fair, transparent and honest in these situations. It is not what you do, it is mostly how you do it.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are so many valuable quotes… but sometimes just going back to the Gospels gives me the necessary guidance and inspiration. One of my favourites is when Jesus, after warning against false prophets, said “You will know them by their fruits.” Never judge people one way or the other based on their appearance, power, wealth, education, culture, faith,… rely only in their actions and true intentions towards others.

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Know yourself, define your purpose and who you are beyond failure and success, and always be faithful to it.

What are your hopes for the future and Advantere School of Management?

Our hopes for the future respond to our founding question; “What should Advantere School of Management be for the world? What value should we deliver to students, organizations and society?” Our answers to this question are:

1) Transform management education with a pedagogical model responding to the needs of the 4th industrial revolution, in which uncertainty is the only certainty. In times when change speed outpaced human capacity for adaptation, we need what we call “re-solutionary learning”. We’ll do this by getting students ready to create solutions never conceived before — solutions to new and never before known challenges.

2) Going one step forward in the strong commitment of Jesuit Higher Education with social justice and sustainability, educating not the best in the world but the best for the world. Not just preparing them to change the world in future, but instead giving them the tools and opportunity to change it now, while studying, through our programs.

3) Supporting our students to grow as leaders who have purpose, and to become people with meaningful lives, strong self-awareness and discernment competencies, as well as a rich spiritual dimension which is, beyond any faith or belief, a transcendent perspective of being able to go beyond themselves.

As we want for our students, we do not seek to be the best of the world, but as Fr. Nicolas , former general of the Jesuits said, “the best for the world”.

You can find out more about or programmes, our mission and our values by visiting https://advantere.org/

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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