How to inspire leaders to grow

In 2014 Omid Aschari delivered a talk at TEDxZurich “How to inspire leaders to grow” discussing the lack and the importance of emotional engagement of employees in their jobs. Five years later, I got in touch with Mr. Aschari to pick his incredible brain.

Firstly, I wondered if he had noticed any shift in our society concerning attitudes towards leadership styles. The main development is that we now start to see leadership more in context, rather than in isolation. In addition, we are exploring the meaning and the need for leadership in today’s interconnected world. Mr. Aschari also identified the need to give more attention to the person behind the “leader”, a human being with his/her own aspirations, mindset, feelings and thought processes. 

I also wondered if he had any advice for young professionals, stuck between their desire for a purposeful job with meaningful leadership and the reality of old school mindsets we still encounter all too often. 

The first piece of advice was quite straightforward: choose the organisation you want to work for based on who you want to become, your aspirations and values, not just what you want to achieve, your goals and objectives. From personal experience, this is not as easy as it sounds. I, for example, fell into the trap of identifying my values to the expectations of society and the image of the “perfect employee” rather than what was important to me.

Secondly, Prof. Aschari stressed the importance of thinking within the frame of portfolios, skills that we can acquire in different disciplines and roles. If one has the freedom to choose between a 100% job and working 60-80%, it may make more sense to choose the latter and develop something on the side (if we can). This would not only accelerate our personal growth, but would also extend our network, enable us to develop more skills and provide us with interdependence, rather than dependence. We need to understand that our desire to control the exact path of our career and life is unattainable and would only cause us distress.

“In a world surrounded by complexity, where data is pouring in from left and right, we need to let go of the illusion of control”, Omid Aschari.

This is crucial to ensure a smooth transition in the change of systems and working culture, which is inevitable. We are currently operating in the world of maximization. Ideally, we will shift to the world of optimization, where more balance is sought. “If you see life as something where you can grow as a person, in order to achieve this, you need to do it in a sustainable way”, as Aschari put it. The landscape is already changing, “traditional-model based” companies are having trouble attracting young professionals who will drive change. These are people who think beyond their life span, whose main motivation is to invest time into something that will contribute to creating a better world.  Increasingly, startups are also supporting this shift through their culture. 

There is a need to collaborate with young-minded organisations, those that see leadership as a call for resuming responsibility and collective decision-finding, rather than a position of power and giving instructions. We have to redefine and change how we see leaders. Instead of choosing someone with a typical “ego-centric alpha” behavior because he seems to shout the loudest and will stop at nothing to get his way, we should turn ourselves towards those who inspire others and are oriented towards people, development and long term vision. The most powerful leader is not necessarily the smartest or most skilled person in the room; instead, it is the one who knows how to rally and inspire people who are smarter and more skilled, providing them with the means and the security to experiment, tap into their potential and create magic.

P.S. If you are interested in further reading about human nature I would highly recommend reading Prof. Aschari’s article on Human Side of Purpose written for St. Gallen’s Symposium (link) and Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026;