The world faces a crisis of trust and leaders must work hard to build bridges and respect, while helping others to succeed, to lay the foundations for a brighter future, Irdeto CEO and IMD EMBA alumni Doug Lowther told the graduating class of December 2022.
“The world of 2022 is in some ways quite a troubling place. There are challenges that we haven’t faced up to sufficiently in the last few decades,” Lowther said, pointing to climate change, trade and supply chain tensions, conflicts, economic inequality.
Speaking at the December 2022 cohort graduation ceremony held on IMD’s campus in Lausanne, he also cited concerns in his own industry – Irdeto is a leader in digital platform cybersecurity – where social media trends and data privacy dilemmas were adding to the crisis of trust.
“How can we, as business leaders, help the world to build the trust it needs? Trust is the very fundamental basis of everything in business and government, so when it starts to erode on a world basis, it’s a serious concern,” he said.
Lowther, who graduated from the program in 2003, said the status of leaders across business, society and politics was at risk of becoming tarnished by the actions of a few.
“There is a tendency for powerful people to display deeply inappropriate leadership behavior, and for those leadership behaviors to be tolerated and sometimes even applauded,” he said. “We should be able to trust senior business leaders to act ethically.”
“This extends to political and national leaders too,” he added. “Trust is a scarce commodity. It is something we have to preserve and enhance.”
Be a giver, not a taker
As part of a proposed solution to this crisis of trust for leaders, Lowther cited Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research into “givers” and “takers” in the workplace, where givers help other succeed without any expectation of reward, while takers act in their own self-interest, even when helping others.
“The givers were the people who tended to be the most successful in each of the fields he studied,” Lowther said. “They cause the people around them to perform better too.”
He also referenced a quote from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Simple tolerance, mere tolerance, is not enough. We need genuine and deep respect for each and every human being, notwithstanding their thoughts, their values, their beliefs, their origins.”
“If we can trust and genuinely respect one another, and if we can help those around us to become successful, then we will actually be building trust,” Lowther said. “In my experience, it is a real foundation for a lot of other things that can be built once you have those principles of trust established.”
NeveResters making real impact
The December cohort of 53 graduates had chosen the title “NeveResters”, along with a mission statement to “never rest to lead with personal responsibility and integrity and have a positive impact on our businesses and societies”.
Valedictorian Sally Beh challenged her peers to stay true to this statement, which closely aligns with the purpose of IMD and its EMBA program.
“We have a real choice to make,” she said. “Will we continue what we have started here or will we just talk about it? How will we lead with purpose and passion for progress? To that, I say, take a risk – create an opportunity.”
With the graduation ceremony coinciding with International Human Rights Day, outgoing EMBA Dean Stefan Michel reflected that leaders seeking to make such a positive impact on business and society might be forgiven for feeling “helpless, anxious and overwhelmed” given the obstacles facing human rights around the world.
To keep positive and focused in this tough environment, Michel advised the class to avoid constantly following the news cycle, to use different sources to stay informed, and to try not to “doomscroll” on social media.
“Instead, ensure that you have people in your life with whom you can share your anxiety and worries, and ensure that you reserve time for this critical exchange,” he said.
“As [IMD President] Jean-François Manzoni explained earlier this week, the higher up you move in your organization, the more isolated you may become,” he added. “Please use the network of your classmates to have meaningful exchanges about personal themes, organizational topics but also about global developments.”
Virtual worlds and real life
IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Manzoni congratulated the cohort of 53 on completing one of “the most demanding programs in the world”.
Drawing on his own experience, he urged each of the graduates to develop and maintain a scorecard of priorities to manage the demands of an ambitious professional life and a healthy and fulfilling personal life.
“Some of you are gamers and you play in virtual worlds,” he said. “In virtual worlds, we have multiple lives, and we can try various strategies to determine which one is the most effective or satisfying. But, in real life, we only get one shot at this so, ideally, we make the most of it.”
Finally, he urged the class to “stay in touch with each other over the years to come”.
“This EMBA Class of December 2022 can be your free consulting team and your first circle of friends for the rest of your life. In good times and in bad times, you can be for one another a fantastic source of insights, strength, contacts and simply of joy and laughter … Please water your plant, water the roots of your class.”