“In these times of uncertainty, we absolutely must allow for trial and error and see mistakes as learnings. Otherwise, we risk paralysis,” Maria Schmitt, IMD EMBA Cohort Director, has said.

Leaders are facing ever-increasing volatility, complexity and interconnectivity in times of unprecedented change. The current context calls for reflective, agile, visionary leaders who are willing and able to serve the public interest, have a positive impact on their organizations and communities.

Schmitt was speaking at a day-long event at the Institute for Management Development (IMD) as part of the Swiss Economic Forum (SEF)'s annual conference, now in its 22nd year. The workshop was designed to meet the challenges of COVID-induced change head on, and support developing leaders. The workshop provided an introduction to the topic of leadership in today’s context.

Participating in the workshop “has really helped me to question how I can challenge my own assumptions about how people want to contribute” said Anna Forshufvud, Managing Director of WW WoodWelding GmbH, which provides innovative fixation solutions.

IMD is the academic partner of the SEF. Some 20 up-and-coming leaders convened on IMD’s campus to grapple with leadership challenges. They formed part of the SEF Academy, which is composed of decision makers aged 28-42.

Co-facilitating with Schmitt was Sophie Hazi, IMD EMBA Program Manager. The pair guided participants through a workshop in which they built their own toolkits, observing themselves in action, and to reflecting on what they, as leaders, do well, and where they have room for improvement.

Tom Rieder, Head of Marketing and Communications at the SEF, kicked off events telling the group how “SEF has been more than a conference for over 20 years, acting also as a community and inspiring content. A leader today needs business understanding, personality, skills and a broad network.”

During the ice-breaking session, participants shared ideas on the most pressing challenges they had felt since COVID’s onset. They spoke of difficulties surrounding transformation - whether of business models or expectations - from the old to the new, getting new generations on board and becoming agile.

Also raised was the difficulty of being on the ground, for sometimes hundreds of employees and understanding their daily challenges, as well as finding ways to enable employees to take on responsibilities.

Then came the issue of juggling children with intense hours working from home. Challenging the unknown and managing complexity, by shifting priorities, was also a concern raised.

The decision makers, who had to have budget and leadership experience in order to qualify for the program, come from companies including UMB AD, Swisscom and Accenture. They represented sectors as diverse as textiles and banking, and departments ranging from corporate strategy to media and communications.

This year’s main SEF event sees some 1,000 leaders from business, academia, politics and the media meeting to exchange ideas and to perform cross-industry networking.

Speakers include François Hollande, the former President of France, and geneticist Markus Hengstschläger, with entrepreneurs, corporates and SMEs also represented.

Today’s event at IMD coincides with the publication of a white paper, “Good, but good enough?” the fruit of a collaboration between IMD and the SEF, the content of which is the result of sharing ideas about how Switzerland’s economy can emerge from the pandemic.