What qualities make a great leader? How does the Swiss army prepare its officers for command roles? And how can the private sector incorporate some of the army’s best leadership practices? These questions and more were explored by high-ranking military personnel and business leaders from the private sector through presentations and round tables dedicated to the leadership of the future and training to lead in the military as part of the Basel Leadership Talks on 11 January at the Basel Conference Center.

Leadership has long been the focus of IMD President Jean-François Manzoni’s teaching and research. At the event, Dr. Manzoni discussed the best way to learn leadership and shed light on the potential and limitations of a leader. Answering the question whether leaders are born or made, he said: “both”. Nobody can embody every leadership quality but everyone can learn how to be a better leader. According to Dr. Manzoni, practice is the only way to do it – “just like a musician practices their notes over and over to develop the right reflexes and to play their part at the right time, including under pressure!” 

IMD Professor Stéphane Garelli discussed the evolution of leadership over current and future generations describing how motivation changes during the different steps of a leader’s career. They start off like a tiger – fast and motivated – then enter the cat phase searching for work/life balance, before ending up like a dinosaur after absorbing too much of their company’s culture. According to Prof. Garelli, in order for companies to stay competitive in the labor market they must help their personnel continuously learn new technologies, habits and norms.

Jürg Stahl, Swiss National Councilor in 2017 and President of Swiss Olympic as well as a major in the Swiss Armed Forces, discussed how his time in the military was one of his most formative experiences.

During her address, international management coach Nicole Brandes looked at digitalization and how top managers can develop strategies to address today’s most pressing challenges.

Closing the event, Commander Daniel Baumgartner said leading yourself first is the most efficient way to tackle leadership. You have to be passionate, courageous and enthusiastic to motivate those you lead, he said. Military leadership can serve as an inspiration: “We learn to do our jobs in extreme conditions, sometimes even risking our lives!” the Commander summed up.