An ambitious subject for an ambitious organisation: the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) wants to stand for Thought Leadership and Deep Knowledge Creation in a VUCA world. On the premises of the University of Cambridge, people from divergent disciplines congregated to exchange ideas, cross disciplinary bridges and contribute to a sustainable business world.

What are the key success factors to succeed in this transformational task? What skills do leaders need to have? Central questions during these two days.

“Systemic thinking” were by far the two most used words. Sir Mark Moody-Stuart (UN Global Compact Board) made a plea for business people to take the statesman view : “…have the capacity to take the corporate hat off and the societal hat on : “what do we need to do?” Once that figured out, you can put your corporate hat back on : “how can our company profit from that?””

Jane Griffiths (Janssen Pharma) added the ability to make the translation between different fields as a crucial competence. Overall, the importance of working cross-sectional, cross-generational and cross-disciplinary was a dominant theme. Since the depletion of resources is a prospect we all share, we should all “lose the institute we work for and start discovering reality. Really learn to listen to each other.” (Frank Welvaert, Johnson & Johnson).

Judging a few of the ominous statements made earlier (“Leaders must act – time is not on our side”, “Success factors in Africa? Don’t know – we haven’t been successful yet!”) Trevor Davis (IBM) touched upon an essential third characteristic with his “ability to create hope”. “We are talking about how to accelerate things, but essential parts – like building trust – just need time.” Creating and maintaining hope during that process, will be essential.

Not surprisingly, the attendees agreed that the future leader would certainly need a high degree of “resilience” to live up to these challenges.

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