To shape the world and lead people successfully, you need courage: the courage to question yourself, to be open to new ways and to follow your vision. These three modern leaders have found that courage, forging their own paths to success.
Protect yourself and your team
You would struggle to find what professional sports, diplomatic service and high-end gastronomy have in common, but Slovenian Ana Roš has proven her talent in all three. At the age of seven, Ana began her sporting career skiing for the national youth team. When it came time to study, she followed her parents’ wishes to become a diplomat. But that all changed when she met her husband, Valter Kramar, serving tables at his parents’ restaurant, Hiša Franko in the Soča Valley of Slovenia.
When Valter took over the restaurant after his parents retired, Ana decided to change careers and help him in the kitchen. Passionate about her new role, she knew right away that she wanted to be a top chef—despite her lack of experience.
With an iron will, the self-taught cook became a celebrated chef and her restaurant a fixed destination on the European culinary map. In 2016, Ana broke onto the international stage appearing in the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table, and a year later, she was named ‘The World’s Best Female Chef’ by the British trade magazine Restaurant. Today, chefs, restaurant critics and foodies from around the globe flock to her restaurant in awe of her delectable creations made from local Slovenian produce.
But how does one manage such a high-powered position, lead an ambitious team and still have time for herself and her family without the risk of burning out? Ana truly believes a good work-life balance is imperative, not only for herself but her kitchen team too.
“I was the first in the kitchen and the last… Today is different,” she says. In an industry notorious for gruelling working conditions, she has created a supportive environment for her team, stepping in when they risk overexertion.
Today, Ana employs 14 people where teamwork is high on the agenda.
“You can learn about the technology but not social intelligence,” she says. “In my kitchen, people live together in a confined space for a large part of their time. They have to help others, listen to others and understand their concerns. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.”
When the Michelin Guide presented its first-ever rating for Slovenia in 2020, Hiša Franko was awarded two Michelin stars.
Leadership is becoming more personal. It is all about helping each individual employee, and thereby the entire team, to succeed.
‒ Silke Knobel, BMW
Cultivate a shared vision of success
While at university, Silke Knobel completed an internship at BMW where she was immediately taken by the employees’ passion and commitment. “Their drive fascinated me so much that I thought even then that I would like to work there one day,” she says. And after a few years, her opportunity finally came.
First working in competence management and management training, Silke was then promoted to head of the BMW management qualification programme. “I didn’t have to think for long,” she says. “It was immediately clear to me that this was a very meaningful role and that it gave you great leverage to change issues within the company.”
The programmes that Silke and her team develop for BMW managers revolve around the challenges, tasks and mindset of managers. “Instead of being the foremost expert on everything, as a manager, I have to concentrate more on providing orientation through attractive visions of the future so that everyone in the team can work towards the same goal together,” she says.
In many cases, she says, the different expectations of three or four generations in the team must be taken into account. “All these people should have a sense of why they should be excited about and committed to their cause.”
There have also been many changes within the role of a leader itself. “Leadership is becoming more personal. It is all about helping each individual employee, and thereby the entire team, to succeed,” Silke says.
“This only works if I meet employees at eye level.”
Conversations can change the world. All big projects start with conversations.
‒ Marc Nicholson, founder of 1880
‘Conversations can change the world. All big projects start with conversations.’ This is something Marc Nicholson is sure of.
Born and raised in Canada, Marc was exposed to the power of communication from a young age. As a 12-year-old, he was always there when his father gathered politicians, industrialists, financial jugglers, artists and inspiring surprise guests every Wednesday evening at his childhood home.
“The schedule was rigorous; it began at 9pm, and discussions lasted until 1am,” he explains. And today he is sure, “Discussions like this contribute to world peace.”
Inspired by the cosmopolitan spirit in his parental home, Marc was drawn to the world at large, working as an actor, hotline manager, coach of the Cyprus squash team and even attending the school for US Navy officers. Eighteen years ago he moved to Singapore, where he now lives with his wife and two children.
In Singapore, he found his mission: an exclusive private club that perfects the basic idea of ‘Wednesday Night’ at his parents’ house, where people with power meet people with ideas. Called 1880, the name alluding to the number of meetings his father hosted, the institution gathers the most diverse characters, all with the ambitious goal of saving the world.
“Every new business that is founded, every documentary, every charity, every adventure begins with a conversation,” he says. “I love meeting new people and finding out what they are up to. If I can get them together with people who can make those dreams come true, so much the better.”
Marc believes social media has robbed many people of the ability to hold interesting conversations face to face. “It is the only way to really solve problems,” he maintains. The modern leaders who meet in his club have the chance to cultivate this ability—in their own interest, for their employees and for the world.