5 leaders and the turning points that changed their leadership approach

5 leaders and the turning points that changed their leadership approach

Sometimes a single incident can be enough to change a person’s leadership approach and journey

“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.” – Buddha

The World Economic Forum’s Meet the Leader podcast has just celebrated its 100th edition with an episode focusing on the series’ highlights to date. The common theme among the clips selected by presenter Linda Lacina was a turning point in the guests’ professional lives and leadership skills.

Learning from chimps – Jane Goodall, anthropologist and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute

For anthropologist Jane Goodall, this turning point was meeting a grumpy London taxi driver who complained that Goodall, just like his own sister, was only interested in animals when there were so many people suffering in the world.

“So I sat forward. And I told him stories about the chimps, how we were helping people to rise out of poverty or find alternative jobs. I told him stories about the chimps showing compassion and altruism to each other.”

Having left him with $50 to support his sister’s work at an animal shelter, Goodall soon received a letter from the sister thanking her for changing her brother’s attitude to her work with animals for the better.

“You've got to reach the heart,” she told Meet the Leader. “It's no good arguing with the head. It's no good blinding someone with statistics. Change must come from within.”

‘A slideshow is worth a thousand speeches’ – Al Gore, former US Vice President and founder of the Climate Reality Project

When former US Vice President Al Gore organized his first congressional hearing on the climate crisis, he invited a professor and climate scientist who had inspired him greatly in his college years. Yet, the professor’s presentation fell short of having the same effect on his audience of representatives. Gore realized then that he had to find other ways of capturing people’s imaginations.

“It’s the old cliché, a picture's worth a thousand words. I found that a slideshow is worth a thousand speeches if it's done well. And then I was approached by some folks in Hollywood to make my slideshow into a movie. I thought that was a silly idea. I couldn't see how it would work, but they have more talent than I counted.”

In addition to two films, Gore has also applied this storytelling approach to training 50,000 grassroots climate advocates.

‘This, too, shall pass’ – Punit Renjen, Emeritus CEO, Deloitte

Punit Renjen, a former CEO of Deloitte, grew up in a town 40 miles west of New Delhi, where his father ran a manufacturing business. Sent to boarding school as a boy, he had to return home at 14 when his father’s business failed and the family had to pull together to keep it going.

“It taught me a few things. One thing was taking the long view. This is something that my father always insisted on. He was always an optimist, the glass-half-full type of individual.

“The second learning was that this, too, shall pass.” Renjen found this learning particularly useful during the pandemic.

“And then, persistence and hard work. These have been key calling cards for me.”

‘Eighty percent is good enough’ – Caroline Casey, CEO, The Valuable 500

As the founder of The Valuable 500, Caroline Casey heads up an organization that represents 22 million workers across 64 sectors worldwide, all working to end disability exclusion. Her turnaround moment came when she learned that trying to achieve perfection was getting in the way of achieving her goals.

Her mentor at the time told her: "If you want to scale change, if you want system change, 80% is good enough. Perfection is what gets in your way. Get out of your way. Get out of your own way.”

This changed her entire approach to leading her organization.

Taking your time – Yuxiang Zhou, CEO, Black Lake Technologies

Yuxiang Zhou, now the CEO of Black Lake Technologies, went through a startup failure before founding the company. To escape from this sobering experience and get a fresh perspective, he decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

“The journey to the summit was really, really tough. But you know the process: you just follow your guide one step after another and ignore everything else. And you continue to do that for 6 hours. Then I reached the top and I had tears in my eyes. I felt maybe this is how we should do a start-up.”

He went back to his previous co-founders and shared his insights. “Adopting a more ‘zen’ mindset opened our eyes to more opportunities and to being more patient.”


Linda Lacina (Digital Editor, World Economic Forum) & Andrea Willige (Senior Writer, Forum Agenda)


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