I was fortunate enough to get to interview Dr Zeljka Davis, Managing Partner at EMG Group, for our MBA ‘Interview a Leader’ Project. Dr Davis works for a leading international sustainability consultancy specialized in improving business performance through corporate and social responsibility. Working across the EU, the Middle East and Asia, she strongly believes that a good leader is one who is adaptable to change. I was very inspired by our conversation and wanted to share the interview with you!
Alisa: What does leadership mean to you?
Dr Davis: Leadership to me is about one’s ability to manage and bring about change.
A successful leader not only has the required technical skills of managing people, budgets and operations, but, importantly, is able to manage change. Taking this one step further, an effective leader, in my opinion, is able to adapt his or her leadership style (in different environments) in order to create the synergy and compatibility that is needed to achieve set goals.
Alisa: Do you consider yourself a leader?
Dr Davis: I would describe myself as an early adopter, and my experiences in life have taught me to deal with change very well. I see these as important leadership credentials. "Not all leadership styles are compatible with this new era, and I believe the ones that aren’t will, in time, simply fade out."
Alisa: I find this question limiting but what leadership style are you? For example, there is the Coercive style, Democratic style, Coaching style…
Dr Davis: I agree with you. For example, how about the Dalai Lama, which category does he fit into?
My nine-year-old daughter was born into a technological world. The rapid development of new technologies will require a whole new range of skills in everyday business, and I am certain that leadership will be no exception. In today’s society, change is happening faster than ever before, and the new generation especially will need to learn how to survive and thrive in this environment.
Not all leadership styles are compatible with this new era, and I believe the ones that aren’t will, in time, simply fade out.
Alisa: How did you get to where you are now as Managing Partner?
Dr Davis: At the age of 19, I was a Yugoslavian refugee fleeing a country torn by war. This was an important point in my life. I have learned that by being open to change, and turning negatives into positives, good things can happen.
When I arrived in the Netherlands, I had to adapt to an entirely new environment. When I started my studies and later on when I started my career in change management, I found disruption within an organization a very relative matter. From that point of view, the difficult situations in my life helped me mature very quickly, and I believe they have certainly helped me in my career.
By 27, I reported directly to the C-suite of a stock-listed company, the youngest woman on the team. With reports in more than 20 countries around the world, I had to implement change across a diversity of cultures. Being flexible becomes critically important, and what I have learned is that with a flexible mindset, you identify opportunities from collaboration you might otherwise never have discovered.
In my opinion, a great leader does not see change as a threat, but instead as a valuable opportunity.
What is your inspiration?
Working alongside businesses all over the world, and implementing sustainability and corporate social responsibility in companies across the Middle East and North Africa in particular, there is a teaching in Islam which I find very powerful: ‘At the time when a person dies, two questions will be asked with regard to one’s finances – how did you make it, and how did you spend it?’ I find this an excellent guiding principle for life, but also for business.
I can relate to young people when they ask themselves what their calling is in life, and how they can achieve their goals. My advice is to focus on vision, and be flexible as to how to achieve it. By focusing on the big picture, you will be able to lead efficiently, effectively, and importantly, lead a life that is fulfilled.
Welcome change, for it may well turn out to be your strongest ally and friend.
What do you think makes a great leader?
There is an old Yugoslavian saying that goes ‘Be humble for you are made of dust. Be noble for you are made of stars’. In my opinion, leadership is about maintaining that fine balance between the dust and the stars, and recognizing that we all have potential. A true leader will say: ‘Yesterday I was you, tomorrow you could be me.’
Alisa is studying our Full-Time MBA programme.
A true leader will say: ‘Yesterday I was you, tomorrow you could be me.