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Call to Leadership

It was a warm, early summer day in London. We were twenty leaders from SAP gathered together on the final day of our London Quest. I looked around the room at these people I had come to know over the past 72 hours. People I barely knew before but with whom I now felt an intimate connection.

Together we had been on a journey through London, spending time with people from all walks of life. People we wouldn’t ordinarily meet. Like Courtney, a passionate young leader working tirelessly in an under-served borough in London to create a better future for his community. Or Nick from the brand consultancy Wolff Olins, who challenged us to articulate the core purpose of SAP and the impact we want to have in the world. Or Nigel from the Carbon Disclosure Project, who asked us what specifically we mean when we say our vision is to help the world run better. After two days of stimulating, challenging, provocative conversations, it was time for us to figure out what all of this meant to us.

We all knew that something had shifted over the past days. A deep internal shift within each one of us and our perspective on who we are individually and collectively. And we were being challenged to respond to how exactly we want to help the world run better. And we looked at each other and asked, “So what do we do now?”

There was a real feeling of discomfort in the room. A sense that there was something we needed to do but we didn’t know how to do it. A fear of stepping out into the unknown. We were searching for a template, a best practice, a script to follow. Someone or something that could help us to figure out what to do. Someone to lead the way.

And that is when it dawned on me. That this is what leadership is all about. It’s sitting with the discomfort of a challenging, ambiguous situation and not having all the answers. It’s knowing that there are some things that you can’t have all figured out in advance. There is no decisive data, no specific pointers, no recipe, and there is no one person that can do it alone. It’s recognizing the feeling of discomfort as a call to leadership, an opportunity to find the road not yet traveled, an invitation to walk that road and inspire others to follow.

We have a bold aspiration to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. At times that feels like a formidable challenge. We are not yet completely clear on what it all means, but we know that something is not yet as it should be. Since the Quest I have begun to anchor everything I do in our vision to help the world run better. I have encouraged others to consider how what they do at SAP brings us closer to our vision. Next week we are coming back together as a group to talk about what has unfolded since the Quest and where we go from here. We will likely not find all our answers at that first meeting. Or even the ones after that. But what I know – or more to the point, what I trust – is that we will sit with the process as long as it takes for us to figure it out. Because when we are passionate and committed, we can find the answers. The hard work is still ahead of us, but we will follow our intuition and trust the answers to emerge.

That is leadership.

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