The Challenge for Leadership in Times of Digital Transformation Is to Create Liquid Learning Systems

HHL discussed the new Leipzig Leadership Model with students and guests in Cologne

In the face of massive changes caused by digitalization, an increasing number of companies are considering the question of what they can learn from start-ups to survive this transformation. These and other topics were discussed by Frank Strauß, Chairman of the Board of Management of Deutsche Postbank AG, and Rolf Schrömgens, an HHL alumnus and co-founder of the hotel search engine trivago. The event was hosted by HHL Dean Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart. The discussion, which took place at STARTPLATZ, a start-up incubator and HHL’s new study location in Cologne, is part of an extensive series of events titled “Rethinking Leadership”. It focuses on the Leipzig Leadership Model that the Leipzig business school presented to the public last December.

“Start-up or major enterprise – digitalization requires faster and more flexible solutions within a learning organization”

According to Postbank Chairman Frank Strauß, leadership is more and more often facing the challenge of “mastering the balancing act of restoring peace and quiet in a company which must still be aggressive and solvent enough to handle the transformation process. This undertaking can only succeed if transformation is integrated into a company because the employees must always be taken on board”.

Rolf Schrömgens, who took the bold step of listing his company trivago on the Nasdaq Stock Market in the U.S., states: “Digitalization changes the flow of information and increases transparency in many fields of a company. The more transparent businesses are, the faster they learn. Many companies are unable to learn because their systems are characterized by crystalline structures which leave no room for open-minded decisions. Therefore, digitalization goes far beyond providing new tools and different languages. It is about transparency which allows making decisions without bias and unlocking new ways of learning”.

To ensure necessary stability within the company while maintaining great flexibility and undergoing constant changes, HHL Dean Prof. Dr. Pinkwart called “for a purpose-oriented understanding of leadership”, as he said. “It is important that company executives as well as start-up founders and their teams have an overriding purpose in mind. Instead of ideal models, he recommended a serious investigation of the tension and potential of good leadership. A change in the behavior of the employees is of vital importance. There is a danger that those who feel left behind in the company and society eventually become a massive obstacle for development and transformation”.

After this very lively discussion, more than 75 guests got to take a look at HHL’s new premises in Cologne. In November 2016, the school found a new home at the STARTPLATZ start-up incubator. With this step, Germany’s best entrepreneurial university continues to sharpen its profile.