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Leadership Talk Review: On the true measures of a successful leader

On September 19th, 2022, TU Wien's extraordinary TUtheSky could host an equally extraordinary Leadership Talk with Dr Herbert Demel - one of Austria's most successful managers.

[Translate to English:] Leadership Talk mit Dr. Demel

Although the topic of the talk was "Leadership in Stormy Times", Dr. Demel explained right at the beginning of his keynote that for him it is not "the times" that are decisive, but that leadership must always be adapted to the situation. The most important thing is to have the long-term success of the company in mind. Temporary setbacks or short-term economic successes are secondary. To be able to hand over the company to his successor in a better condition - that is the true measure of a successful leader for him.


This is possible if the manager has a vision and goals, gives direction to the employees and lives and communicates these corporate values authentically. The inner compass is decisive. Companies are largely made up of people, and the crux of the matter is how you deal with your employees. Factual competence is in demand, but leadership competence is much more important. Because knowledge is always present in a company, often at different levels. Not always only in top management. And that is a good thing, because then every employee can exercise his/her competence and show his/her skills, which can lead to a sense of achievement at every level.


The task of the leader is to motivate, to "go through thick and thin" together and to live the general structure of basic values. Dr. Demel sees lord of the manor leadership as increasingly outdated and pleads for fault tolerance. One can learn from internal resistance and mistakes and it stimulates the organisation to think.


For many managers, this kind of letting go is difficult, because control is an important means for them to steer employees in a direction that suits the company. But if you manage to delegate well, i.e. give guidelines, but have a certain courage to leave gaps, then a pool of high potentials develops who can be used in many ways in the company. It is important to distribute responsibility and to trust the employees that they are up to their work.


For Dr. Demel, the most important qualities a leader needs to have are

  • Patience, if you let the staff decide for themselves, implementation often goes faster in the end.
  • Flexibility, the wind can change, so you have to be flexible as a manager, but have discipline in implementation.
  • Have confidence that the knowledge is available in your own system.
  • Good leaders have time, those who constantly play fire brigade cannot take care of strategic orientation or innovative ideas
  • Professional succession planning, because everyone has to be replaceable at any time; to this end, you can form circles of high potentials at every level who can compensate for losses
  • Being able to let go, in crises you have to be levelheaded enough to look at your own company from an M&A point of view and to be able to detach yourself from uneconomic parts of the company.


In stormy times, it is additionally important to eliminate fears. This works well if you are more optimistically inclined to offer your employees a calm environment. You have to be able to rely on your own compass, which, together with the company's values, must always be present. A good strategy alone is not enough, it depends on the human, corporate culture and team orientation, especially in times of crisis.