„Jeder Nachteil ist ein Vorteil, jeder Vorteil ist ein Nachteil.“ – „Every disadvantage is an advantage, every advantage is a disadvantage.“

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of working with a special group of young European talents on their future leadership. We covered some basics in leadership, but also talked about the limits of “training” for leadership. We looked at dilemmas and contradictions as leaders face them in any organization at any times, but maybe more consciously in rough times. These young people seemed to understand that there is an art to learn, a way ahead to go along with one’s own development as a person in re-sponsibility. Given my own background and approach to leadership as communication we also worked on how to challenge oneself with one’s own emotions in taking the lead and being re-sponsible, i.e. being able to re-spond to others. We also explored some of the challenges to lead people in intercultural contexts as their trainee experience had an intercultural context.
One evening of the week we had a prominent guest, the CEO of the Business Unit. He readily shared his own career path, the current challenges of the BU, and he also gave advice as to what he sometimes had to learn the hard way.
The participants even looked at me repeatedly with surprise, wondering how this could be as he was definitely not briefed…
One of these shared points of views, for example, was that the foremost competence of today’s leaders is dealing with uncertainty. A statement he attributed to the renown Pierre Casse. And he underlined this view by quoting his North German grandmother: „Every every disadvantage is an advantage, advantage is a disadvantage“.
Not only was this one of the rare occasion when I had top managers coming to talent training complementing the curriculum so impressively, I also finally found the German equivalent to one of my favorite stories. A story my father had once heard on the radio and told me when I was very young: „Missfortunes and blessings” or as the Chinese say:
Sai Ong loses horse – who knows if it is not a blessing?
“In the northern frontier of ancient China, there lived a man who was particularly skilled in raising horses. People knew of him and called him Sai Ong – literally “Old Frontiersman.”
One day, for some unknown reason, his horse got loose and ran off into the Hu territory beyond the Great Wall. The Hu tribes were hostile toward the Chinese, so everyone assumed the horse was as good as lost.
Horses were very valuable to the people living at the frontier, so they regarded this loss as a great financial setback. They visited Sai Ong to express their sympathies, but Sai Ong’s elderly father surprised them by remaining calm and unaffected. Much to their puzzlement, the old man asked: “Who says this cannot be some sort of blessing?”
Months later, the horse returned to the stable with a companion – a fine steed of the Hu breed. It was as if Sai Ong’s wealth suddenly doubled. Everyone came by to marvel at the new horse and to congratulate him, but again his elderly father showed no great emotions. He said: “Who says this cannot be some sort of misfortune?”
Sai Ong’s son enjoyed riding and took the new horse out for a ride. An accident occurred, causing him to fall badly and break a leg. Again sympathetic people came to console the family, and again they saw that the grandfather remained as calm as ever. Just like before, he told them: “Who says this cannot be some sort of blessing?”
One year later, the Hu people amassed and crossed the border into China. All the able-bodied young men were summoned into the army to take up arms in defense. Fierce battles ensued, resulting in heavy casualties. Among the inhabitants of the northern frontier, nine out of ten men died.
Sai Ong’s son did not go into battle due to his broken leg. Because of this, he was spared that terrible fate, and his family survived the war intact.
Thus, blessings may turn out to be misfortunes, and misfortunes blessings. They change from one to the other endlessly; the workings of destiny has a truly fathomless depth.” (Derek Lin, 2007, pp. 56-57).
Knowing about the uncertainty of answers, and yet being able to re-spond may be the most important lesson to learn for the young leaders to be.

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