What Are Teamwork and Leadership in the 21st Century? Highlights from the MERITS 2021
What Are Teamwork and Leadership in the 21st Century? Highlights from the MERITS 2021

What is leadership in the 21st century? How can HR professionals be upskilled in driving change? What is the future of hybrid learning and how will it work? How can we make leadership a more inclusive activity that is available to a greater diversity of people?

These were just some of the questions highlighted at the MERITS Summit & Awards vol. 2 in Lisbon. On 9 September 2021, L&D leaders, international speakers, and HR innovators gathered at the state-of-the-art campus of Nova SBE Executive Education for a hybrid learning event where they could finally re-connect. While some participants tuned in online from different time zones, those who joined the conference in Lisbon itself were glad to network in person in a safe and boutique environment.

After exchanging so many positive emotions, lessons, and hope for the future, it is time for reflection. Read our short recap of the conference which took place over the course of just one day, but which many of us will remember for a long time.

Facts and forecasts about the new world of work

Kicking off with the summit theme, Pedro Brito outlined the four trends of leading and collaborating in the new world. Pedro is associate dean for Executive Education and Business Transformation at Nova School of Business and Economics and he is well-versed in translating corporate vision into competitiveness and growth. In his opening keynote, he talked about working for the long term, the race to reskill, nurturing data science driven culture in HR, and the employee experience.

“At the end of the day people want to work for companies with a strong corporate purpose,” Pedro said.

Pa M.K. Sinyan did a deep dive into the state of the European workplace. As the managing partner for Europe at Gallup, Pa analysed the company’s latest State of the Global Workplace report to reveal that European workplace cultures are not working for most employees. He swiftly highlighted the population’s perceptions on the state of life and work in Europe. One of his conclusions?

“Employee engagement hasn’t changed. If the managers are the same, why would we expect employee engagement to change? Engagement is activation and sadly, that hasn’t gone anywhere.”

He led on with the three action areas to drive sustainable change in organisations, the first one being: start at the top.

Picking up the baton, Nathalie Naveda took the audience on a journey to answer one major question: why are women less likely to invest in their development? Nathalie is head of Marketing & Talent Acquisition, EMBA HSG & EMBA ETH Zurich at the University of St.Gallen. She focused on a recent case study from the university.

“We realised that we needed to upgrade our Executive MBA programme not only for REskilling, but for UNskilling and UPskilling. Because to learn something new, you also need to unlearn.”

Nicholas Hamilton-Archer tuned in virtually all the way from Pittsburgh to address inclusive leadership. Nicholas is executive director of Executive Education within the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. In just over 15 minutes, he managed to engage the audience during an illuminating MERITalk and to raise crucial questions about the state of inclusive leadership.

“As an inclusive leader, how are you seeking out diverse candidates for your open positions? Are you going the extra mile to find talent in non-traditional places? Do the people who work for you feel valued and do you have underrepresented minorities in positions of power?”

Breaking the routine, the afternoon continued with a Talkshow on a topic that brought up many heated opinions and diverse points of view: what skills do modern leaders need? Sabine Weishaupt, Chapterlead Future Leadership Design at Deutsche Telekom, Rachel Maguer, Global Director of Marketing and Sales at INSEAD, and Michael Banks, Principal Consultant at PeopleSmart took the stage for this lively format.

During the day, attendees also enjoyed other opportunities for small-scale discussion. They split up for interactive workshops on smart leadership with Chris Pether and Michael Banks from PeopleSmart, integrated talent management with Lesley Vanleke from TalentLogiQs, and digital transformation of learning with Filipe Carrera.

Finally, in his closing keynote address Alexander Larsen emphasised the importance of corporate culture and risk culture. As president of Baldwin Global Risk Services, he has a unique insight into what it takes to build the right culture and how it relates to performance and resilience. Investment in new technology, risk management, business continuity, and risk-based strategies can only get you so far. Without a positive culture to underpin it, it will be difficult to achieve the desired aspirations of the organisation, especially when we know 80% of risks tend to come from human factors.

“Build the right culture so your people can thrive. And train your leaders too,” Alexander added.

And the award goes to…

The MERITS Summit & Awards turned out special not only because it brought people together – physically and emotionally – but also because it introduced a brand-new feature. The first ever MERITS Awards were designed to recognise and celebrate impactful initiatives in organisational, leadership, and people development.

Global organisations submitted their case studies in the months preceding the conference and on 9 September, they had the opportunity to show the audience why their learning initiatives matter. A jury of executive education leaders and experts assessed the entries, taking into account the organisation’s type and size and the geographical outreach of the initiative.

We could not have been more excited to honour such deserving programmes for their inventiveness and perseverance during these dynamic times. Without further ado, here are the winners of the first MERITS Awards.

  • People Development: LinkedIn for The Business Leadership Programme
  • Organisational Development – Asia: Omega Healthcare Management Services, India for Human Potential Based Restructuring
  • Organisational Development – Europe: Deutsche Telekom for Digital Escape Rooms
  • Innovation in Higher Education: INSEAD Executive Education for Catalysing Leadership in a Digital World
  • Virtual Leadership Development: Thales for Digital Development Center
  • Leadership Development Corporate Academy: Vetropack for Vetrocademy Leadership Development Programme
  • Leadership Development Europe: Daiichi Sankyo, Inc. for European Top Talent Programme
  • Leadership Development Global: Novartis for The Unbossed Leadership Experience

The entire experience has been rewarding and recharging in countless ways. So we will take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who took part in the MERITS Summit & Awards. From the stellar speakers, sponsors, and partners to the incredible community and the summit chairs Chris Pether and Filipe Carrera, it has been an honour to welcome you for this journey of in-person learning and networking!


By Zornitsa Licheva