While everyone within a company has the power to make change, driving this forward quite often falls to business leaders.
But—alongside passion and good intent—what does it take to become a positive impact leader?
1. Innovative thinking is key for positive impact
A global pandemic, the rise of generative AI, the on-going climate emergency—most business leaders are asking: whatever’s next?
Innovation is essential for any company or business professional wanting to grow and stay ahead—especially when constantly bombarded with new challenges and opportunities.
Amelia Labovitch can vouch for this. When leaving her career in finance at the Royal Bank of Canada to move across the world and study a Full-time MBA in Belgium at Vlerick Business School, Amelia’s plan was to go back after graduation and continue her corporate career.
However, after lockdown caused her to stay in Belgium, she had to redirect her career path.
“When I started to explore new opportunities during my MBA, I realized how robust and international Belgium’s startup scene is. Many companies were looking for people to help them make sales and implement a marketing strategy,” she says.
The MBA provided the opportunity to hone her skills in a new area of business.
“The Vlerick MBA fosters a very innovative environment, which inspired me on a new career path. In the first half of the program, we did a lot of hands-on projects with companies like Tony Chocolonely and L’Oréal so I could see different marketing strategies in effect,” says Amelia.
Since graduating the Vlerick MBA, Amelia has immersed herself in Belgium’s innovative startup scene. In her current role she is the head of marketing for manual.to—a company with the mission of making knowledge accessible through practical, digital how-to guides for anything from training to quality and control to operations.
“The goal is to bring digital know-how to everyone and make everyone smarter in a way that is feasible for them. The simplicity of the idea is innovative in and of itself because it makes something typically complex so accessible,” says Amelia.
2. The ability to think of the bigger picture
Creating positive impact is like a butterfly effect. Over time small actions and short-term goals add up to something much bigger.
“It’s important to understand what your company’s impact can be long-term. I think every decision in every company regardless whether it’s a coffee shop or a big corporate, can create its own impact in a micro or macro way,” says Amelia.
Positive impact leaders have a long-term vision that is about more than profitability.
“During the MBA, I started to think more and more about how I can help influence something to make it bigger and better?” says Amelia.
3. Interpersonal skills
While leaders are the ones spearheading the impact of a company, there is an army of people behind them who need to be aligned with the same goals, so communication and teamwork are essential for success. These skills were honed during Amelia’s MBA.
“Vlerick were so good at bringing people of so many different backgrounds together,” she says.
The multiculturalism of Belgium is certainly mirrored in the Vlerick MBA program, which welcomed 85% international students to its 2023 cohort. In projects such as the Knowledge-in-Action project—a two-month consulting project with a company or non-profit—students learn how to leverage the skills of their team to solve problems.
“Everything we did was very group-based so if you’re not strong in one element, there’s someone else who will be able to help you,” says Amelia.
These skills have been invaluable for Amelia when navigating working in smaller teams in startups.
“As a marketer you are the middleman between sales and products, and sometimes management. You must ask what the needs of the different teams are so you can align the marketing strategy,” she says.
4. An entrepreneurial mindset
An entrepreneurial mindset can mean different things to different leaders but at its core it’s about creative problem-solving, creating opportunities, and taking risks. If leaders are to create positive impact in an increasingly competitive and evolving business world, adopting this mindset is key.
The Vlerick MBA has a strong focus on entrepreneurship and leadership with these two core skillsets being at the forefront of every course and experiential exercise on the program.
In the Integrated Management Exercise, students put their entrepreneurial mindset to the test in an intensive week-long business game where teams compete to run the best company.
“We learned to understand how to take a business to market and there was a safe space to talk out your ideas and develop entrepreneurial thinking. We also met with entrepreneurs in the alumni network which were such a great resource to help you think differently,” says Amelia.
5. Inclusive leadership leads to positive impact
Impact starts within a company culture. If the environment isn’t one that is inclusive, supportive, and empowering, employees are unlikely to feel motivated or to thrive.
“Inspiring to lead and not micromanaging—and giving people the space to do their jobs and being there to support them—will result in a much more responsible type of leadership that lends to a much better company culture,” says Amelia.
Fostering an inclusive workplace will ultimately lead to greater success and decision-making.
“It’s not necessarily a leader and subordinate thing but it’s a human-to-human thing,” concludes Amelia.