Why leaders should think like scientists and act like entrepreneurs

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits a new molecular medicine research building.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits a new molecular medicine research building. Image: REUTERS

Enass Abo-Hamed MBE
Chief Executive Officer, H2GO Power Ltd.
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

Why should world leaders think more like scientists and act like entrepreneurs? The short answer is because there aren’t many leaders like that. Leadership with decisions made based on scientific evidence might have avoided bequeathing my generation with problems like climate change, energy poverty, air pollution, wars, water shortages and the looming refugee crisis, to name a few.

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Scientists are the world’s evidence-hunters, the troubleshooters, the discoverers, the creative inventors and the collaborators. If we look back at the history of how the modern world evolved, we find that scientists and engineers are behind humanity’s greatest achievements: the discovery of penicillin, the moon landing, the harnessing of electricity, etc.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are the initiative-takers; the ones who seize gaps in a system or a faulty process and turn them into opportunities by introducing change in the form of innovation. They are the hustlers who want change to happen efficiently and promptly. We live in a dynamic era of globalization, with epoch-making technical advancements in robotics, AI, medicine and social media. All are advancing more quickly than global citizens can adopt and governments can regulate them – leaving us bewildered. Therefore, responsible leadership is the X factor needed to help navigate these challenging times – something different from leaders we’ve known in the past.

Where are the hybrid leaders who can hunt for evidence and troubleshoot before they make a decision like a scientist, and act on faulty processes efficiently and promptly with the agility of an entrepreneur? This might be the formula that can help us counter leaders who prefer to vocalize populism, gender bias and division. The formula that might instil order in the face of growing technology dominance and threatening global mega-challenges like climate change and multiplying refugees.

Image: Deloitte

In late 1950s, we had already scientific evidence that climate change was happening due to accumulating CO2 emissions that would have a radical effect on climate. Imagine how better off our planet would be today if we and the leaders we elected listened to scientific evidence before we reached this crisis point, threatening the lives of billions. This is only one example among many of how, in the old era of leadership, there was a lack of attention to evidence and an absence of a long-term vision that outlasts government terms of office or corporate shareholder meetings.

In the new era of globalization, where the world is witnessing unprecedented access to opportunities that bridge nations, industries and politics with technological advancement, we can be better in leveraging such opportunities and solving global issues only by producing more balanced leaders. Here’s an example of a leader from an overlooked group who it would be good to mass-produce, if we could: Angela Merkel. A quantum chemist who carved out a political career by focusing on evidence and fast-tracked action for progressive policies, from managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, to domestic reforms around healthcare, energy development and embracing war-torn refugees when the majority of leaders looked away. We urgently need more different leaders of her kind.

A different type of leaders who are evidence-hunters, action-oriented, agile and track their own progress and impact are the ones we have been waiting for. Emerging figures like Rory Stewart and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, leaders with voices that get louder every time they encounter facts, and propose actions and concrete solutions to problems other leaders create. Unconventional leaders. Truly different leaders.

There is a lot of hope at this point in time to leverage our knowledge of what hasn’t worked and better prepare ourselves for the grand challenges to come by cultivating this new type of multidisciplinary leader. We need to train decision-makers to listen to scientific evidence, demand a seat on the table for such evidence-hunters, and elect doers who scale solutions, rather than escalate problems. We also need to retrain existing scientists, the technologists and engineers to seek more integration in influential leadership circles.

If we can design and manufacture multidisciplinary leaders who embrace evidence and steer away from hype, fake news and social-media manipulation, we can be confident in our expectations for leadership 4.0 in an era of global hope.

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