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WRITTEN BY Korbinian Thiele

How the message of THL aligns with the IGNITE Movement at the University of St. Gallen

Bob Chapman recently visited the University of St. Gallen during his “Truly Human Leadership” tour, which marked a very special day for IGNITE. His work was one of the main inspirations to IGNITE’s foundation in 2015, and the student-led movement continues to strongly identify with his values.

Members of IGNITE were honored to attend Bob Chapman’s public speech and participate in an exclusive round of questions with him and Jane Adshead-Grant. Following this unique opportunity, IGNITE is ready to share three key learnings.



Key learning 1: “A society or a company should never be dependent on one person or leader”

During his speech, Bob Chapman quoted a man whose greatest fear was “to be blessed with a leadership model that is dependent on one single person and is not self-sustainable.” To make an impact, it is vital that the whole society makes a switch, not just a few individuals. Otherwise, should the leader leave the company, the change work breaks apart.

IGNITE therefore strongly seeks to promote self-sustaining models by developing teams externally and internally.

Externally, we seek to inspire and encourage current and future leaders to change society. Through conferences, workshops, and activities on campus, we provide food for thought, spark interest, and raise awareness amongst fellow students, academia, or working professionals.

Internally, IGNITE aims to provide the first-hand experience to its team members through the implementation of modern and human-centered organizational designs. IGNITE has tried to implement self-management, experimented under a completely flat hierarchy, and is currently working under a system of servant leadership. Through this, we foster an understanding of the benefits and challenges of this new style of leadership. We also provide movement members first- hand experience, equipping them with concrete skills for future careers.

Being able to see and to experience the positive effects of this leadership approach further motivates us. Unlike most student-run associations at the university, IGNITE chose not to be rewarded with university credits for its work. IGNITErs invest hours of their personal time to share their vision of a truly humane society, which is due to intrinsic motivation not due to a reward by the university.

Truly Human Leadership shows that people want to be led not managed. IGNITE believes that everyone should have the opportunity to use their gifts and talents to work toward a shared vision. Each IGNITE department contributes to the success of shared goals. And each team member feels valued and trusted and encouraged to take a leading responsibility in the future towards shared goals.

Key learning 2: “We need to give the market what it needs not what it wants”

In the days of globalization and capitalism, markets demand hard-working professionals, sometimes even disregarding the negative effects of these demands. Many of IGNITE’s team members have had bad experiences with leaders who treat employees as a resource rather than as a human being. Truly Human Leadership demands that people should not be treated as a mere means to a company’s financial success.

To that effect, IGNITE promotes human-centric leadership and seeks to equip present and future leaders with the skills to empower their teams. At IGNITE’s 5th annual conference in 2019, Jane Adshead-Grant delivered a wonderful workshop on active listening and Garry Turner taught us a lot about value through vulnerability.

Knowing that every company is dependent on financial needs ultimately, IGNITE aspires to convey the message that combining human and economic value is possible. In fact, a more human-centered leadership style will have an impact on employee engagement and most likely even increase financial outcome.

As IGNITE had already identified having fun as a key value of the association, characterized by “work hard, play hard”, we were extremely pleased to hear Mr. Chapman relate a case (the March Madness anecdote) in which making work “like a game” increased a company’s profits by 20%.

Key learning 3: “The switch has to begin at the universities and at the schools”

During IGNITE’s exclusive round of questions, Bob Chapman and Jane Adshead-Grant encouraged students to actively seek discussions with their professors. It is up to students to demand the teaching of more human skills. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, and universities are a key resource to change as well as the most effective way to ignite it. Right now, universities teach primarily technical skills and only very few human skills, such as listening, showing appreciation, caring, and communication skills. A change won’t happen if no one demands it, therefore students will have to directly approach professors and demand the teaching of more human skills.

Bob Chapman and Jane Adshead-Grant reinforced IGNITE team members’ awareness that we must actively work towards this change. We take the task very seriously and encourage every student, every teacher, and every academic reading this blog to join us. The next big step towards change is in progress: IGNITE is already at work to bring some of the university’s most prestigious and influential academics to the 2020 IGNITE conference on the 20th and 21st of October.

The IGNITE Movement

On a mission to ignite human dignity, the IGNITE movement was initiated at the University of St. Gallen in 2015 and since then has been striving to create a more purpose-driven business world. Inspired by pioneers such as Bob Chapman, Simon Sinek, or Garry Ridge, the movement introduces current and future business leaders to the core concepts of the purpose-driven business, inspirational leadership, strong company culture, and organizational design. Through various activities—workshops, company visits, and an annual conference—IGNITE provides young individuals the tools needed to implement purpose-driven business practices into their professional and personal environments. 


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