Interview with Sebastian Stein – HR Business Forum



We are very grateful to have had our Managing Partner, Sebastian Stein, invited to speak at the DeBizz HR Business Forum webinar, held on the 16th of September.

In you are interested in finding out more about his perspective and expertise on the Executive Search market, Transformational Leadership and Employment challenges in the current context, please find below some highlights from the conference.


Through the lens of the Executive Search market 


An outlook on the Executive Search market during the present context

Regardless of the fact that most people are still working remotely, the demand for Leadership and Management is still extremely high; maybe even more so than before. Especially during these challenging times in the market companies are looking very much into identifying leadership teams who are able to deal with this uncertainty and to endorse a new leadership style, a new working culture driven by empowerment.

When we don’t have direct access to our people, we need to reinvent ourselves and to learn how to effectively distribute tasks and responsibilities and doing this remotely is definitely more challenging than it used to be before.

Nevertheless, this context also provides a big chance and we believe that companies should now intend for a longer-term vision by not only focusing on what is, but also by utilizing the intricacies of a crisis for what could be.

Considering that we are dealing with a global pandemic, we have noticed that organizations are having the tendency to go regional, in order for them to discern how the direct impact affects the structure dynamic. It seems that the markets in CEE are consolidating, with a lot of M&A processes and those who have invested in Eastern Europe are making use of the prospect to enlarge their businesses and to become stronger players in the future. This market consolidation is also a big asset for new entries, for investors coming into the region.

Due to the current unpredictability, we, as an Executive Search company, have to constantly reinvent ourselves by diving deeper into what our clients’ real needs are and what Leadership solutions we need to implement. Therefore, Management placing is not enough anymore because we need to understand what the pain points of an organization are in order to integrate the most appropriate solutions for the future development of the company.

At the same time, we believe that Leadership and people will remain in the focus of each company, especially in Eastern Europe where agility is lived to a much higher extent in comparison with the Western markets.

Changes following the global pandemic

We had to adjust to the context and moved in the virtual environment, conducting searches entirely online, sometimes not meeting face-to-face neither the clients nor the candidates, which was atypical for us in the beginning because we were used to feeling the pulse of one-on-one interactions. Moreover, we even conducted online assessment and development centers and concluded that cross border searches are made easier and more efficient.

Surprisingly, until now, we noticed no deficit in the quality of selection, having almost 100% closing rate for our projects, except those which stopped due to the hiring freeze.

What are the new requirements towards Leadership teams? Do we continue to work remotely, or do we return back to the office?

Since the law of change is the only constant in this universe, we can be certain about the fact that uncertainty will prevail and our attitude in the face of it should be beneficial to our wellbeing.

We will continue to work remotely or at least by having the possibility of a flexible agenda, because it seems that this pandemic has only fostered the mega trend of freelance economy and flexible working schedules.

A good example on how the public system, but also the private economy are struggling to find the right proportion between digital and physical would be with the latest changes in the schooling system, where there is ambiguity about the modus operandi, but in the end it only emphasizes even more the idea that we need to permanently adapt.

Of course, this uncertainty has also an impact on Leadership and we have observed a further shift in its approach. In the past, and especially in Eastern Europe with state owned companies, we used to have a type of Management focused on the directive Leadership style and we all have seen the deficiencies of such style.

Now, the servant Leadership style is taking the stage, putting people into the spotlight of the company, which means that the employees are getting more and more recognized as being the most valuable assets and that managers have to become servant leaders.

The aspiration for the future is in Agile Leadership, a style which sees the organization as a community or a city where you can do what you want as long as you allow the community to benefit from your work.

In conclusion, adjusting Leadership styles has to be put in context and is not an easy process, which is also reflected in the many changes and responses we see around us.

Webinar – Transformational Leadership

We are delighted to have hosted the webinar “Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe” on the 15th of September. Having as guest speakers Mrs. Friederike Rissing, HR Director DACH & NORDICS of Reckitt Benckiser, Mr. Ron Egli, Phd. in Transformational Leadership, Mr. Peter Muller, CEO of Heidi Chocolate Romania, Mr. Markus Wirth, former CEO of Holcim and Ameropa Grains Romania and Mr. Frank Hajdinjak, former CEO of E.ON Romania, we emphasized the principles and challenges of Transformational Leadership, especially during times of change.

If you are interested in finding out more, please find below some learnings from the speakers:


Transformational Leadership in Central Eastern Europe

“The job of the management is to design and run the systems that support the company in achieving its purpose” – Dave Gray, The Connected Company


Principles of Transformational Leadership

In 1985, the concept of Transformational Leadership was the first time introduced in organizations. Ideally, this approach creates valuable and positive change in individuals and social systems, with the main goal of creating great leaders who are able to inspire, motivate and encourage their teams.

There are four main components positively correlated to individual and organizational performance:

  • Individualized Consideration
  • Intellectual Stimulation
  • Inspirational Motivation
  • Idealized Influence

But more important are the five key principles of Leadership:

  • Self-esteem
  • Planning
  • Motivation
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

Also, communication plays a huge role, because without it all the other aspects may not meet their purpose. Communication needs to capture hearts and minds. During times of change, many of us may be wrongly focusing on the speaking part of the communication and wholly neglecting the listening part of the equation. Communication is both ways and active listening should be done to understand and not to say something back in return.

Taking into account that sometimes people do not see a reason for change, especially when there are risks involved, it is important for them to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy, so that they can understand the bigger picture and therefore support the vision.

Followers in transformation respond to:

  • Trust
  • Admiration
  • Loyalty
  • Respect

Currently, 70% of Transformational Leadership projects fail, because we deal with human beings, with emotions, with followers and blockers. When there is a consensus for changes in an organization, all managers and employees must be engaged on different processes with full transparency and by active involvement, with leaders setting up workshops or other development initiatives and guide the teams with compassion. People need to understand the sense of urgency and the need for change, so that they can understand the issue and consequences associated with it, making it easier for everyone to respond with full understanding and not out of fear.


Leadership Challenges during times of change

“If you don’t deliver on your culture in a crisis, then your culture meant nothing to start with. And when you stand on the other side, your culture will be why.” – Didier Elzinger, Culture AMP CEO.

This basically means that especially during tough times, it is important to live up to your culture, your values of the company, your behaviors. Feedback is also a key component, because we have to give it to our people in order for them to develop and the same applies vice versa: we can learn from the employees by listening to them and by giving them accountability.

Transformational Leadership in times of uncertainty:

  • Listen to and encourage feedback
  • Guidance through facilitation
  • Inspiration & motivation
  • Serving leadership

Implementation is the key, but in Central European countries, additional challenges, such as the cultural differences and employees not being used to the concept of development, need to be considered. Also, no real exchange of opinions has been observed and managers are used to making the decisions themselves.

Command-oriented, low-freedom management is common because it’s profitable. It requires less effort, and most managers are terrified of the alternative.” – Laszlo Bock, Work Rules!

But what do managers actually have to do in order to engage, motivate or inspire especially through a change process?

How the concepts of Leadership and Management evolved in time:

Management 1.0

For many organizations, a common practice is that they are managed like machines. In this style of management, leaders assume that improvement of the whole requires monitoring, repairing, and replacing the parts.

Management 2.0

In a Management 2.0 organization, everyone recognizes that “people are the most valuable asset” and that managers have to become “servant leaders”. But, at the same time, managers prefer to stick to the hierarchy.

Agile Leadership

Some people think of an organization as a community or a city. We can do what we want, as long as we allow the community to benefit from our work.


What is Leadership about then?

Energize people:

People are the most important part of an organization and managers must do all they can to keep people active, creative, and motivated.

Empower Teams:

Teams can self-organize, and this requires empowerment, authorization and trust from management.

Align Constraints:

Self-organization can lead to anything, and it is therefore necessary to protect people and shared resources and to give people clear purpose and defined goals.

Develop Competence:

Teams cannot achieve their goals if team members are not capable enough; managers must therefore contribute to the development of competences and skills.

Grow Structure:

Many teams operate within the context of a complex organization, and thus it is important to consider structures that enhance communication

Improve Everything:

People, teams, and organizations need to improve continuously to avoid failure as much as possible.


Furthermore, the role of HR is changing with an emphasis on the following competences:

Commercial Acumen – understanding of the business and applying knowledge effectively, the need to support decisions or getting involved;

Coach – listening and asking, challenging leaders;

Courage – the need to stand up or take unpopular stands, have a different opinion or give feedback;

Connection – connecting and bringing people together to achieve a common goal;

Creating a movement – communication is the key especially if we talk about creating a movement, understanding the behavior or the stages of change, uniting people under a common purpose, storytelling (how the message is brought across), and inspiring them.


Key learnings

  • If we want a change in our organization, we have to take into consideration the employee behavior and the organizational culture;
  • Communication with full transparency and by active listening enables understanding and support of the vision;
  • Listen to understand and actively ask for feedback;
  • The processes in Change Management have to be fair! The employees have to be satisfied with the outcome and it’s the leader’s job to make them aware of it, even when it’s a negative outcome, although the messages have to be passed on;
  • Leadership is not management, the latter being more of a coordinating style focused on figures;
  • Awareness of the business, generating profit and making strong decisions especially in complex situations are necessary prerequisites in leadership and prove personal commitment;
  • The leader has to act as a role model by inspiring, motivating, influencing and serving people in their professional and personal development in order to achieve great results;
  • People follow leaders they can trust and who have the practical skills and the understanding of the business. Competence builds confidence;
  • We have to leave behind the misconception that the leader has to know everything;
  • Most creative workers don’t realize that they are also responsible for management stuff. Management is too important to put it only in the managers’ hands; it belongs to everyone;
  • We have to strive for performance and try to understand what the problems in an organization are;
  • Building the team around means supporting and learning together on the solution and implementation;
  • Transformational Leadership encounters blockers! People need to be shown the purpose and motives of the changing strategy;
  • During crises it is necessary for leaders to provide guidance, even more than before;
  • Give more accountability to the people so that everyone in the organization is also a leader;
  • We have to remember that in the end we deal with human emotions, with different attitudes and different egos! Empathy and sympathy are desired attributes;
  • The wellbeing of the employees plays a huge role in transformation, so it’s important for people to actually have fun while navigating through change.

Content by Ana Maria Popescu