Petra Scharner-Wolff at Learning from Leaders event: “Leadership is much more about fostering collaboration and transparency than hierarchy”

The TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning was delighted to welcome Petra Scharner-Wolff as their second guest in the digital “Learning from Leaders” event series. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Member of the Executive Board Finance, Controlling and Human Resources at Otto Group discussed the topic of “Leadership & Human Needs” with Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus, Founding Director of the institute – and emphasized that in recent years leaders are confronted with an ever greater variety of challenges.

Being responsible for Human Resources at Otto Group since 2015, Petra Scharner-Wolff anchored the topic of learning in the culture of the company. “We have come a long way in our transformation at Otto: From a company sending out catalogues to customers, to a successful e-commerce organization. Steering this change, one must also change one’s leadership skills”, she explains.

Leadership and human needs are inextricably linked

Why is it so important for leaders in the digital age to understand human needs? “As a leader, we have to foster transparency, engage people by inspiring them with our mission, spread our personal and the company’s values and, most importantly: listen to what our employees really need”, she says and emphasizes that for her, the topics of leadership and human needs are inextricably linked. The Corona pandemic, in this context, serves a proof point that when collaboration becomes more and more digital, careful and value-driven interaction gets just as important.

Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus who is active in leadership research for more than ten years, shared an experience from her early teaching career when she developed a course called “How do humans work?” for bachelor’s engineering students. “It is never too early to start understanding what the people around you really need to feel enabled and happy to work with you. The good news is: You can learn to be a good leader – but you have to constantly self-reflect and strive to improve.”

Looking back at her studies of psychology and business administration, Petra Scharner-Wolff agreed: She believes to have learned more in her psychology studies for her current job and leadership position than as she did from business administration, she shared with the participants. Back then, leadership was often used as a synonym for ‘hierarchy’, but this has changed completely since she began her career: Leaders now need to listen to their employees if they wish to have a positive impact.

Learning for everyone

In regards to the learning culture, Petra Scharner-Wolff illustrated: The Otto Group in particular is working on a variety of continuing education and training programs. The goal: Designing a learning ecosystem, that is inclusive for everybody at the company. “In leadership training for example, our goal is to create a ‘safe space’ for leaders in which they can discuss challenges, give and receive feedback and personally grow”, Petra Scharner-Wolff illustrates. Another focus lies on self-paced and location-independent learning, so everybody can decide when and how to learn. The Group-wide digitalization initiative TechUcation sets standards here. This way, continuing education at Otto Group gets more and more data-driven.

Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus emphasized once again the partnership between Otto Group and the Technical University of Munich: “We as universities have a responsibility to convey new leadership approaches and provide our students with individual coaching. How do we prepare them to be value-driven and responsible leaders? Teaching more about human needs and the connection to leadership is one of the most important tasks for us.”

Register now for the third and last event of our “Learning from Leaders” series: Dr. Reinhard Ploss, CEO Infineon Technologies, will discuss the topic of “Leadership and Technology” with Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus on Nov 9th. 

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