The Leadership Lab: François Ortalo-Magné

In the first episode of our Leadership Lab series, I explored the complexities of leadership and its multifaceted nature with François Ortalo-Magné, Dean of London Business School, who is steadfast in his commitment to inclusion and diversity.

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Every week, we publish a leadership quotation. The idea is to inspire you with advice from brilliant and relevant leaders—people from all over the world who have succeeded in all sorts of fields and are diverse demographically and in their points of view. We strive to profile leaders about whom Scholars would want to discover more and whose journeys would provide fascinating leadership lessons.

18 months in, we have been finding it increasingly difficult to choose unproblematic leaders. Historical and current figures generally rolled out as inspirational leaders are often more complicated and far less virtuous than we might have once assumed.

Mother Theresa was an unflinching advocate for the impoverished and sick, yet her approach to donor relations and views on abortion don’t sit easily with ours.

Winston Churchill was arguably one of the most impactful leaders of the 20th century, yet he was also unforgivably misogynist, racist and antisemitic.

Mahatma Gandhi fought heroically against British colonial rule, yet he, too, could be bigoted and misogynistic.

Sheryl Sandberg broke the glass ceiling as one of the few women in the tech world C-suite; yet, Facebook’s position on spreading misinformation in the 2016 US elections was the final straw that persuaded us to move off the platform.

The list goes on.

This made us realise an essential truth: there are no absolute saints or villains in leadership. Leadership is hard and complicated. It is a journey, not a destination. It is a mindset, fundamentally about a belief in others. It always stands for something, but it is not infallible. If we look for perfection in ourselves, we will always be disappointed; constantly striving to be better is the key.

Similarly, if we look for perfection in others, we will not only ble disappointed but also lose two precious opportunities: to learn and to teach.

We want to explore this concept of complicated leadership. Who better to do it with than academic, political and business leaders who are dedicated to exploring counterfactuals, committed to being able to hold opposing views in tension and who have to make hard decisions every day?

Welcome to the Laidlaw Leadership Lab, where we explore what it means to be a good leader through interviews with world leaders as well as leaders of some of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the world.

We begin our series with François Ortalo-Magné, the extraordinary Dean of London Business School. He is one of the few Deans at a top-class business school to lead for a second term of office. Committed to improving inclusion and diversity at LBS, he is a long-time friend and partner of the Laidlaw Foundation. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did. It might surprise you.


02:35 | Please talk about your leadership journey, encompassing not just your tenure at London Business School but the path that led you here and your experiences thus far.

08:22 | Have you encountered misperceptions of who you are or experienced outright discrimination due to stereotypes? 

14:35 | What were some of the most significant challenges you confronted at the beginning of your deanship, and which challenges are you navigating now?

20:01 | What gives you the confidence to avoid hiding behind legalities, a common practice among many business schools and universities, and instead engage in open, frank discussions about what is and isn't acceptable?

24:30 | Have there been instances when you've had to make a decision that was the lesser of two evils? Situations where there was no ideal path forward, and compromises had to be made, knowing that someone would inevitably be affected negatively?

28:45 | How do you prevent yourself from being put down by conflict and disagreement from others?

33:57 | How can we prevent people from falling into the trap of destructive, judgmental anger, and instead promote collective learning and direct our anger towards effecting change?

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Go to the profile of Rachel Clinton
9 months ago

Love this!  "He has an accent but he is smart"  Oh The Shock of it!!

If you come from a working-class background and/or marginalized less privileged background and have something to say - you will relate to this comment 

Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe
9 months ago

In the US and the UK people hear his accent and think "sophisticated", yet in France he faced discrimination for decades because of it - highlights how absurd and wrong it is to judge people by their accents / backgrounds.

Go to the profile of Rachel Clinton
9 months ago

Love It! Thanks Susanna. Those who discriminated lost in the end, and those who didn't gained Francois!