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Talking Leadership with Carina Bauer

The managing director of the German Convention Bureau sits down with the IMEX Group CEO.

"Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work."
—Seth Godin (author and former dotcom executive)

With the amount of talent and passion in the meetings industry, we are fortunate to have many great leaders across the globe, and across all facets of our work.

I define leadership as a person or organization that is always looking for ways to innovate, that is not afraid to push important and sometimes controversial issues ahead, that digs in to solve or build without waiting for others to do so, that doesn’t look for individual kudos, but rather for collective progress.

One such leader in our industry is Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group. With her (and her team’s) finger firmly on the pulse of destinations, planners, buyers, service providers, and thought leaders, she is an excellent bellwether for what works … and what’s to come. 

Once again Carina and IMEX were in Frankfurt recently, and I had the opportunity to ask her over a cup of espresso how she defines leadership, who she admires, what innovations she finds inspiring, and how we can all keep growing and evolving as a well-led industry.

Matthias Schultze: How do you define leadership in our global meetings community ­ what leadership ingredients are key?
Carina Bauer: I think there are two exciting things to think about here. First, there are many ways to lead people—based on who your team is and what you want to accomplish together. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, however, having a clear vision, an ability to articulate that vision well, and an attitude of being humble and serving those you lead all play a role in success. Secondly, I would say that I believe that you can be a leader in any part of the business and in any title you hold—you don’t need to be at the top of an organization to lead people or projects, inspire and help move goals ahead.

Schultze: Who inspires you as a leader in our industry and why?
Bauer: Luckily, I think we have a lot of great leaders to learn from in our industry. Of course, I was very fortunate to grow up with my father—Ray Bloom—who I’ve learned so much from. Another person who has always impressed me is Deborah Sexton [former president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association] …  particularly as a powerful and well respected female leader in the industry. I’ve seen what she did in reshaping PCMA into an important and leading organization. I also had the opportunity to collaborate directly with her and her team who have so much admiration for Deborah as a mentor as well as an industry leader.  That is a really inspiring combination to me.

Schultze: What is your advice to people just entering our industry or looking to become a leader?
Bauer: Linking back to what I said earlier, I believe you can be a leader at any point in your career and in any role.  Leadership is really about how you share ideas that can better your organization, and take responsibility for growing those ideas. It’s not just about waiting for someone to give you tasks. You can and should think proactively, advocate for positive change, and offer to take on projects or roles that can move things forward—even (and especially) if it is not in your “job description.”   This starts to give you visibility and experience as someone with leadership capabilities. And of course, nothing is a replacement for rolling up your sleeves and working really hard … so be prepared for that too. It’s said that to learn a musical instrument, or a new skill takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  Being a leader is also a skill.  You need to practice at it and put in the time to develop it.

Schultze: IMEX has never been afraid to lead on topics like sustainability, CSR, security, and now professional equity with the new She Means Business (SMB) program in Frankfurt. Why is it important to champion issues as a leader and what were some things you took away from SMB?
Bauer: I think it’s important for true leaders to do more than just grow their own patch, meaning their own career, group, or organization. They need to help raise the bar of professionalism, creativity, and possibility across the industry and in the communities they touch. At IMEX, it has always been very important to provide a platform where everyone can learn, share ideas, and try out new ways to add value in a hands-on, yet “low-risk” environment. Attendees can see how fresh concepts play out in action, and then take that knowledge and energy back to their own organizations, events, and communities. For example, our recent She Means Business conference (done together with TW in Germany) provided a forum for woman—and men—to come together and openly discuss a topic that has been building to a crescendo recently: woman building more power, respect, and parity in the workplace.  It was an exciting day with many key take-aways:
• Help each other ahead by mentoring, supporting, and connecting with those behind and ahead of you.
• Don’t expect change in a vacuum. Men and woman need to work together to make it happen.
• First off, believe in yourself and your own value and intuition and then make others believe too with your actions, joy, and passions.
•It’s a marathon play that will take short- and longer-term goals and actions—but it starts with small steps that add up over time.
Really, I feel all this thinking is timely and valuable for anyone, in any business or any role—man or woman.

Schultze: To be a leader in any industry, innovation is key. What is a trend or innovation you are excited about right now in the industry that you saw reinforced at IMEX in Frankfurt?
Bauer: I would say experiential design and formats are really shaking things up and offering inspiration for new ways to engage, learn, and connect. At IMEX in Frankfurt, hopping onto a mega piano keyboard with the Piano Man in the Live Zone, or going literally into the air or the dark with the beautifully facilitated C2 Learning Labs was very exciting and people really seemed to gravitate towards and enjoy these experiences. We’re only going to see more and more of this “out of the box” thinking, and I believe there are doable, practical, and value-add thoughts that can be taken home to get to a higher and increasingly meaningful level of engagement at our events and meetings.

Let’s continue the conversation: How do you define leadership and leading innovation? Tune in to my LinkedIn account, where we can swap ideas.

Matthias Schultze is managing director of the German Convention Bureau.

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