“Missing Link Discovered” Leadership Forum with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi – Part 2

An edited transcript of the Forum held by CEU Business School


MISSING LINK DISCOVERED: Planting Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Theory into Management and Leadership Practice held on Monday, November 9, 2015, CEU AUDITORIUM, Budapest V, Nádor u. 9. The contributors were co-authors of the Missing Link Discovered book together with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi:

  • Paul Marer, Prof. of Business, CEU Business School
  • Zoltan Buzady, Prof. of Management, CEU Business School, c
  • Zad Vecsey, CEO of ALEAS Simulations, Budapest and Los Angeles
  • Mihály Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Prof. of Psychology & Management, Claremont Graduate University, California

The full transcript is available in PDF here: Forum Missing Link Discovered CEU_BS Nov 9 2015 edited transcript.


Prof. Buzady on “Leadership and Flow” Global Research Program



WHAT IS LEADERSHIP? I will make a few remarks on four of the topics. Specifically:

  • Leadership & leadership skills
  • Flow-based leadership skills
  • Teaching leadership
  • The “Leadership & Flow” Research Program

So what is leadership? – I quote from Mihaly’s essay in our new book. “Good management is not perfectly definable and not precisely measurable.” Indeed so. Yet, effective managers are supposed to possess a pretty well-defined set of skills – a set, on which there is by and large a consensus among academics as well as practitioners. Here is an example of a standard set of leadership skills:

flow-leadership_skills This particular one has 29 items. It happens to be the one that Mihaly and Zad jointly have identified, based on Mihaly’s Good Business book. They are also the skills that are identified in the leadership simulation game I’ll come to in a moment.

By the way, these skills here are much the same as those one would find in most other standard leadership-skills classification systems.

Most of those skills can be learned. Of course, differences among people in their born-with abilities make it easy for some to learn and to apply those skills and more difficult for others.

And there are some – or maybe many? – in leadership positions who are highly intelligent and educated, but are so full of themselves that their way of managing is not grounded in best-practices validated by academic research as well as by practitioners. Such bosses may be driven by some emotional need to satisfy some “particular” personal ambition or to hide a weakness they themselves may not be fully aware of. Such bosses can block initiatives by others, often hindering their colleagues and subordinates to experience “Flow” on the job.

It's always "Sit"

It is also a fact of life that the world around us has changed, and will continue to do so, with important implications for management/leadership.

One of the most important trends in recent decades is that leaders increasingly have to manage knowledge workers, not physical workers! Knowledge workers want not just a paycheck, but (importantly, among other things) a work environment that enables them to experience Flow.

For the above and for many other reasons, a certain subset of leadership skills is becoming more important – today and tomorrow – for management to be effective. This, in a way, is the essence of Mihaly’s contribution in his Good Business book that Paul mentioned.

Among the 29 management skills, four are especially important for helping others to experience Flow:

  1. Strategic thinking – that is, setting clear goals and priorities (# 27)
  2. Applying personal strengths – Realizing and engaging for a common purpose the personal strengths of employees (#24)
  3. Balancing skill – Balancing, dynamically, the skill and challenge levels of key employees – and they, in turn, should to do the same for their subordinates (#4)
  4. Feedback – Giving frequent and actionable Feedback (# 15)

TEACHING LEADERSHIP SKILLS Let me now turn to teaching leadership skills. I used to teach it in what might be called the conventional way: assigning readings and case studies, several of which I wrote myself, then discussing them in the classroom. The approach was OK. But something was not fully satisfactory, something was missing.

For example, academic writings on the topic are too scholarly, too abstract, focusing only or general principles, with applicable illustrations that were often hard to implement in other situations that are not really identical to the textbook illustrations.

Many case studies, while helpful, tend to mirror insufficiently the real dilemmas leader routinely face. In real life they have to make choices almost continuously, not just one big strategy decision, like “yes or no”, or choose between the few simplified options that so many cases studies offer.

For these reasons, years ago already I was drawn to leadership-content simulations games, such as those developed by this Gentleman on the podium (-> Zad). I found them to be more realistic ways to teach students what it is like to be a manager then either textbooks or case studies. A good leadership simulation teaches that a leader has to be guided by key objectives as well as by certain basic principles. Even after strategic directions have been agreed upon, there is no easy formula on how to apply them in practice, day-to-day, on the many decisions a manager has to make continuously on team and organization issues.

Therefore, instead of some magic formula, the workable approach is to be guided by the agreed upon key objectives and to act according to basic principles of Flow.

This brings me to the award-winning game produced by Zad and his team, about which our book is partly about. The story, in a nutshell: You, the individual player, have just become the new GM of a mid-size winery in California. Your predecessor was one of those bosses who excelled in dividing his team, pitting one against the other, thus doing a good job in destroying the morale. This has started to adversely impact profitability, too. To make a long story short: you, the new GM, have to make about 150 decisions during the virtual span of 6 months. The game takes you 6 to 10 hours to complete; you can stop and start any time. All your decisions are “saved” in the cloud, on the basis of which the player’s leadership skills – not only the 4 mentioned, but also each of the other 25 in the skillset – are measured and appropriately benchmarked.

You in the audience (and the reader) might wonder how can one use in a course a game that takes 10 hours to complete. The answer is a recent teaching innovation, called the flipped classroom!


After a relatively detailed introductory session, during which we discuss Flow-theory basics, and all the technical stuff related to the simulation game, students play the game at home, during their private time. They do on-line readings, and prepare individual or group assignments, or write blogs. During the in-between sessions we devote some time to discuss simulation-related questions and topics. The debriefing session at the conclusion of the game is particularly important! Then the players receive the individual game scores and their personal leadership skills profiles. We then start to discuss their learning moments and future plans as leaders in their own business context, with a focus on applying Flow-based leadership concepts and tools.

Zad’s game has many innovative features. Let me emphasize just one: its system of feedback. There are 19 different types of feedback in this simulation. All are personalized and instantaneous, driven by the 150 management decisions taken during the game play. Remember – getting immediate & actionable feedback is a key precondition of getting into Flow. There are so many different modes and timing on how those playing the game, receive feedback, that I have labeled it: the ‘Galaxy of feedback”.

galaxy of feedback 7_1_cmyk-04

This illustration is too detailed to be explained its details here. It just wanted to give you a visual image of how many different types of feedback there are during the game, when the game is over and during the final debriefing session in class. You can read more about it in our book.

NEW VISTAS FOR LEADERSHIP AND FLOW RESEARCH So far nearly 10,000 people have played the game and more will do so in the future. Since each player has to make 150 decisions, that yields millions of observations on individuals’ leadership skills.

  • Observations: Millions of decisions
  • Quality: Unbiased data
  • Focus: Best matching of skills level & leadership challenges

The significance here is not the quantity of the observations but the quality of the data: it is unbiased, in contrast to self-evaluation test or rating done by someone else. As we found this new set of valuable data, which we did not consider, nor did the designers of the game gave it much thought when they started, we have been pondering how to make good scholarly and practical use of this exceptional data set?
New vistas for Leadership and Flow research opened. I’ll mention briefly my own current research interest. Let us remember that one of the most important preconditions of getting into Flow is the dynamic matching of skills and challenges.


A relatively high level of challenges and matching skills are preconditions for getting into Flow. Whilst Skill Level has been amply explored by scholars and practitioners, “challenges” is a rather vague and fuzzy a concept.

My personal research interest is to come up with a meaningful classification of challenges; the kind that managers and leaders typically face. If I succeed, my categorization of challenges would be of help to better match skills and challenges, for the benefit of individuals and organizations. This is what several of us discussed with Mihaly at dinner last night.

We think there are potentially many other research questions that can be investigated by using this rich, unbiased dataset. It is for this reason we are initiating a global ‘Leadership & Flow’ program and network.


On the left side you can see, all those who are with us at the inception, such as Mihaly’s Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont. At this point I would like to thank the Dean of CEU Business School for his willingness to consider that CEU Business School be one of the founding sponsors of this new research initiative. The right hand side shows that we are now inviting academic and business partners from all over the world to join the “Leadership and Flow” network. Participants will exchange information, cooperate on new research projects, and help disseminate innovations on teaching and training via games that simulate what good leadership is about.

Inspired by Prof. Csikszentmihalyi’s pioneering research on Flow, and then on Flow and leadership, today is the day of publication of our new book, about which our co-author, Zad Vecsey will probably say something about.

I am turning the microphone over to Zad, who has gotten increasingly involved with CEU Business School over the years, for the mutual benefit of both.

Continue reading with Part 3!