Four years as a partner in Deloitte and six years as the president of the Norwegian Snowboard Association, have developed my leadership style. During my maternity leave, I have had the time to reflect upon my style of leadership. Should I fall back into good or bad old habits, or should I use this momentum to do some changes? I choose the latter, of course!
I have always studied and evaluated other leaders. Both leaders that I have been working closely with and leaders that I have observed in the media. How do they plan and implement strategies? How do they communicate and cooperate with other leaders and employees? How do they handle crisis situations and pressure? And particularly – how do they inspire their employees and customers?
One of my first leaders was incredibly visionary and strategic. She included me, as a recent economist graduate, in the processes. I learned so much!
I remember the company director who had coffee with the employees during the shift change every morning, who made speeches during employee gatherings where he spoke from his heart, leading to great applause from the audience.
The chairman who is incredibly respected and sturdy, a great rhetorician who always managed to get consensus or taking bold decisions.
The sports leader who is hugely personally committed, and has an inspiring political shrewdness.
And particularly, leaders who have not shown any signs of commitment or standing up for their employees during crises. You can learn a lot of other people’s success and mistakes!
Leadership in the consulting industry and the world of sports
My leadership experience is built upon experience from two different sectors and cultures: Partner in Deloitte, one of the largest consulting firms in the world, and president of the Norwegian Snowboard Association, a sports federations with strong opinions.
The role of being a partner in Deloitte has several exciting aspects. Project and program management for various customers, talent and personnel management internally, partner management internally (responsible for sales, contracts, results and more). Consulting firms are knowledge-based businesses with many highly educated and independent employees in a matrix-structured organization. Deloitte has defined certain leadership principles. They address that we should show the way, be role models, care about our clients, show social responsibility etc. They are perhaps not that revolutionary, but they deal with the entire specter, and they are important. For me, they are a framework for my conducting my style of leadership.
Between 2009 and 2015, I was the president in Norwegian Snowboard Association, an unpaid, volunteer positon. A position where I had the chance to work with causes close to my heart. What characterizes volunteer organizations is that the employees have a strong inner motivation and passion for the organization’s mission. My role was a typical chairman position, but the board also was operational when it was necessary.
The president role was, naturally, more political and strategic. Additionally, the role included external representation and being a spokesperson. The association does not have any leadership principles defined, but a good vision: “We will show the world how important it is to have fun!”, and strong core values (creative, passionate, social, having one foot ahead). This was the backbone of both the board and the management.
My leadership style
My opinion is that the basis of your leadership style largely comes from within, and reflects the personality. Courses, exams and degrees can definitely change your leadership, hopefully to the better. Additionally, the industry, company and role will influence how you exercise your leadership role. The most important part is probably to be sufficiently aware of how you are perceived as a leader, since this will be crucial for the company’s success.
My basic leadership approach reflects my personality. Through the years, I have tried to be more aware of context and situation. This is not easy. Many times, my impulsivity, impatience and emotional devotion have taken over. Arrgh… I have bitten myself in my tongue and pinched my own thigh. Sometimes, I have had a Post-it note in front of me, saying for instance “Shut up – listen!” or “Breathe with your stomach!” or “Be serious!”.
I will summarize my current leadership style in six points.
1) I set objectives and direction, but give freedom when it comes to approach. I try to set clear objectives and communicate where we are going and why. Then I often give the team and the individual the challenge of coming up with a suggested approach. This triggers curiousness, ownership and often an approach that is much better than what I was thinking. Less experienced employees will, of course, need more guidance, but I am trying to return deliverables with feedback rather than changing them myself. My challenge is my tight schedule and we do not sufficiently communicate on the objective and format of the deliverable.
2) I lead with my heart. It is important for me to be able to lead with emotions, show empathy and be dedicated. I am trying to invoke positive emotions to involve the team and the individual. I believe that it is important to be updated on how the individual really is doing. Then I am able to be a trustworthy discussion partner who can help.
3) I communicate direct and clear, but I am receptive and often seek consensus. In the past, I found it difficult to be direct. I was afraid that my own opinions were not good enough or that being direct would be perceived as offensive. After experiencing misunderstandings and a lack of expectation clarifications, I realized that it is essential to communicate expectations, roles, responsibilities and tasks clearly. In this dialogue, I seek to be receptive when it comes to suggestions, in addition to seeking consensus if we are several people who are trying to agree. For the most part, I have only received positive feedback on being direct. This saves me for many misunderstandings, buuut, back to my time management issues! With a packed agenda and a bit of impatience, things can go a little bit too quickly, and there is less time for being receptive.
4) I take responsibility during crises. As a leader, I have taken a responsibility. This responsibility is particularly important when crises or unpleasant situations arise. I wish to shield the employees and do not blame anyone else. Simultaneously, we as a group must evaluate and learn, and do a one-to-one follow-up. It is during, I rarely panic. I am able to keep my head cool and lead through crises.
5) I must be where things happen, and be close to our clients. When I became a partner, I was afraid that new administrative tasks would make it more difficult to prioritize being out there with the clients. This was unfounded fear, and I am always trying to be out there with the clients as much as possible. That is where things are happening, not at the Deloitte office. However, this can result in too little presence at the office.
6) I maintain good work/life balance. There have been periods in my life where work has been the most important part of my life. For long periods, I worked extremely much. I burned the candle in both ends. In recent years, I have learned prioritizing my private life better and leave work at the office. This has made me prioritize much better during work hours, and has given me more energy to be a good leader! However, I work extremely hard to do as much as possible while at work, to avoid a lot of supplementary work during the evening. I am probably one of the world’s worst multitaskers, constantly working with to-three tasks. I have read that this is ineffective, but I cannot stop.
Time for some introspection
One year of maternity leave gives a unique chance to take a step back and do a small analysis of myself as a leader. During many of my stroller trips, with sleeping children, I have been listening to YouTube videos, TED-talks etc., where various leaders have presented and discussed their leadership philosophy. This has been inspiring, but sometimes it has made me a bit discouraged. How am I going to develop myself in the busy daily life that is coming? This is why I have decided that this autumn, I am going to be more conscious of what I think should be a part of the leadership role. I am going to work with these questions:
- What do the employees think about my style of leadership?
- Am I in accordance with the firm’s leadership principles?
- What must I continue doing?
- What must I stop doing?
- What should I start doing?
- How can I comply with a new leadership style?