One of the most popular bloggers in Norway is also one of the country’s most outstanding business leaders, Anita Krohn Traaseth, head of Innovation Norway and, until recently, head of Hewlett Packard Norway. I had the privilege to meet her in London recently at her book launch, and was so inspired that I wanted to share her dazzlingly honest and straightforward approach to business leadership. It is Level 4/5 leadership in action – humanistic, inspirational and daring (as described in Chapter 4 of my new book The Management Shift), so I’ve sought to bottle it and present it here in this blog.
Her new book possesses the disarmingly frank title Good Enough for the Bastards (there’s a review on this link). The phrase comes from her working-class dad, and it neatly summarizes her philosophy: to be ambitious, be bold, without seeking a mythical state of ‘perfection’.
She relates how she turned a sharp mind into a successful career in part by putting herself forward, and shedding the fear of rejection. She has written an honest and direct tale, relating her naivety and mistakes with as much relish as her considerable achievements. She also conveys much wisdom. So here’s my summary of leadership Anita’s way.
Some of her lessons fall into the category: ‘Well known, but difficult to implement’. For example: be prepared to adapt to unexpected circumstances; be prepared to alter your own mindset; learn from your mistakes; don’t be devastated by setbacks;
Others are less obvious: treat all people well, not just important contacts, display integrity. Relationships are always important.
Prepare for both success and failure. Because so many things don’t go our way in life, it is common to manage expectations so that we don’t get carried away with projections of effortless success. This is a valuable discipline up to a point, but being too fearful of failure can cause us to lack ambition and fail to fulfil our potential.
Aim to create a great workplace. In HP Norway, this resulted in being named in the Top Ten among Norway’s best places to work for. There followed a 50% fall in staff turnover, new contracts signed, customer satisfaction improved along with top-line growth and bottom line performance. ‘What the financial figures would have looked like without this effort, we do not know,’ she reports. ‘But I believe, in such a demanding transformation, that securing people and energy is the key’.
Be honest if things are difficult. Be honest with the media and with investors.
Delivering in an age of leanness, where more resources are often not available for enhancing services, much thought has to go into communication, team-work and conceiving ingenious solutions. Listen first to colleagues, then to customers.
Keep strategy simple, with clear activities to follow up on. Strategy is an exploratory journey not a complicated template. Engagement with the strategy throughout the organization is essential for the business to thrive. It’s not an optional extra.
To assist this, talk directly with people at all levels of the company, she advises. She’s found that the following are three useful questions to ask them:
- What do you think that I, as leader, should preserve in our company – what must not be changed?
- What do you think we should change?
- Who are you, and what skills do you possess that you don’t get to use in your position?
If it is appropriate, have fun. During her face-to-face meetings with staff throughout HP Norway, known as ‘Speed Date the Boss’, she asked Question 3 about unused talents. This revealed that there were 30 musicians on the payroll. HP Norway formed a band, which in Barcelona in December 2013 played live to 1,800 company executives, giving great visibility within the group to the Norwegian branch. Other national HP companies, and other employers within Norway, have now introduced the concept of ‘Speed Date the Boss’.
Don’t obsess too much about PR and image. If you get things right internally, she argues, you don’t have to worry about external messages so much. Criticism is good. It gives us perspective.
And perhaps her most lasting and telling piece of advice is: ‘Credibility is about trust. We build trust when we show that over time there is a consistency between word and action.’
Not everyone needs role models, but if you aspire to have one you could look to Anita, a true embodiment of Level 4 leadership in action! She tweets at @krohntraaseth in Norwegian and English.