Thoughts from a monkey…


This spring brought with it lots of engaging and surprising experiences. Exciting development in an entrepreneurial company I joined the board of earlier this year, business magazine Kapital Power ranking followed by a directly broadcasted interview on primetime Norwegian national TV (Dagsrevyen), planning the inspirational afternoon for maritime women – and quite a few men – awarding this year’s winner of WISTA Leadership Award, and the launch of the new female mentorship program’s participants, and finally a very pleasant weekend trip to Koster in South Sweden, to inspire and challenge the R&D part of TINE.

I thought I’d share some of the content from my speech from the TINE teambuilding with you. It’s related to what I spoke about on TV, and something I’m quite passionate about. And which for me is a key to a lot of what I’ve been fortunate to contribute in developing and delivering the past years. It’s about leadership, and daring to really feel what drives your inner battery.

Lessons learnt 1: Identify and take with you the right advise along the way

As most others, I have a span of various capabilities and qualities, for better and worse. Skills that works in different roles, companies and settings. Skills that some appreciate highly, yet get on the nerves of others. Some of the advise that made me very insecure for a period of my career, was about the need to tone down my presence, and try to change parts of my personality. I should learn to adjust, know my place, respect authorities, avoid speaking to freely (or too much), focus more on how others could perceive me, challenge others less in professional discussions, be more patient (ref. to development/career opportunities), be less result oriented, less passionat, more humble ref to older or more experienced persons, and be careful not to take up to much space. I know for certain that all of these advise were given in the best possible meaning, based on the mindset and experiences of those who provided them. But what I also know is that these elements of my personality has made a huge difference in terms of the work I’ve done, and the value I’ve contributed with along the way.

You can like or dislike those aspects, and some of them are definitely both positive and negative, depending on context. They’re part of who I am and what I can bring to the table within a team. Each and every one of us has our own bag of skills and abilities. If we are to contribute best possibly in a work role, we need to have (and be..) colleagues and leaders who seek to understand how to best possibly use these, but we also need to be honest towards ourselves, and make choices along the way that matches our abilities.

Through our lives it’s so important to focus on striving to grow and nurture our talents and human skills, be humble ref to others’ feedback and develop as a person. But at the same time it’s so important to keep in touch with our gut-feeling and boundaries. What are our limits, how much can we compromise our own core values, how much can we change before losing ourselves into a square adjusted to others’ needs and expectations?

The advise I received made me so insecure at the time that I had to go many rounds with myself. I tried so hard to adjust, to fit in, but experienced that my passion and spark disappeared. I became too self-concious on what I said, how it could be misinterpreted in a negative way if I spoke in meetings, and finally the focus on adjusting reduced my ability to deliver 100%. After having thought a lot, trying to turn the mirror and see myself from the outside, I acknowledged that the advise were completely right based on how the organisation worked. But there were simply no alternative to follow them if I was to keep my spirit and drive.

And without these parts of my personality, I dare say that I most certainly would never had;

  • quit school at 16
  • left a steady job for an uncertain and lower paid temp contract in Wilhelmsen
  • worked voluntarely and unpaid for YoungShip to such an extend
  • started my own company at 28
  • dared to promote controversial ideas and thoughts, and Challenge top executives and heavy-weighters in various arenas
  • become a visible spokes person for YoungShip and Young industry colleagues
  • jumped aboard and initiated establishment of various new industry initiatives
  • taken on project work and travelled alone to Nigeria

Lessons learnt 2: Dare to be honest with yourself. What are your best and worst abilities, and could you find a way to use and work with your worst sides so that they actually also can represent a positive aspect in the right role?

Lessons learnt 3: Be a Yes person – embrace opportunities – but don’t be afraid to challenge majority views.

Within the Norwegian community and business, we are extremely concensus oriented. We often prefer all to agree, and it can be unpleasant to go into professional discussions. When we look at our industries, there is a high degree of homogenous boards and management groups, resulting in cultures where people tend to agree and confirm each other rather than challenge and push controversial views. I’m a big fan of bringing some more temperature into the meeting rooms. If we are to create sparks, we need friction. I don’t mean going into physical fights or harassing arguments, but creating a culture where there is room for nurturing powerful professional discussions.

If we don’t dare to challenge each other within an organisation, project or management group, the risk is that we will fail in identifying possible uncertainties or weaknesses linked to what we’re working on. And that will hit us right in the face the day we launch something that doesn’t work – whether it’s towards external customers or internal colleagues. The more we can challenge and crash-test our deliverables internally, the better.. But then we need to create a safe, trust-based environment for disagreeing and discussing different views. And it definitely puts more pressure on the leader being confident enough in their role to handle friction, and towards all team members to separate case from person. When we feel secure within the team and in our role, we act more relaxed, less hostile. We become less focused on our own silo, and more on the stewardship, companionship and joint efforts and targets. .

Lessons learnt 4: Create space for diversity – different personalities/types and opinions. Endure the difficult discussions, those are the ones creating the fundament for growth and improvement.

P.S – Earlier this year, during a conference at Chalmers university in Gothenburg, I was asked which animal I felt represent me. Those who know me are probably not so surprised that I chose the monkey (Curious George). This post is a greeting to all the monkeys out there. Business life needs you/us, even though a fair share of middle managers or more conform people don’t necessarily understand it. You just have to look for suitable roles and employers who are innovative and competent to see you as a positive driving force! 🙂

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