The Danish government recently formed a panel of talented entrepreneurs and with it, they have chosen to ask those that know the recipe for growth what is needed to successfully increase growth in Denmark. Among other things, increasing growth requires a showdown with traditional management. This being the hierarchical leadership style that characterises many older, established companies, where old-school discipline is the name of the game. Talented candidates, especially from younger generations, want to be able to express themselves and they stand by their convictions. This can therefore increase the generation gap and minimise the talent pool if companies don’t promote entrepreneurial profiles in their leadership teams.
I dream of Denmark becoming a leading country for growth. A country that all the world’s talent flocks to because we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to growth and innovation, because we offer the kinds of opportunities needed for entrepreneurs and small companies to flourish from the start. This, among other things, requires lowering taxes on employee shares, so capital can be used to further growth rather than for high salaries. However, it also requires a distinct focus on developing a leadership team with an entrepreneurial mindset, from top to bottom.
Are our leaders ready to foster innovation and new thinking?
New companies as well as older, more established companies should therefore ask themselves: Do we have the right leaders? Are our leaders ready to foster innovation and new thinking while at the same time delivering a profit? Do we have the right setup for our leaders and leadership teams or do we have leaders that lack an entrepreneurial mindset and lead in a conservative way? Are the latter ready to become inspirational leaders that develop and welcome change, and how long are we willing to give them to transform?
The truth seems to be that we have many leaders who have become experts in generating a profit as a result of the financial crisis. These leaders now need to focus on development and begin investing in their employees if they want to ensure innovation and progress as well as maintaining innovative people. A core focus on cost-cutting in many organizations has resulted in them demanding less of their leaders. They now need to change their management style and prioritize employee development.
Some of the worst examples I experienced during the financial crisis include employees being blacklisted for daring to express criticism where others kept silent. It was much easier to let this type of employee go rather than listen to the criticism and think out of the box.
I know people who have given their honest opinion of their boss in an employee satisfaction survey and have subsequently been laid off. The leader in question didn’t want a low personal score in the evaluation as that would affect his/her bonus. Therefore, the leader conducted interviews with the employees or used an elimination method to locate the “culprit” – the dissatisfied employee who had answered the survey questions honestly – and dismissed the person at the first opportunity. Several leaders secured their bonus payment this way without anyone noticing that their leadership skills weren’t as good as they seemed. In these types of situations the other employees, i.e. the ones who saw their colleague get the boot for speaking up his/her mind or making suggestions for improvement, learned that it was best to keep quiet. It wasn’t even safe to reply honestly in the employee satisfaction survey as it wasn’t 100% anonymous after all. In this way, leaders who don’t have the ability to guide their employees and develop their skills get a good personal score in a survey despite the atmosphere in the department showing something different.
‘My way or the highway’ doesn’t spark growth
In the year 2017, younger talents don’t find meaning in their work day if they’re told to toe the line and are reprimanded for speaking their mind. They like to express their opinions the moment the thought enters their head, have people listen, and act accordingly. If that doesn’t happen they’ll likely find another job. The traditional, conservative leadership style pushes innovative, younger talents away and in the direction of companies that offer a more open and flat corporate culture.
We have put the financial crisis behind us and companies now need leaders that can deliver more than profit. In order to create more growth in Denmark we need leaders who can guide innovation, inspire new ideas amongst their employees, and turn those ideas in decisions and new initiatives together with their employees.
Increasing growth in Denmark is dependent on moving away from a traditional, conservative leadership style in favor of leaders who inspire innovation, focus on the individual and have a genuine interest in nurturing talent. When talented employees that challenge the status quo are guided in the right direction, companies grow. The traditional, ‘my way or the highway’ leadership approach guides everyone in the same direction and can at best, maintain the status quo. At its worst, this leadership style makes the company look like a workplace that attracts and rewards employees that always agree with management and can’t think for themselves – and that’s not conducive to company or employee growth.
Founder of the Global Voices project. Belongingness officer and an experienced People Executive.