Real Life Leadership – An Interview with Carsten Pedersen

Image of a typewriter with the word Leadership typed on paper

Real Life Leadership

From time to time, I feature interesting leaders who have different perspectives on leadership. It makes leadership more real and practical to hear from people who do it all day, every day. Today we meet Carsten Pedersen, a senior executive for a global technology company, with responsibility for a number of business areas in the AsiaPac region. There are some absolute gems in what he has to say, so read on…

What does the word leadership mean to you

We are a consulting technology business. If you break up leadership into different areas, it looks like this:

In any business, you need to stay relevant. If you don’t stay relevant – you won’t have a business. You need to understand the market and where you are playing in that market, and how you stay relevant in that market. Otherwise, you will see your revenue eroded.

The leaders need to set up the strategy to play and thrive in the market segment. It is important that the leader can deliver the financial result expected from that leader, both in the current year and also ensure it is set up for future years.

It is also important for us to do a great job in attracting and hiring very good people. And critically important, once you have hired good people – create an environment where they don’t want to leave. Half the battle is won if you can get good people and get them to stay.

How do you get good people to stay

We pay attention to the recruitment process. When we hire people we spend quite a bit of time talking to them, we test the capabilities we expect them to have. We rarely would ever hire a manager. People are almost always hired into non managerial role and then promoted.

We want people to understand the values we have in our organisation and the focus we have. People with potential will learn that by working with us.

What is the best example of leadership you’ve personally observed or experienced

I have learned over the years from some really good people. My approach is to learn from lots of different people, be influenced by certain people, but not blindly.

What best illustrates your approach to leadership

My job is to understand the business and keep us relevant now and in the future. Every person that reports to me, they need to be their own CEO. They need to have a clear understanding of their specific role, how they contribute to the results that we try to deliver – short, medium and long term. We don’t want to micromanage, and we don’t have to do that a lot.  My job is to help them have the tools to deliver what they need to do.

I believe in servant leadership – that we serve the people that we lead, rather than directing them on a day-to-day basis.

I need to understand the world that they live, work is important, but many other things are also important, like marriage, kids and personal situations. I need to be able to empathise. I don’t like brown nosers, people who manage up not down.   And just because I have a certain expectations of myself, my life is not more important than other people working with me. Their time and their job is equally important.

What has been your leadership journey

I have gone on various leadership courses over the years, but I don’t think you learn to be a leader by studying leadership at university.

You learn from mistakes. You learn from things like 360-degree feedback, which can be a bit of an eye opener, and which you should take seriously as perception is reality. The only person who can change is me.

You need to retain good people and create an environment that ensures that we retain them. And if you are not prepared to make changes to reflect that you are not perfect, then you will never establish that sort of environment.

How important is workplace culture in achieving organisational success

It is very important. It is one of the contributors that makes people happy. You can have the best pay in the market but not necessarily have happy employees. Pay has an impact. Doing exciting work has an impact. Learning new things. Some people want to be promoted. It is more difficult being spread across different locations and working from home.

So communication is key. Talking to each other. Making sure that the cameras are turned on.

There are lots of different initiatives that can be introduced, and some people don’t give care about them, but working out what does matter to people is super important.  This is how workplace culture can impact organisational success.

How do you use failure and mis-takes

I learn from them. I make a lot of mistakes.  Sometimes I don’t communicate as well as I could. But you need to listen with an open mind, rather than being defensive.

How has your leadership style changed over the years

 I like to think that I have mellowed as I have gotten older. I am Danish, so very blunt and black and white. I don’t hold back; I say what I mean. Sometimes this can come across to an Australian as aggressive or even arrogant. So I have learnt to try and tone that down. 

What is one thing you wish you knew earlier in your career

I wish I was better at seeing things from others’ viewpoint. It would have saved a lot of headaches over time.

Listening with an open mind is a really good skill and not always easy when you have an idea in your head. My personality is to call a spade a spade, so listening with an open mind and trying to see a perspective that I may not agree with is important.  Leadership is not just about with your employees – it’s about everyone. Negotiating a deal with customers. Dealing with disputes etc.

How do you nurture and grow leadership within your immediate team and within the wider organisation

I expose them to meetings, so that they get used to the language being used and the things we discuss and the way we behave.  I don’t throw them into a role and expect them to excel.

You don’t go home on Friday with one job and come into a new job on Monday. They need to know that there are people supporting them.

I have regular check ins. Communication is always open. They don’t need to schedule a time; they can ping me/ call me.. I take the time to talk to people, when they need to talk to me, it doesn’t matter who it is. But the other side to this is that people need to tell me when they are struggling. Back to every person is their own CEO – they need to take responsibility for this, set their own boundaries around work and schedule. And if you need support, ask for it.

What do you look for in a potential leader

It comes down to the job you have to fill. Different managers fulfil different jobs. Not all need the same skills. But one of the key things is the ability to communicate: to listen,  be empathetic. That’s really important.

Be a nice person. Really it is no more than that. Typically, an asshole is not going to be a great manager. Empathy is really important. Without it, your expectations may not be realistic.

How has COVID changed the way that you lead your team

We have always had a working from home culture. So that hasn’t changed. I was looking after a business unit which was spread from Canada to California and I was based in Australia, so we rarely met, the distance was too great.

But we made it work and it was a great education in that it can work, and you can still retain a culture if you talk to people on a regular basis.

COVID has meant that there is a lot less travelling. Obviously face to face is good, but I think there’s been more good than bad that has come since COVID.

The Takeaway

I loved speaking with Carsten. It was great to hear how he has changed over the years and what he looks for in a leader. There is some real wisdom contained within the interview.

If you know someone who you think would be a great subject to be interviewed, please email me (tammy@tammytansley.com.au) and let me know more…

More Reading..

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