What do you think has changed most in leadership – your own and others’ – over the years?
The leaders that I worked for 20 years ago really are not anything like the leaders that I perceive today in my peer group. There's been a big transformation as to what makes a good leader.
The people I worked for in the beginning – admittedly we’re talking about a large organization like Deutsche Telekom – were mostly about role and power and a lot about the what. I think now it's a lot more about the how. If you want to be a good leader – and this is what I'm focusing on in developing my personal leadership style: it really is about being good in how you do things and finding the people who are good in what needs to be done.
What would you say is the key to leading others?
First of all, from my perspective, being authentic. Really making an effort to be aware of what you are and work on your self-awareness through feedback. Find people that trust you enough, that give you honest feedback, and make sure that you work on your blind spots. Don't pretend that you are the greatest person in the company rather show yourself as just a human being. Try to demystify your position and show weakness – and show and make your areas of improvement transparent.
Secondly, stay humble. Make sure you're not too self-confident. Being self-confident is helpful in order to stay composed and not lose the long-term focus, but at the same time, it's not about you without other people: without the team onboard, there will be no success – you should always be aware of that.
Be able to listen, which goes along with humbleness and is something which – particularly in leadership positions – is rarely a given: active listening. People tend to like to hear themselves and easily forget to listen to others, who also have something to bring to the conversation.
Lastly and most importantly, next to authenticity and humbleness, it's about being able to provide a vision: if you, as a leader, are not able to look at customer needs and understand them and come up with a proposition or an idea of what it is worthwhile getting to work for each day and providing that vision, together with your company, then you’re simply no good at what you’re doing.
This is particularly important in uncertain times and for companies that need to differentiate themselves.
What have you learned is the most successful way to collaborate with a team?
It starts with operationalizing the strategy, and this is where we have adopted what we call ‘an agile strategy map’.
It's about really making sure that the ‘why’ is clear – and that's about the vision and the mission.
Operationalizing the strategy also means making sure you know what you are successful at, defining what we call ‘critical success factors’. You should have a process in place where you look at those ten success factors regularly. We know, for example, that we need to have a strong brand, we need to have a good digital customer experience, we need to have automated IT processes that work and so on. This also means making sure we have KPIs in place that give us an indication of whether we’re still on the right track.
This means, on the one hand, you involve more and more people in making sure that those success factors are clearly linked to our vision and mission and, on the other hand, measuring them and allowing decision-making on that basis, to decentralize. So that's been a successful way for us to work on collaboration.
In your personal opinion, what can we learn from the crisis?
Digitalization and technology as a means to overcome crisis is obviously going to become even more prominent. Working from home is one aspect of that – as well as making sure that togetherness can be accomplished from there.
Then there are bigger things, such as: how can you put new efforts in place to focus on sustainability? And making sure you have more purpose-driven companies that help overcome the shortcomings of our current system.
And even beyond that: looking at the value of the work of the people in the healthcare system who are treating those infected with the virus.
The importance of human interaction [in the workplace] and staying local – and that these should be more rewarded than they are now – that’s probably the essence of what we can take away from this.
What are the tools and processes that you need to embrace not only to be agile in product development, but also to be agile as an entire company?
You need to look at the spaces you're working in. There is an individual space, which is interpersonal and emotional. There's a team space, where feedback is very important. There's an operational space, which is about getting the machine going and whether you have the decision-making in place that is efficient, fast and decentralized – so making sure the operational team is empowered so that they can make those decisions, they don't have to loop back. That's why it's so important to have a common vision – because you get alignment through the vision and if you know what's good for the customer, you don't have to ask your boss whether you need to change a tile on the website this way or the other way – you decide yourself, because you know what's right.
And then lastly, next to the operational space, there's a government space where you have meetings and processes in place where you work on the organization. You look at your roles –make sure that the roles are still defined in a way that you can work autonomously. Do you have all the roles that are necessary? Do we need new roles in the leadership team? Have we ensured that the governance is still where it needs to be in order to empower – or to fulfill the purpose of your team canvas? That whatever the leadership team wants to stand for, we are serving our purpose – which in our case with congstar means giving the right framework and personal freedom to help the rest of the congstar team to serve the customer.