Leadership is a specific competence

"It is important that we view leadership as a unique, specific competence," they say unanimously. All three of them have extensive and long-standing experience of leadership.

Kristina Walls, Vice President South Sweden, was nominated in 2012 and 2013 for the award "Young Manager of the Year" by a leading Swedish management magazine. Frida Björk, Team Manager Chemistry at Awapatent's Malmö office, was chosen as "Leader of the Year" at Awapatent in 2013. Jonas Thuresson, Awapatent's HR manager, is primarily responsible for training and recruitment of the company's leaders.

A couple of years ago Awapatent formulated the company's view on leadership.
"Leadership means achieving results through employees," says Jonas Thuresson. "The company's results reflect the quality of leadership. It involves having a genuine interest in your employees, meeting and developing them. Leaders must also be open and honest to themselves so that they can develop these aspects."

Kristina Walls talks about the event which made her realise that leadership is truly a unique competence.
"One evening on my way home from the office I met one of our senior consultants. He asked how my day had been. 'It feels like I didn't get anything done. Where did all the hours go?', I answered. 'You shouldn't see it like that. You have done a lot today,' he said.

'Really?,' I replied curiously. 'In what way?' 'I have monitored you a little today. At first I saw you talking to an employee, then another employee and later a third employee. I also saw that you had good dialogue with a few colleagues during lunch and that during the afternoon you continued to talk to different employees. I think that you need to change your perspective on your job. Your main task is to support and lead people'."

"As a result of that conversation my perspective on the leadership role improved," says Kristina. "In our industry it is easy to think that the work involves that you must deliver written material in a steady stream. As a leader it is important to identify the direction and work towards the goal, with the insight that the absolute majority is done through employees. Therefore, as a leader I need to be committed, listen, act and support, which means that a large part of my work day should be dedicated to talks and discussions."

Courage, openness and passion

Awapatent's core values are courage, openness and passion. These are important qualities for leadership. Often leaders end up in situations which feel uncomfortable. Then it takes courage to do what you are not really comfortable with.

"In my team we continuously work with the three values," says Frida Björk. "We discuss everyday events which can exemplify the values. For me personally courage has particularly been an important guiding principle, making yourself do things which seem difficult."

"Us leaders should work even more with the value 'openness'," claims Jonas. "Giving feedback is important; you give this because you care about a person. It is the positive aspect which should be emphasised, the person is often aware of the negative part."

"I try to work a lot with positive feedback in my team as I really believe in it," says Frida. "Positive emphasis is particularly important, as well as communicating clearly so that you understand the intended message. Positive emphasis means being concrete and saying 'when you ended up in that situation you acted this way and I think that you did that well'."

Kristina has been nominated as "Young Manager of the Year" by the Swedish manager's magazine Chef both in 2012 and 2013, and Frida was chosen as "Leader of the Year" at Awapatent in 2013. What makes you good leaders?

"The most important quality is listening and that too listening actively, in other words, that you really focus on understanding the true meaning of what is said, and then use this knowledge in the best possible way," answers Kristina. "I am not some big visionary, but I am good at seeing patterns, picking up ideas and getting a feel of what is going on. Then I act based on this in order to lead the group further and resolve any new problems. And I am not either afraid of trying new things."

"That is also very true for me," says Frida. "I am good at listening and finding out how the group feels. I have a genuine interest in my colleagues and in generating results together with them. It is important that this interest is real."

Leadership increasingly important

"Awapatent has organised leadership days twice a year for a couple of years," says Jonas. "The days have gradually developed from a focus on some specific managers to now comprising all managerial roles. The subjects can vary from personal leadership to sales and the lecturers are both external and internal."

"The leadership days are a step in the right direction in order to raise the perspective on leadership within Awapatent," says Frida. "It is particularly important to meet other leaders in the company and exchange experiences on leadership with them. Often the discussions are very exciting but can be difficult to follow up in everyday life."

For a few years Awapatent has chosen "Leader of the Year". The winner is announced at Awapatent's annual general meeting. "Leader of the Year" is also an important step for highlighting the role of leadership and that it is a competence which is important for how Awapatent develops," says Jonas.

Must break certain ties

Whether leaders should be recruited from within the organisation or externally is a continuous discussion. "Of course strong knowledge of your company and industry is a strength, but coming from your own organisation can also be a disadvantage," says Kristina.

"Primarily because you develop personal relationships with many people, and as you become a leader that relationship changes. You need to handle this in a professional way."

"When you become a leader you need to break certain ties, and this is not always easy. It is a process you need to go through. For facilitating this it is important that you are clear in terms of your demands and you force yourself to do things which you are uncomfortable with – quite simply, that you are courageous, but of course in a sensible way. Awapatent's value 'courage' helps in many situations," concludes Kristina.

Footnote: This text was first published in Awapatent's Annual Report 2013 (PDF-document, 3.2 MB).