Since taking the reins in 2014, Pernilla Dahlman has certainly made her mark, almost doubling company turnover and picking up Sweden’s CEO of the Year award, not to mention becoming an in-demand speaker. Here she shares her thoughts on leadership today – from the importance of workplace empowerment to how to inspire the next generation of industry leaders.
My leadership is design-driven, meaning that it’s people-centric and based on exploration and a prototyping spirit. It’s important for me to enable employees to feel a part of a higher purpose. I work a lot with forming a ‘we culture’, empowering our employees to help them grow. I have strong faith in everyone I work with.
Empowering people to solve tasks on their own often means that things don’t come out exactly as I expected, and it may not happen when I imagined it would, but when it’s done, it’s often so much better than I could have imagined from the get go!
People are happier working in a culture characterised by trust and a shared purpose. I also believe that our customer-centric and prototyping approach provides better deliverables for the customer. I want to find the natural talent inside each person and encourage and empower it rather than hold it back.
We’re in a constant process of exploration and change, which requires courage and the ability to cope with the unknown. My responsibility is to create a sense of security, and support employees with affirmation and trust, showing that it’s always okay to make a mistake. A prerequisite to making this happen is recruiting a team with a particular set of values and personality. People who care about other people.
It’s a contrast to other types of organisations, with a short planning stage and the distinguishing feature that we’re constantly prototyping. There are a lot of ideas in motion all the time that need to be captured and validated.
About ten years ago, I left the industrial sector and set out to bring my skills to a more humanistic and aesthetic context. Back then, I didn’t really know what I would find, but I was looking for something more agile and learning-based, and with more focus on people as co-creators. Previously, I had worked a lot in linear business processes, where you just worked without reflecting on where things were going, and often ended up reaching the wrong target. I felt that I wanted to move in another direction that better agreed with my view of people and a natural development process.
On a different level, it’s great to work with so many wonderful people who have tremendous skill and drive. In this environment, it’s important for me as a leader to catalyse and channel all this energy wisely. I’m super proud to be a leader in a design-driven organisation that is at the forefront in terms of both methodology, business models and leadership philosophy. It’s really awesome!
Start with yourself; understand your strengths and weaknesses. Work with your obstacles, and don’t be afraid to get help. Depending on who you are and what you’re passionate about, find your own philosophy and where you fit best as a leader. Catch up on things that you’re interested in outside of your professional context. Get yourself a broad knowledge base; it provides a solid foundation for making good decisions.
This weekend for instance, I’m going to see the play De Stora Vidderna at the Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. I met the director, Tobias Theorell, at a leadership workshop recently. At the theatre, you’re put in the epicentre of emotions in a powerful way. It’s a great way to gain insights and develop yourself as a person and as a leader.