Teija Andersen laughs as she reminisces on her EMBA studies decades ago. In the early days, the EMBA modules were held in Lahti, meaning intense days studying – coupled now and then with intense nights at the local Seurahuone restaurant. “Like reliving one’s student days all over again”, says Andersen. At the start of her studies, Andersen had been working for a decade or so. She felt she knew what she was capable of at that stage but also knew what she needed to learn. “It’s what sparked me to apply; realizing that my career was at a phase when it was time for further studies.”
Finding one’s personal strength was a relief.”
Andersen had originally studied food sciences at university. She worked for Fazer. Her employer was encouraging about her EMBA studies at the time. Also the other participants in the program were at some type of turning point in their careers or personal lives. Wanting to invest in their careers and having an employer who felt they were worth investing in were other features the participants had in common. “Those starting points ensure a bunch of ambitious, forward-driven people. The atmosphere in our group was incredible.”
The accounting and finance modules still bring shivers. “Math was my weak point, it was so demanding. But we also worked together, I got help, and if I in turn was better at something else, I could help others. It was a rewarding group work.”
Lifelong friendships were formed as the students pursued their degrees. Together, the former students have gone skiing in central Europe, celebrated birthdays, even attended a funeral.
According to Andersen, EMBA program showed her who she is and where she should be heading on her career. Finding one’s personal strength was a relief. “The EMBA studies confirmed a feeling that general and brand management weren’t my thing. My strength lies in people and leading from the front. I’m not as focused on issues as putting people first.”
Biggest Lessons from Bad Management
Andersen held 13 different positions at Fazer before stepping aside from active working life. For the last few years at Fazer, she worked in group management. She switched her day job for board work, and now spends part of the year in Turkey. She is also the Chairman of the Board for Unicef Finland. Although she has left her busiest years behind her, Andersen talks emphatically about working life – leadership in particular. She feels that people management is still underrated in Finland. Instead, a legacy of “engineer management” still prevails. This is something she has witnessed in her own working life and subsequent board work.
No one learns to become a leader automatically.”
“Organizations cannot be led by leading issues. Good people management leads to doing things well and good results.”
The starting point is that everyone wants to be led well. No one learns to become a leader automatically, although Andersen does think leadership skills are partly an innate quality. Some people have an intuitive ability to lead the masses – although they still need to learn management skills.
“Leaders play with the cards they have. They have to get a lot out of people – without getting people to join into a joint effort and vision, nothing will help. It takes people management, which I still see lacking in Finland. Also on board level, there’s too little talk about people and leading them.”
Andersen claims that being led well teaches a lot about leadership. But you especially learn when you are led badly!
Leadership is key.”
“It makes you see how much motivation and energy bad management eats up.”
Andersen talks partly of her own experiences, but statistics prove the power of leadership: job satisfaction is mostly affected by how well employees get on with their immediate supervisors. “Leadership is key.”
Mistake Taught About Leadership
“Tough experiences raise you into a leader”, says Andersen. She claims to have learned her biggest lesson from a mistake she had made. As a young boss, Andersen treated her immediate subordinate “rudely” after they had made a mistake. Discussing the situation in public opened up a completely new angle to leadership and working as a supervisor. “I had behaved all wrong! But I learned immediately.”
Andersen still gets stirred when the subject is mentioned. It was an eye-opening lesson that sparked a desire to learn more. “A person growing into a leader needs to acquire mental skills and even tough experiences before everything becomes clearer. You need to learn the dark sides of management – as well as the rewarding feeling when you succeed at getting the people around you to look in the same direction and do their best: turn poor figures into good, customer satisfaction to a high level… It’s a boost that empowers.”
Leadership is a combination of sensitivity and toughness.”
Andersen thinks management is a tough job that is talked about a great deal. Yet many organizations continue to put numbers first, “despite numbers not motivating anyone”.
“Even at the finance department people say they above all expect good leadership. Figures are a result of it.”
Leadership is a combination of sensitivity and toughness. It’s easy to think that managers need to be hard nuts, or at least act harder than they are.
“But we’re all human. Hardness isn’t a leader’s most important quality; making honorable, justified decisions are much more important. Again this is something you notice clearly when you have to repair the damages left by some wimp…”
Also, Introverts Can Make Good Leaders
Also these days, the EMBA program focuses a great deal on how to confront different personality types as leaders, salespeople, customers, subordinates. Andersen claims you can be a good leader in many ways. Introverts can speak to the crowds just like extroverts, in their own way. “Genuineness is the name of the game. You have to be yourself. People immediately sense if you’re trying to be something you’re not.”
You need to communicate differently with different people and understand the right channels.”
Andersen reminds that only about 15 percent of communication is verbal – what people say. The rest is down to expressions, gestures and body language. You need to communicate differently with different people and understand the right channels. “The message needs to be adjusted, justified in different ways, and backed with different methods. It’s not about being fake but making sure the message gets across to everyone. That’s leadership!”
Andersen still often discusses work and leadership with friends and colleagues. Sometimes it’s frustrating: always the same problems, same themes, same principles. But that’s what leadership is; the same problems, same themes, same…
Also, Andersen returns to the same point whenever leadership is discussed: a leader is a human being who leads humanely – not issues but people.
“Leadership is so holistic that thinking about it as a calling in life can be very rewarding. But it also demands so much that the more you can be yourself, the better you will cope.”
Teija Andersen is Chairman of the Board, Unicef Finland. Prior to that she worked at Fazer (1985-2011). This story is part of Aalto EMBA 30 years series. Other stories can be found from below. Read more about Aalto Executive MBA program.