Morten Tveit on developing leaders

Are leaders born or can they be bred? We went straight to the source: Morten Tveit of Egon Zehnder, a global executive search firm.

Written: May 2015

Morten-Tveit-profile-picTo explain his theory on what makes a good leader, Morten Tveit gives a rather simple explanation. He starts by drawing a stick figure on a white board. He points to the head, the heart and the legs, and begins to explain the anatomy of leadership…. 

What does a stick figure drawing have to do with leadership?

Morten: A leader is a person who is able to point out the direction and mobilize people to follow that direction in a successful way. This requires a good head to set the direction and a big heart to engage and bring out the passion in the people. It also requires strong legs to execute!

How do you develop a leader?

Morten: Developing your leaders is the key responsibility of a leader. It’s key to both creating engagement and passion with people. Giving people feedback is one of the most motivational things you can do for your people as a leader. I also believe frequent one-on-one talks focused on how your people develop together with dedicated on the job learning are very effective measures. The more potential, the more you should stretch your leaders!

So you’re saying leaders breed other leaders. But what about developing yourself as a leader?

Morten: In this day and age, being able to develop and have the self-insight to know what to develop on is directly related to potential. You need to be willing to work on yourself, and this kind of daily training requires a great deal of discipline. If you don’t have the insight and the will to develop, you will not be prepared for tomorrow’s challenges. This requires curiosity and the willingness to explore and test out new frontiers for yourself and the company. To make this work, I believe it’s also important that leaders in Telenor give people room for taking risks…and through, this learn from their successes and failures.

Do you see the willingness to develop as a key leadership attribute in Telenor?

Morten: Telenor, in my opinion, is a company that is competing in one of the most changing and demanding environments I know of, and you are also among the more change-willing companies I’ve visited. I think that to succeed in Telenor, being willing to develop and engage in your future is absolutely key. Self-development starts with self-insight and a realistic picture of your own strengths and weaknesses. During the last year we have met many Telenor leaders who have been very curious and receptive to feedback. This is a good start for development!

What about good, old-fashioned hard work? How does that factor in?

Morten: Good, old-fashioned hard work is absolutely required. A good leader who is inspiring will be able to encourage others to work harder and more effectively. Get up early, work effective hours, have a focus, follow up on what you execute, be determined, don’t shy away from hurdles, and learn from setbacks. This exemplifies the strong ‘legs’ you need to have as a leader.

Is there any correlation between good leaders and financial performance?

Morten: Absolutely. I believe there is a direct link. Research by Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School states that the influences a CEO can have on a company’s performance in the duration they serve is up to 40%. The way you lead and the style you apply has a direct link to performance and thereby to financial returns. It is not only about your results, it’s also about how you create your results – your behavior!

Do you think this link between leaders and performance has been a part of Telenor’s success?

Morten: The culture of Telenor seems to be highly entrepreneurial, focused on quantitative results while simultaneously doing what is right for the customers. I have seldom seen a company that is able to balance both the short-term and the long-term in such a good way. Forging ahead in difficult markets, against the headwind from press and other stakeholders, impresses me deeply. And this of course reflects the actions of your leaders.

What’s the link between culture and leadership?

Morten: Culture is a function of your values, beliefs and norms. And leaders, they shape and impact values, beliefs and norms. Walking the talk is much more than a catchy phrase when it comes to building cultures. Of course there is a distinct Telenor culture which is a good platform for future growth. But you always need to be aware of what drives that culture, and you need leader who can both protect and challenge that culture through behavior. The people we are leading are looking to this behavior for guidance. Leaders are also role models for their teams, and you should never forget that your people are watching and learning from you.

From an outsider’s perspective, do you see a clear Telenor way of doing things?

Morten: I’ve had the opportunity to travel to several of Telenor’s markets and visit the employees working there, witnessing firsthand Telenor in action. And I think that your way of doing things is working. The energy I get from meeting Telenor people in your markets, the closeness to the consumers, the focus on execution and the passion for business is truly inspiring. 

Telenor recently engaged its leaders in an exercise that resulted in its new leadership attitudes, called e4: explore, engage, empower and execute. Do you think those are the right attitudes for leaders to focus on?

Morten: It’s important for Telenor to have a common language to discuss and describe its culture and desired leadership style. But it’s not the labels or terms themselves that is important, but rather it’s the related discussion that’s important. I think all of the attitudes you’ve chosen are quite relevant. However, I am very pleased to see you have defined ‘explore’ as one of the e4’s. Exploration is about challenging the status quo, doing things in a better way and being curious. Start with questions instead of answers. Try to understand before claiming to be understood. Be willing to listen. Exploration is key to innovation, and innovation is key to longer term success.

What advice can you give to all current and aspiring leaders in Telenor?

Morten: The people in Telenor are definitely people with passion. Keep that up. Going forward, remember to reinvent yourself. Remember to be curious…as you say ‘explore’. And never get complacent. Give people a good a reason and purpose to show up to work every day – energized. If you can engage the hearts of the people to deliver on your company’s promise, you will recruit better people and you will retain good people.