Päivi Mayor: “Leadership is everyone’s business, and Finland needs more people who see that."

Päivi Mayor: “Leadership is everyone’s business, and Finland needs more people who see that."

How can poor leadership be easier identified and reduced? And why is feedback a core leadership skill? Päivi Mayor, Principal Lecturer in Leadership at TAMK, brings her expertise and insight forward to disclose five habits an effective leader must have in these uncertain times.

It was 2009 when an ambitious Finnish woman parted ways with Switzerland to return to her home country in search of new leadership opportunities. She had already cultivated her path with a strong background in leadership, strategic learning and development consultancy before her arrival at home ground. Still, Päivi Mayor's journey did not lack challenges.

– I was working at UBS Wealth Management and Business Banking when the global financial crisis of 2007 occurred.  Several years of profit and deals were lost overnight. It was a frustrating year because we had great plans and projects coming up and suddenly, we couldn't do anything apart from waiting for the markets to recover and stabilise. I'm very much motivated by power, getting things done and I want to influence and make a difference. So the waiting period and not feeling motivated in the meantime were hard for me to bare.

In Tampere, Päivi started working as a Consultant in the field of business and leadership development, but after holding her first course "Tools for organisational change" at Tampere University of Applied Sciences, she decided to turn her attention to teaching.

– There are lots of ambitious students, both Finns and internationals. I can see it in the ones who choose to study here; it's just a matter of supporting that ambition and teach them not to be afraid of achieving their goals. The need for status, to be famous and successful is a bit of a taboo in the Finnish culture. Many people have this need, but they don't dare to show it because of the culture. I want to encourage people to think critically. To help them overcome their fears and give them the courage to succeed. That's what this country needs.

Find your ambition

Ambition is about having a significant amount of drive to push towards your goals. An ambitious person has a "can do" attitude at all times and is driven to succeed, achieve and accomplish what must be accomplished. And Päivi is aware of, that to inspire others, you must first be inspired yourself.

– In 2012, together with my Swiss colleagues we established a new business, Reiss Motivation Profile Nordic Ltd. After completing a motivation profile, I realised what drives and motivates me when doing the things I do, where my stress comes from and how I can live more aligned with my values and needs. I've been able to do better in my work. As a teacher, you are very independent and have lots of power, but how you use it, it's a different story. The exercise of power and being able to influence others (hopefully in a positive way) it's very motivating. On the business side, it's fascinating to help a company's employees and bring new concepts to the market which they find of value, she concludes.

Given the years of experience in leadership development and coaching, what lacks from Finnish leadership? Päivi's reply brings a fresh perspective on things:

– My current access to Finnish leadership is mainly through the eyes of Master students, who work in different organisations and through my business customers. One consultant we had as a guest speaker during one of the courses said that what is lacking now is decision-making. Decisions are not being made because leaders are afraid of failing or making the wrong ones. That paralyses companies. But maybe it's also the lack of ambition. Why is it that many startups in Finland are still not going global? There's a big difference if you compare to countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway where many startups are globally orientated. You need to want to succeed and dare to be the best worldwide.

The strong desire to improve leadership skills of current and future managers and leaders is mirrored in the courses she teaches. Päivi teaches in several Master's programmes and a new course called "Modern Leadership Skills" that combines a set of essential leadership practices and skills founded by proper scientific research. She is also a co-director of a new international distance-learning Master's Degree in Educational Leadership in which she can develop her own leadership skills, too.

Understand yourself

For Päivi to be able to identify and reduce "accidentally bad leadership", she has to possess an in-depth knowledge of human development and key ideas behind theories of motivation.

– Nobody wants to be a bad leader. I believe everyone has a genuine interest to lead well. I wanted to find out why there is so much accidentally bad leadership happening. Why are someone's behaviour and actions as a leader regarded as bad, demotivating or stressful by the people one leads? One of the key findings I came across when I got to know my motivational profile is that my need for influence and power can be perceived as domination, haste or impatience when leading others. It's not my intention, but I might scare away some people. Many leaders are not aware how their words, actions and behaviours are seen by others. Again, it's a matter of communication and individual differences.

Making leadership better starts with understanding what drives you, what kind of leader you are and being aware of it. Then try and understand other perspectives to be able to lead people as they would like to be led. There are no two identical motivational profiles at all. People want to be given an individual focus, to be taught and provided services individually. That's why the coaching aspect is important; it provides more personal freedom to everyone. You should not have more people report to you than you can support. Focus more on the team and make sure people have the right roles in a project, they communicate well, and the team goals are clear. When employees get the leadership they need, it builds more trust and integrity, and their loyalty and commitment to the company will increase.

Five key practices

Leadership research has produced many interesting theories in the last decades, but when it comes to effective leadership behaviour and skills, Päivi recommends to take a look at the "Leadership Challenge" concept of James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, first published in 1987.

– When I was working at UBS, We trained all our managers and leaders to understand and improve the five leadership practices. Although that was already almost 20 years ago, I see a significant need for these simple, yet powerful practices in Finland, too.

First of all, you need to model the way. Do what you want other people to do. If you don't want them to work excessively and end with a burnout, then don't send them emails in the evening, for example. The second one is to inspire a shared vision. Even in times of uncertainty, people still need a direction and know what kind of development they're heading. Have regular talks about it. Actually, I think this one is urgently needed in many Finnish organisations and in the society as a whole.

Challenge the process. How can we do the work more efficiently? How can we find better tools to assist us with it? Try and make the process easier and nicer for people. Challenge those who don't put the same amount of effort and find a way to motivate them. The fourth one is enabling others to act regarding skills, competencies and time. Give people the tools and resources they need to do the work.

Encourage the heart. Motivate people to reach their goals. Ideally, observe what motivates every individual and if you can't, assume that everyone needs some autonomy, a bigger purpose for their work and to be good at what they're doing.  Money is not a motivator, but people need to be treated fairly when it comes to salaries and compensation. 

Any useful tip for those who might not tick all the boxes yet? It turns out that one thing most people hate is the one we need the most to keep us going:

– Learning to give and receive feedback is very important. It's a central skill in leadership. Even if you don't like to receive feedback, learn to like it. It often goes like this: the feedback I want to receive; I give to others. Try to understand individual differences. Ask for feedback from people who like you and from those who don't to create a balance. Feedback is an opportunity to motivate and is essential to develop performance. Giving effective feedback is vital to becoming a good leader. With it you can influence, change, motivate and inspire in leadership.

Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Tiina Suvanto

Educational Leadership

Read more: Master in Educational Leadership
Published 30.11.2017