Brian Mikkelsen is a Danish politician who has been in the Folketinget since 1994. Between 2001-2011 he held the role as Minister in several coalition governments, Minister of Culture, Attorney General, and Minister of Economic Affairs and Trade. In addition to his current role as CEO at Dansk Erhverv (Danish Chamber of Commerce), he holds several board positions. We have talked to Brian about his view on leadership.
The pandemic has led to an increased importance of values and the pursuit of meaningful work. How have you experienced this from your perspective as a leader?
“I have seen a change for the last 4-5 years and it has accelerated due to Covid. Every time we are recruiting, this discussion comes up. It is very important to have a purpose, clear values, and that the job contributes to society in some way. Before, as I was young, career and money were more important. Our managers are value-driven, and this makes people work better. During Covid, our KPIs increased as people really wanted to fight and work together.”
What are, according to you, the biggest challenges ahead?
“As a leader, it is increasingly important to have the ability to build bridges, both within the organization and with external partners. It is a global world and you need to have an understanding of cultural differences. Being a good leader on distance has been, and is, a great challenge. This demands better communication. You must be much more clear in how you show the way forwards. In Denmark, it is important with relations, involvement, delegation, and discussing different issues. The workplace is a democracy. In other countries, the boss is deciding everything, and this can be a challenge when you work globally. It is important that the leader realizes, and accepts, that the employees are smart! There is a lot of knowledge in the organizations. In addition, the current geopolitical events affect all industries, there is a great deal of concern about what will happen.“
How have the past 2 years of Covid affected your leadership?
“I find it challenging to lead at a distance and has required big changes as a leader. I am a social person and prefer personal meetings with much more creativity and discussions. I also experience that people do not discuss as much as in personal meetings and they do not dare to challenge me in the same way. At the beginning of Covid, it was hard to ‘move’ the organization and create energy and motivation. On the positive side, I save a lot of time and can have more meetings. Even though we, hopefully, are through Covid, working at a distance will stay so we will have to develop the leadership according to this.“
How do you make sure that your organization and strategy are on track?
“We have a democratic approach in our organization, and our 15 directors and I are meeting regularly. I explain my goals and then we discuss them. Together we set the path going forward, but of course, it is I, as CEO, who makes the final decisions.“
What are the most important factors in your leadership?
“To me, inclusion and trying to understand cultural differences are essential. Building relationships in the organization and listening to colleagues, discussing, and delegating responsibilities. Communication is always very important.“
“Treat people the way you want to be treated, it is a day tomorrow and you might need the people around you”
How do you ensure that you have a good work/life balance?
“To recover physically is very important to me. I do a lot of tennis and I like to run, not just to be healthy and fit, but to be able to work longer hours, make the right decisions, and keep a clear head. To me, sports is also a mental recovery.
Earlier in my career, I was the Minister of Culture and culture is a great interest of mine. Me and my wife visit exhibitions or the opera etc. twice a week. We both also enjoy reading and discussing books. I sleep very well, about 7-8 hours per night. When I was younger, I worked late, sent e-mails in the middle of the night, and slept little. That is not healthy and sustainable.
My political past has taught me that I need to be the same person at work as in my private life, not playing roles. Be yourself, be a good person. Treat people the way you want to be treated, it is a day tomorrow and you might need the people around you.”
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