You must be true to your values

Series of articles on management: In all companies and organizations, large and small, the management discipline takes up a lot of space and has a significant impact on an organization's performance as well as employee well-being, motivation, and development. In this series of articles, we focus on KMD's top management. In this interview, we meet Torben Mols, Executive Vice President in KMD.

What is your most important task as a leader?
As a leader, my most important task is to put together a strong team and set a clear direction so that everyone knows their tasks and roles. And to provide the space for everyone to contribute optimally. It is also important to listen to people. In addition, you need to have confidence in yourself and the organization and execute quickly on the agreed decisions.

What is the most important attribute a manager should have?
The most important thing is to be true to your values and stand by what you believe in – because that means people know where you stand. And of course, you must be ready to communicate the difficult things as well. It’s about integrity, openness, and honesty. At the same time, of course, you must be able to understand employees, customers, and the business, so you can motivate and inspire, but always on the foundation that people can count on you. A high level of credibility and not compromising your own values is essential.

I say things as they are, even though the message can be difficult. I think you must stand by what you believe in, and yes, sometimes it causes some discussions and some bumps. I also strongly believe in a principle called "the best argument wins" – so it is about being open and honest about things and at the same time listen to people who are smarter than you in their specialty. It may sound simple, but it can also be hard in an organization, because openness and honesty mean that the negative things must also be brought to light.

As a manager, what can you do to create value for and focus on KMD's customers?
It's almost a mantra for me that we need to be tremendously customer-focused on a level where we are obsessed with our customers' agendas. For example, we regularly celebrate the teams that have succeeded in terms of customer satisfaction, and it is super important that the entire organization thinks along these lines. At the same time, it is important that everyone in the organization understands what our value creation is – both in our own business, but not least for our customers. In this regard, basic trust and openness in relation to customers is absolutely necessary – and when I talk about trust, it is not least about us delivering as agreed. This is crucial for our further progress.

What are the qualities of a good team and what are the most important management skills when it comes to getting results from your team?
In my view, there are three professional strengths that are crucial for a good team: that you are ready for change, that you are interested in learning new things, and that you have a strong focus on creating value both for the business and for the customers. Of course, it is an important task to put together the right team and manage it in everyday life, and it should be done on a foundation of integrity, openness, and honesty. At the same time, I think that at KMD, we have a strong need for something that you might call 'good business acumen', with a strong focus on customers every single day. Finally, it is crucial as a leader to be able to set a direction: what is the task, where are we going and why do we do what we do?

What are the most important pieces of advice you have received from a boss over the years?One has been about decency – wrapped in a formulation about being decent to those you meet on the way up, because you meet them again on the way down. So, we are back to some basic principles of integrity. I am very much into decency – but that is not the same as scratching people's backs all the time, because sometimes you also have to make some tough decisions. Decency is really not so much tied to being a leader, because for me it is a basic value as a human being that is both about the workplace and your whole life.

The second piece of advice is one of the things I've had to practice a little myself – and that's to take the chance and lean out a little more, be a little more willing to take risks. I am characterized by some values I have gained from home, where in principle you had to earn two kroner before you could spend one. It can sometimes be difficult when working in an industry where it may be necessary to make some large investments to succeed.

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself as a young manager, what would it be?
It would be taking the chance and leaning out. Jump off the 10-meter seesaw without being afraid of failing. It is about being ambitious to a degree where you are also willing to fail again and again. I would say it was okay if I had failed more. Maybe I would have moved both myself and the businesses I was in along the way if I had failed several times, because then I might have moved things even further forward. Because it is rare that I regret things I have done – I regret more things I have not done.

What is the best thing about being a manager?
It is having the opportunity to create something that makes sense and do it with others. I hope that all employees experience this but of course, as a manager, you get the opportunity to set a direction and influence it to go on a certain path.

Has it always been your goal to become a manager?
No, I have never had a special ambition or interest in the management task. I have always focused on the business with the customers and then the management task has come a bit by itself.

What is the hardest thing about being a manager?
It is always more fun to ride in a tailwind, but leading is often about helping to deal with problems. It may not always be what gives the most energy, but I must acknowledge that there is a not inconsiderable number of headwinds and problem solving in the discipline of leadership. Personally, I think that the most difficult thing is both the organization's and the surroundings' great need for communication. The importance of communication cannot be overestimated, and it places great demands on being clear and actively communicating.

Has management changed since you first became a manager?
I have a completely different management task and a different industry than I did when I started as a manager. But in any case, I find that there has been a greater need for communication and focus on collaboration between employees across national borders. These are two important issues that are much more important today than in the past. Something we will have a greater need for in future, however, is focus. We all need to learn new things and be ready for change, but you can also risk running in too many directions because there are so many opportunities. So going forward, I think that the need for focus will increase - also in KMD - because otherwise you will miss the value creation. It is simply necessary to prioritize and drop some things because we are constantly overloaded by ideas and opportunities. So, there will be an even greater need for focus as a leader and as a human being.