Esko Aho: Leadership should be conceptual rather than personalised

The first Leadership for Change Lecture in 2017 was given by Esko Aho. Mr. Aho explained that during his time in the prime minister’s office, Finland was in a state of crisis. Since such incident had not occurred before, he had to take many steps and actions without a guideline or legacy. He also emphasised the importance of conceptual rather than personalised leadership.

According to Mr. Aho, good leadership has two crucial variables, which are conceptual and communicable capacity both internally and externally. This means that an organization should understand to give importance on not only objectives but rather subjective issues while avoiding silo mentality. This ideology falls into the collective sphere and it also undermines the traditional, personalised leadership concept.

A very fascinating story of the rise and fall of Nokia was narrated to the audience in an attempt to support and substantiate the idea of leadership that Mr. Aho believes in. Here, the question of whether assets such as R&D (research and development) could became a crucial part of a country’s overall development. Prior to Nokia’s boom, the Finnish government decided to massively increase the spending on R&D to push the advancement of high tech industries. Even though the benefit was not seen immediately, the evidence of the success was given in the form of Nokia.

As a former marketing operation manager who was constantly asked how a thing like advertising does not have a visible or tangible outcome, I was not surprised to hear this. This reflects the leadership mentality of organizations and how crucial a competent leadership could be. Ironically, however, Nokia eventually reached its pitfall due to the leadership problem internally.

Mr. Aho then took the scope of the lecture to the wider, international sphere. China was his example in regards to how a country that had gone through colonization with very big population and was behind in economy can rise up. Again, the importance of the collective in the concept of development was highlighted in this paradigm’s shift.

The key components of conceptual leadership, according to Mr. Aho, are ‘to be in the right place in the right time’, ‘technology’ and most importantly ‘to understand the facing and potential challenges’. Thus, in conclusion, with how only through conceptual leadership could organizations bring about the understanding of the dire need of cooperation and coexistence between parties such as Business and Politics?

If we had had more time, I would have asked Mr. Aho where he thinks Nokia would be now with his hindsight on conceptual leadership – and was it also in the leading position during the time of the fall of the company.

Written by LFC students Edward Hingert in cooperation with Anifat Oladipupo, Leni Koskinen and Reyver Serna.


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