Tuuli Kaskinen: "Good leaders must be thankful for their employees"

Tuuli Kaskinen, Executive Director of Demos Helsinki, visited the Faculty of Management at the University of Tampere as a guest lecturer for the Leadership for Change lecture series. Kaskinen discussed the role of systemic modeling and shared value thinking in leading complex change processes. She gave the audience advises on what modern leaders should keep in mind during decision-making process.

Kaskinen elaborated on what is required from a successful leader in a modern society, based on her experience and views.

Kaskinen started the lecture by asking the audience to take a minute and think about someone who had had a great influence on them and made them who they are right now. Students shared their experiences and Kaskinen concluded that they have been inspired by people who (a) ”are human”, even though they are higher up in the organizational chain; (b) had the capability to see things from the wider perspective; and (c) contained a socially-oriented mind. Kaskinen stated that these three characteristics are vital skills for current organizational leadership, especially if we are talking about leading agile teams.

Kaskinen continued the lecture with five vital advices for modern leadership thinking in a complex world:

  • Be a thought leader of the systemic change.
  • Make good with digital solutions.
  • Lead both: cathedral and bazaar.
  • Show gratitude.
  • Create sacred places and times.

Kaskinen elaborated her first advice. She named Apple as an explicit example of a forerunner in the field. Apple is a company that saw the value of foreseeing the customers’ needs several years before their competitor’s did. They believed that the company’s future was based on those needs. Further, Kaskinen mentioned Mark Zuckerberg’s (President and CEO of Facebook) strong and risky statement from Harvard Commencement Speech, in which he ”…calls for a universal basic income…” (CNBC, 2017). Kaskinen argued that this speech revealed Zuckerberg’s intention to not only be a leader within the IT-world, but in the society as well. Kaskinen continued with examples of Demos’ current research topics in regards to systematic changes and pointed out growing distrust in political parties and overall representative democracy. In summary, the lecturer stressed the value of having a broad perspective on the changes the modern world is undergoing.

In regard to the second advice, “make good with digital solutions”, Kaskinen pointed out that most companies still keep their distance from the use of IT, even though it should be an integrated part of those companies. She questioned whether the digitalization is a beneficial process and mentioned that the society is heading towards an era of unemployment due to the emergence of the new technologies. The OP Bank was given as an explicit example of how digitalization can affect a company as well as be handled in order to reach a positive outcome. The OP Bank’s strategy is oriented towards the future of the company. The strategy has identified that 30-40 percent of the company’s traditional services will no longer be needed in the future, as Google will take over their functions. The organization’s strategy has hence been to enter the fields where people are going to need service in the future, such as car hiring. Kaskinen argued that bank’s decisions, that are based on the acceptance of the hard facts and aimed towards the company’s adaptation to these facts, are the most important ones. Further, the guest lecturer mentioned Demos workshops, in which future trends are discussed amongst employees. Kaskinen ended her elaboration on the second advice by stressing the importance of leader’s discussion of digitalization’s positive and negative impact on the society and the workforce.

The third advice, “lead both: cathedral and bazaar”, is a practical step towards making a successful decision. Kaskinen took this advice from the book The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary by Eric S. Raymond. The book entails the history of software-building changes that took place approximately 20 years ago. The authors distinguished two models used to produce software: “cathedral” and “bazaar”. The cathedral model involves, first, making a “big plan” of the future, building it little-by-little, and creating a mega project software in the end. The bazaar model shares the characteristics of an open platform, where developers can collaborate how they see fit, according to the vision created by the core team.

In this model, the need of top-down management is omitted, as in this kind of structure, the prevailing idea is that all problems will be eventually solved by the participants. Kaskinen pointed out that the features of the cathedral model are similar to the leadership practices of ”secure power”, as both entail the practice of top-down management. Likewise, the characteristics the bazaar model can be linked to the leadership practices of ”shared power”, as both involve the horizontal ways of practicing. However, Kaskinen stressed the need for major decision-maker in shared power practices, as well as the need to test different solutions to receive a great outcome. All in all, Kaskinen stated that the cathedral and bazaar models are inter-connected, as leaders are required to be open to all opinions arising in the modern society, in order to give everyone an equal opportunity to be a valuable part of the organization processes.

Kaskinen argued that good leaders must remind themselves to be thankful for the employees. This is the basis of her fourth advice: “show gratitude”. She argued that the leaders should give honors to others, simply because it is very self-rewarding. The parallel can be drawn here to the notion of leader must “be humane”. Kaskinen continued by referring to a Harvard research project, in which people were asked to write a letter to someone they felt thankful for. Additionally, these people were asked to call this person and read their letter out loud. The research showed that the highest effect of this action of gratitude was on the person saying thank you. Other research has shown that saying thank you not only shows good manners, but also helps to maintain relationships.

Further, Kaskinen stated that some of the today’s leaders are living in an impossible, mad world, as they are supervising a myriad of company’s activities, while also being expected to think about the future. Kaskinen pointed out that the leaders need time to think, read, communicate with their close circle. This takes us to the Kaskinen’s final advice to the modern leaders: “create sacred places and times”.

Kaskinen elaborated her personal inspirations for performing leadership during the Q&A session. She credits working with interesting colleagues as her main source of inspiration. Other valuable sources of inspiration are working with people from various international communities, who are interested in the same topics, and traveling. As Kaskinen hardly ever goes to conferences, she finds it useful to attend various events that gather people together to discuss politics and the society’s future. She also advises TED Talks as a quick-fix inspiration for those who do not have much free time.

The Q&A session continued with the question on how society will be managed in the future as everyone is learning how to be a leader. Kaskinen meant that in regards to the bazaar model, everyone is performing leadership practices and especially in consideration to small teams that work without a designated leader. Hence, the level of traditional leadership can disappear when companies dissolves big teams into small teams. Kaskinen expressed her opinion that in the future all employees will have a work specialisation, through which they will be performing their own part of the leadership function.

Written by LFC students Inessa Lotonina, Evelina Siukola, Ekaterina Siukola and Ann-Charlotte Johansson


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