Alumni Stories · Leadership

Why being a better leader is about changing yourself not those around you

An IMD Mobilizing People alumna equates success with being true to yourself and profession
April 2015

Back in September 2013 Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko returned to the office from the Swiss mountains. With a feeling of empowerment and calm, the then Chief Operating Officer (she is now President) for top Finnish design and fashion firm Marimekko felt clearer than ever before on how to excel as a leader.

Her trip to the mountains had not been for a holiday but to attend IMD’s Mobilizing People program, which helped Tiina articulate in her mind the key issues involved in being a good leader in the context of her personality.

“I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and, although emotionally that was quite tough, it ignited a growth process.”

Working on her self-realization taught Tiina how to best make use of her extroverted personality. Feedback from fellow participants showed her that being extroverted sometimes made her seem intimidating. However, knowing that this trait was also very positive, she subsequently learned that pulling back too much from it also prevented her effectiveness as a leader who can enable colleagues to give the best of themselves.

The 33-year-old also learned during the program that often a person’s greatest strength can also be his or her biggest weakness. Describing herself as very ambitious, Tiina had previously professed that failures could be the seed for successes. However while in the mountains she began recognizing that on a personal level, her own positive ambition here and there skewed to perfectionism, which was sometimes preventing her from following her own philosophy. The MP program was for Tiina a “journey” and as it drew to a close she felt much stronger and confident. “I fully embraced the fact that the road to good leadership starts from self-awareness, really knowing who you are is first and foremost.”

On her return to Marimekko’s HQ in Helsinki, Tiina had a better understanding of how to nourish different personalities in order to get them to flourish. She says witnessing subsequent individual growth in team members was all the more rewarding when it happened in colleagues with personality traits dissimilar to her own. “When that happens I think this shows that as a leader you have adapted your approach to the different personalities and behaviours,” she said.

Shortly after attending the MP program, Tiina was given an interim role as acting Creative Director complementing her existing position at Marimekko, at a time when the company started the search for its new Creative Director to take its fashion collections to the next level. She believes the MP program gave her the strength to face the extra challenges she faced with her new responsibilities.

Tiina fervently believes that it’s important to be yourself as a leader. By being authentically who you are, she said, you inspire colleagues to be themselves and this fosters trust, creativity, innovation, diversity and ultimately enables employees to perform at their best.

Living and not pretending is also a value that the executive subscribes to, believing it is imperative to be able to find work that you are personally passionate about and enjoy. “Usually when you find that, it’s a key to your success, personal growth and learning,” she said. This also resonates with consumers, Tiina added.

“Increasingly the consumer is becoming more and more aware and interested in brands that are true stories, have true values and that behave and act according to those values.”

IMD’s Mobilizing People (MP) program is for managers aiming to take their leadership skills to the next level.

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