Tips From The Top: One On One With Taavi Rõivas, Former Prime Minister of Estonia

I spoke to Taavi Rõivas, the former Prime Minister of Estonia, about his journey and his best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First thing’s first, though, I am sure our readers would love to learn more about you: What is something about you that would surprise people?

Taavi: I am a passionate runner and this is why I see so much potential in Lympo. Whenever I train for my next marathon (I have run three so far), there are always temptations to skip some of the exercises because of bad weather, friends coming over and a million other things. Lympo challenges help runners to stay focused and motivated.

Adam: What should readers know about Estonian politics and Estonia in general?

Taavi: Estonia is the most digital country in the world as all the public services are available online. People hardly ever go and apply for anything, they just use the digital ID and digital signature.

Adam: How did you become the Prime Minister of your country? What prompted your rise to the top?

Taavi: I have always been passionate about what I do and that has brought a lot of opportunities. Before becoming Prime Minister I worked as Minister of Health, Employment and Social Affairs – probably the hardest job in the government and responsible for more than 50 percent of the state budget.

I led two consecutive governments. The first time, in 2014, I was appointed as a candidate by my party, while the second time in 2015 was after I had led my party to win the elections. So far only two Prime Ministers have managed to secure the election win in Estonia and I am proud to be one of the two.

Adam: What were the biggest lessons you learned from your time as Prime Minister? If you could do things over again, what would you do differently?

Taavi: One certain thing is to “never assume anything”. Prime Ministers have the luxury of being some of the most informed people in the country and facts and information are always only one phone call away. So there is always a chance to make well-informed decisions rather than assuming what the facts might be. Wrong assumptions can often lead to bad decisions. It is also vital to be surrounded by the best professionals there are, and to never be afraid to hire people that are smarter than you.

Adam: What compelled you to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity in blockchain?

Taavi: I believe that the technology has fundamental strengths, similar to the internet. We have used blockchain to safeguard public data in Estonia and this has proved to be a sustainable solution. As I have a background of leading the most digital country in the world (and worked for an ICT company in my youth), it is quite natural to support teams I believe in.

Both Lympo and Blockchain Centre Vilnius have inspiring teams and it is really interesting for me to be part of their success.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Taavi: There is a saying that in order to make the right decisions you need experience. And you get the experience by taking some wrong decisions as well.

My secret is listening to the people I work with and learning from them. It can be hugely rewarding.

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Taavi: Everybody in the team needs to be highly motivated. You need to understand every team member’s personal drive and try to support that. It is great to have a common goal for the team and even greater if you know everyone’s personal motivation as well.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Taavi: I have had a luxury of working closely with all European leaders and still have very good personal relationships with them. If I could name only one, then obviously Angela Merkel is a true leader and always seeing the big picture and the need to find unity and consensus.

I have enjoyed working with her on a number of occasions and learned a lot from that.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Taavi: The way to the top is difficult, usually with loads of obstacles, but the view from there is wonderful.

With a great team you can move mountains, so focus on building and motivating the people next to you. The greatest limiter to your success is your imagination – or lack thereof. I admire the young generation of startup entrepreneurs who literally see the world being their home market.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Never try to be anyone else. It sounds trivial, but it is really the truth that being yourself is the best source of self-confidence and success.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Taavi: Talking to the next generation and telling them all the most important things. Then you can be sure that they can be sure to become more successful than your generation.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Taavi: Running helps me to relax and get good energy. I have used run trackers for at least seven years and with Lympo App I will now also be rewarded in tokens as a really nice bonus. It is also great in going the extra mile – it makes all the difference both in sports and professional life.

I also enjoy padel, downhill skiing and lots of other sports – some of them more social than others. And I have a secret hobby to bring out my artistic side – I am really into drone photography and have two drones that I fly quite often.

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