I want to create workplaces where people want to show up. It sounds so trivial, but in a world of frequent change this is of utmost importance. It implies a focus on meaningfulness, healthy application of technology, high focus on presence, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, and well-being in general. That, and a heartfelt wish that every school child learns to play an instrument.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik Korsvik Østergaard, leadership advisor and author of The Responsive Leader: How to Be a Fantastic Leader in a Constantly Changing World (LID Publishing, 2018). Erik has a burning passion for the future of work and the ongoing paradigm shift in leadership. He acts as a keynote speaker, change driver, mentor, and guest lecturer at Copenhagen Business School — and he’s a keen jazz pianist.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’m an engineer by training, with a master’s degree in applied mathematics and IT. I started my professional career in that field, calculating routes for ambulances, but very fast I found my way to the world of internet and intranet applications.
Over the next decade, I worked as a programmer, project manager, service manager, software architect, business consultant, and people manager, focusing more and more on the intersection of business, technology, and people. I strived to create solutions for business challenges, allowing customers and people to master their tasks. As a result, I grew more interested in humanism, behavior, psychology, organizational change management, and emotional intelligence.
In the mid 00s, I began questioning the traditional best practice management style and got inspired by some progressive thinkers in Denmark. They inspired me to seek inspiration globally, and I found new books, networks, and movements that opened my eyes to the next paradigm shift in leadership — often referred to as future of work, purpose-driven leadership, sustainable leadership, conscious capitalism, or some variation of forward thinking.
At some point, I took over a department and from day one I applied this modern leadership — with tremendous results. From that, I began giving talks and lectures and consulted other leaders. My career took a new turn and my current business was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Oh, there are numerous. One that I keep returning to, is the organizational transformation that we drove in a bank — changing their structure and developing a new and updated mindset, focusing on distributed leadership, meaningfulness, agility, and continuous reflection. It has made a long-lasting impact on them, and on me. Over the course of a year, we, together with the management team in the department, designed and executed 25 different activities, all tied together with the idea of creating the best organization possible. The culture developed slowly but strongly and serves as a reference point still.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Honestly, when dealing with culture, the mindset of leadership, and organizational change management, there are no funny mistakes. There are many mistakes, but they are not funny, as we’re dealing with emotions, habits, expectations, and psychology. However, some of the mistakes that I learned from very quickly relate to my lack of understanding of inertia in groups. I’ve initiated too many activities, too few, too ambitious, too vague… you name it. I’ve learned that debunking assumptions and frequent feedback loops are the keys to quickly correcting mistakes.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently, I’m investigating leadership software. We’re not talking managing digitalization projects in the production line and value stream, but actually infusing software solutions in leadership activities.
Software, and the whole class of what we call artificial intelligence under a big umbrella, can help automate and augment the roles of the leader. Several software solutions already exist that are capable of giving advice to leaders with regards to leading teams. The data sources are many, covering HR master data, behavior, relationships/social capital, opinions, and value creation. All this can be fed into software for analysis, execution of trigger-based activities, and for pattern matching. Immediately we run into ethical discussions, which is a major part of this area: What can we do? What are we allowed to do? And what will we allow?
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Those who are visionary, courageous, and hardworking — like the NASA crew who sent a man safely to the Moon and back.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I read a lot of business books on technology and societal development. Currently I’m reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, and Consulting Drucker by William Cohen, all at the same time. I just finished three books in Danish on Generation Z, artificial intelligence, and technological speedboats.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
My book and all the blog posts and podcast episodes supporting it describes a holistic scenario for how to embrace and shape the future of leadership and work. People find it easy to read and understand, and applicable right away, which serves as a point of success for me: That I’m able to bridge the gap between theory, megatrends, and practical application by describing models for strategy, innovation, culture, organizing, and leadership in a business world that has undergone significant changes.
Starting with a run-through of the technological and societal megatrends, I describe how it affects leadership and the ever-connected current mindset. That leads to a codification of the guiding principles of leadership in the modern era, and how that applies to the five areas of modern business.
It’s tangible, applicable, and creates results. People like that.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time. And when the book is done, you must be ready to write more, in articles, blog posts, and op-eds.
Also, make sure that you have a persona that you write to. Personally, I have written the book to an SVP of a Danish bank that I know. This makes your level of detail and language more homogeneous and focused.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to create workplaces where people want to show up. It sounds so trivial, but in a world of frequent change this is of utmost importance. It implies a focus on meaningfulness, healthy application of technology, high focus on presence, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, and well-being in general.
That, and a heartfelt wish that every school child learns to play an instrument.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) There is always room for you in the world. Once you understand the so-called long tail of business, you’ll understand that there is always someone somewhere who will listen and support, and benefit from your work.
2) You go longer in a team. Make sure to find two or three people who you trust and who complement your skills. Work together and stay close.
3) You make mistakes every day. Grasp them as learning moments. No one is flawless, but the best colleagues are quick to admit and mitigate mistakes.
4) Learn what “good enough” looks like. Those late night Tuesday hours might not be the right investment of your energy.
5) A career is shaped by relationships, value creation, and diligence, not the name of your company and title on your business card. And it’s ok to change direction.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Simon Sinek, absolutely. Start with Why has changed my view on communication and engagement and is a cornerstone in my mindset and understanding of business design.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Bloch&Østergaard website: https://blochoestergaard.dk/
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!