I’m at a seminar at LTH School of Engineering in Lund and the humbly entrepreneurial speakers are talking about the value of a strong product development process. Suddenly, I’m wide awake and listening attentively.

Two years later, in 2008, it’s time to write my dissertation and I know that I want to spend my last days as a student working with the business from that seminar. The aim was to contribute to the development of their innovation model, and this became the start of my passion for innovation, product development, smart processes and strong teams. Today, I’m the CEO of that very same company – Avalon Innovation.

Taking over from Avalon Innovation’s founder might have seemed like an impossible task, but my predecessor made it easy for me. He had complete confidence in me leading the company in my own way, based on my own driving forces and with the freedom to do things differently. And, of course, based on the values and vision that are deeply rooted in the company’s identity, with a clear focus on developing innovative product and system solutions that truly make a difference and working very closely with the entire team. To me, this is the key to strong leadership. Creating a shared, clear goal together with a colleague or an entire team using a few smart key figures, a reasonably sized stage to act on, a loose framework for writing one’s script and the freedom to choose one’s own actors for the show in order to reach the goal — that is to deliver magic!

How can I influence the business as a leader?

As a manager, you need to clearly describe how and in what specific way you wish to influence the business and make it move forward. You must then stick to the adopted plan, get things done and dare to ignore any distracting white noise. Surrounding yourself with people who give you energy, who are driven, forward-looking, relevant and who wish to contribute together is an important criterion for success. Winning a tough padel game together is much more fun than a win that was a given or, what’s worse, winning alone.

Problems that pile up and steal time from the work required to achieve your goals

I am often asked how a leader is supposed to stay in control when, despite being focused on the goals, you are constantly being thrown problems that need to be resolved. My recommendation is to manage your planned goals and unplanned challenges in project format and prioritise the ones that have the best effect. After all, leadership is about juggling your focus on goals, problem-solving and living with your challenges. You need to enjoy this aspect of the job and thrive under these conditions. When I say project form, I mean that you should look at your tasks as projects with their own goals, schedules and ambition levels. Thinking forwards and upwards, “finishing” and focusing on not becoming bogged down in the old or always choosing the easiest tasks first – this makes all the difference.

What is a career, really?

Everyone definitely has their very own career, and it is based on you and where you are right this moment. You have a responsibility to explore your own dreams, superpowers and vulnerabilities and to gain an awareness of

what motivates you personally. Closing a deal? Developing a technical innovation? Coaching colleagues? Once you have done this, it will become easier to find a role within your chosen field that allows you to use your personality, your expertise, your interests and your driving forces. It’s about shaping an existence where there is room to grow and at the same time achieve a balance. If you can succeed in this, you are definitely making a career for yourself, to my mind. In other words, to me the goal is not to be the boss/leader. Don’t compare yourself to others. We are so different and different things make us tick. After all, you will rarely be compared later on in life either. Become the best at your own life and do your thing. Career? Check!

My top tips for managers

# Stay close to those who inspire you and grow your network of contacts from a wide variety of roles and industries who can enrich you professionally through their knowledge. Having such a network is a massive advantage and ensures that you are able to keep up on a broad front.

# Motivating your colleagues and giving them specific feedback may sound simple but is of paramount importance. If you provide a game plan with targets, you need to take a genuine interest in any progress and celebrate along the way.

# Be personal in your leadership. Dare to ask honest questions and show your feelings. A consultancy firm is based on a huge amount of knowledge and expertise. Don’t be afraid to be open about your own shortcomings and what you want to learn more about with the help of your colleagues.

# See those who want to become stars within their niche, develop them and create positions that allow them to blossom and stay truly committed to the journey.

# It takes time to create change and strong results. Be patient and involve the entire company.

# Invest in the wellbeing of yourself and your colleagues. This is probably the most important tip of all.

To summarise…

Managing a consultancy company can be perceived as being both easy and difficult. On the one hand, the business model is simple, and we are assessed based on the number of hours billed in relation to a cost which for the most part usually consists of salaries, IT and premises. One the other hand, we are vulnerable as business is only guaranteed a month or so at a time. This insight can be incredibly stressful unless we get to grips with our underlying profitability, have good client relationships and know deep down that our colleagues are happy at the company and deliver values that our clients do not want to be without. If you succeed in building sustainable and long-lasting relationships and ensuring that your entire team is made up of colleagues who love what they do, want to develop and make tomorrow markedly better – then you are leading your consultancy firm successfully!

About the author:

Helene Högberg, CEO at Avalon Innovation