It’s inevitable that we all need to start somewhere in our careers and as in all new positions, it takes time to get acquainted with a new role and much can be unfamiliar. I have a very unusual career path to becoming a CEO of Aker BioMarine and learned some interesting things along the way. Before moving to Oslo to study economics, I was a skateboarder and snowboarder and that’s what I focused on in my younger years. Although that was my passion, I quickly realized that I was broke and I had to find a job. I started working for a firm that was owned by four of the biggest advertising agencies in Oslo doing fulfilment and preparation for major companies. At that job, I was doing the most basic stuff you can imagine, but I was also the kind of guy that was eager to help. If my boss asked, ‘can you help take the lead on this?’, I always said yes. To me, that was one of the best ways to become more familiar with my role and learn new things.
The power of saying yes
I still believe in that strategy today and encourage my colleagues at Aker BioMarine to say yes to things. I also believe that it’s important to engage in dialogue and not be afraid to ask those around you for help and support, with the hopes that they will say “yes.” By observing your colleagues closely and taking notes on what you see, you will start heading on the path that’s best for you. And of course, it will take time to get your bearings and figure it all out, but you need to give yourself the space to learn and grow while creating the best experiences you possibly can.
We encourage our colleagues to take leadership roles and to take risks, but to do it in strides. Some people put a lot of pressure on themselves to climb the ladder quickly rather than building piece by piece, starting from the ground up, and this can sometimes work against them. To me, it’s important to take in all of the knowledge, and to take your time. It’s kind of like a puzzle—look at the big picture and perspective. By carefully and methodically putting the pieces in place, you are working to build this amazing masterpiece.
One of the most common beginner mistakes with new leaders is how they overcome their downfalls. The biggest and most important piece of advice I would give new leaders is
“don’t over focus on your mistakes, but instead learn from your successes.” By focusing on the things that you do well and building on that, you will create new experiences that are positive. While you can learn from your mistakes, you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes, that’s human nature. That being said, I have a much greater faith and experience learning from successes.
Throughout the years, I have seen how over focusing on negative experiences can drive issues to escalation quickly and throw things off balance. For example, I have seen colleagues accidently skip important stages in a decision-making process because they were focusing on things they couldn’t change. In the big picture, you have more to gain from good dynamics and good cooperation and forward thinking versus over rotating on the past and negative situations. This also helps translate into creating a safe and secure workplace with good organizational culture.
Define your heartbeats
At Aker BioMarine, we give our colleagues the tools and resources to grow and build, but it all starts from laying the right foundation from the beginning. There is no question that there is a lot of pressure on someone when starting a new role, but I believe that every company you are working for also has a responsibility to ensure good onboarding practices and a solid system in place to learn and grow from. At Aker BioMarine, we have invested a lot of time and resources into our onboarding program. Prior to COVID, our new employees make the trip to our corporate headquarters in, Norway for three full days of workshops and networking to take in as much as they can about the company, the culture, the expectations and much more. Now we offer a full online onboarding program for all new hires.
Speaking of culture, it’s a crucial part of any company. Organizational culture is an interesting topic. To me, it’s sometimes hard to define, but it is the unspoken feeling or sense about who you are as a company. At Aker BioMarine, we have done our best to put words behind those feelings, in the form of ‘heartbeats,’ the attitudes and behaviors that define us. A few years ago, our company was growing quickly, and it was time to pin down and describe the values, actions and attitudes that have come to define our company.
In my opinion, that attitude across the whole organization is exactly what gave us the belief to carry on and do things differently. Extraordinary colleagues, working in a one-of-a-kind industry, for a truly unique company with the ambitions to take on global challenges is what it was all about. Everyone at Aker BioMarine actively contributes to creating a positive working environment, day in and day out. The heartbeats reflect the way that ‘we cheer each other on’ or ‘dare to go big.’
There is no one size fits all or secret strategy to running a successful company where everyone feels empowered and fulfilled. It’s all about openness, honesty, transparency, collaboration, positivity and the willingness to adapt at any given moment. My life lessons have been essential in getting me where I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Written by Matts Johansen, CEO, Aker BioMarine. Have you read?
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