In today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Sonja Klopčič, a leadership expert based in Slovenia. Sonja’s career has been broad and varied—including engineering, board chair/CEO and crisis manager—but through it all Sonja has found that inclusive leadership is crucial. Leadership is key in so many business, project and change situations.
I first met Sonja at a conference where we were both speaking, and even though she presented in Slovenian (which I don’t speak), I found the images on her slides really intriguing and interesting. We stayed in touch, and I was really pleased when Sonja agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Our virtual chat is published below—I hope that you find this useful!
1. Sonja, Thanks so much for being interviewed! I know from our conversations that you’ve had a wide and varied career. In your book, you mention that you shaped a personal style of inclusive leadership. Can you explain a bit about what this means, and why it’s important?
My core values are ethics, curiosity, openness, cooperation and freedom. I do not like to work in an environment where everything is specified and you have no space for your own creation. I always wanted to work with powerful, creative and responsible people and my aim is to develop leaders around me. I believe that such people also want to have their hands and their minds free, to co-create the common vision on their own way. I wanted to build the environment in which they (and me) would enjoy to create and be a part of the team. So for example, when I was a general manager of an IT company with 80 employees I selected a team of five young potentials (two of them were women, and it was not so easy to find them, but I wanted to create equal opportunities for both gender). I supported them in their development first in good managers and later in authentic leaders, each with her/his own personal leadership style.
I see management and leadership as a path of personal development for both the leader and their co-workers. It is a path that offers learning opportunities to everyone who wishes to develop as a leader – it opens up space for trying out new things and gaining new personal experience while, of course, taking on the primary responsibility for the achievement of business goals.
2. How important is leadership—and inclusive leadership—when progressing change within an organisation?
Organisations are confronted with increasingly pace of changes, from changes in their environment, influence of new technologies, changes in people’s mind-set… The rhythms of changes are getting faster and faster, now complete organisations have to reinvent themselves in three and a half years. There are numerous different fields within a company where changes are required and it is impossible to expect that one person, general manager or formal leader of the company would have all necessary knowledge, skills and wisdom to create and lead all the changes. On the other hand highly engaged people are willing and have the knowledge to lead the change around them. So we need to distribute the “ownership” for the change across the organisation, to let the people, who are prepared to do so, to take the initiative and responsibility for changes, not only for them personally, but also influencing others.
3. Do you think leadership is a skill that only top managers need? Or do we all need to exhibit leadership to some extent?
We need more leaders in the organisation on all levels, in all processes. And with that I mean people, who have clear vision and values, who understand and want to fulfill their personal mission, and want to connect with others to be able to create together. There is no need for them to also have a formal role as a manager, but there is the need that they want to strive for the solutions which are good for all. That is why leadership requires maturity in all respects, and a certain degree of personal, material and spiritual development. Inclusive leaders appreciate and develop their own potential, want to co-create and want to contribute for a better future.
Every person’s first responsibility is to be the leaders of themselves. A true leader is balanced and focused. They have no ego and no need to prove that they are right, but foster connectedness. Achieving this requires considerable self-knowledge and awareness of one’s motives for desired and undesired behaviours and personal change.
4. How important is having a clear vision (and clear values) when leading? How do we ensure the vision and values are well defined and communicated?
Personal vision and personal values are the source of strength and energy in key decisions and in the most critical moments. The same goes for the organisations. Personal values and the values of the organisation must be aligned, synchronised, otherwise the personal values will prevail in most critical moments.
Vision and values must be communicated very clearly and often. They, together with the mission of the company, represent the core idea of existing of the company. Core company values must be felt and shown in all actions. In case, that they are violated, the consequences must follow.
5. As business analysts, we often find ourselves in situations where we must lead without formal authority. Do you have any tips for these situations?
When serving as competence development manager in an international company, I did not have a formal executive power to make the things happen. I had to inspire other people instead. I was grateful for this experience, to find out ways to influence others. The best approach was enthusiasm, while it is really contagious. So I suggest to share your vision of finished project, let them think about benefits that the project will bring to them, to the team and to the company. With some people it works better if you are presenting the facts, and produce clear arguments. The powerful way is also leading them with questions. Right questions may open the new space of opportunities or produce AHA effect. When none of this helps, you can present risks and possible negative consequences to provoke desired actions.
6. What is your favourite leadership memory?
My favourite leadership memories are connected with the situations where all members of the team acted as leaders, connected with their values and synchronized, working towards the common goal as it the team flow, where there were no barriers that would stop us. I have experienced this in different situations, form organising a celebration after concluded project or in crises moments, when it was very tense and we had to act very quick, organised and aligned as one.
7. Thanks again for being interviewed Sonja. If our readers would like to stay in touch with you, how can they do so?
I write a blog at www.i-leaders.net. Most of the articles are in the Slovenian language, but you will find also interesting English posts. You can connect with me also on LinkedIn.
What are your views on leadership? Do you have any thoughts or tips? I’d love to hear from you, please add a comment below!
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