Benchmark their assumptions against industry standards to identify potential issues — Effective leaders are proactive in seeking out industry best practices and benchmarking their own assumptions against them. Most of our clients use our industry benchmarks regularly to identify areas of their business that differed significantly from the rest and needed to be prioritized for change.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Petri Lehtonen.
Petri Lehtonen, CEO and founder of Flowtrace, a future-of-work company which analyzes the internal workings of a business with the goal of creating a new set of management metrics for leadership teams. Petri has 25 years of experience in the technology industry, serial startup/scaleup leader, and has built distributed teams for the past 10 years.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
Right now I’m building a SaaS business solving the problem of poor collaboration in the tech industry. After years of tackling the slow and manual processes of organizations and teams, I knew there must be an easier, modern way of making work more transparent and avoiding the recurrent pitfalls of teams not collaborating.
My goal with the business is to elevate new management metrics of the internal workings of the organization on par with traditional financially oriented ones. Work is changing whether we like it or not and the tools and the ways we use them are also part of that change. For a leader to understand their organization, new ways of overseeing are needed. Ones that both empower the employees and retain their right to privacy.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
The person who has influenced me the most is the author of “When Teams Collide: Managing the International Team Successfully”, Richard D Lewis. His book had a huge impact on my view of leadership as a role of managing relationships between employees, teams, departments, and adjacent teams. It taught me the importance of understanding and respecting cultural differences in order to build strong, effective teams to achieve success. I learned the value of empathy, active listening, and communication in fostering positive relationships and creating a productive work environment. Overall, his book was a game-changer for me in terms of my approach to leadership and has had a lasting impact on my career.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
One of the mistakes I made as an emerging leader was assuming that distributed teams are best built in the fewest possible geographical locations. I thought that by limiting the number of locations, I could more easily foster meaningful relationships and create a more cohesive team. However, I discovered this ended up limiting the available talent pool and ultimately hindered the success of the team.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
My definition of leadership has evolved significantly in the past decade. In the early years, I took it as given that financial management metrics were the key to driving the success of an organization. As such, I focused on finding proxies, optimizing ways to improve these metrics and believed that a strong leader was one who could deliver strong financially sound results.
Since then, I have gained a deeper understanding of the inner workings of organizations, and I have come to realize that financial metrics are actually a result of organizational collaboration, effectiveness, and the actions taken by teams. A strong leader is one who can facilitate and encourage collaboration, communication, and a positive team dynamic, which will ultimately lead to strong financial results in the market.
Nowadays, I see leadership as a role that involves not only looking into externally facing results, but also fostering a positive work environment, building strong teams, and empowering individuals to achieve their full potential. To be a leader now means being able to effectively measure and balance these various responsibilities and prioritize the needs of the organization and its people.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
Leading and building distributed teams has been a significant part of my roles for the past 10 years. I used to hold the belief that the fewer independent locations there were for natural interaction between staff to take place, the better. I have since realized that this belief was an excuse for me to be able to be present with my teams with minimal effort, so it would not hinder my ability to observe how work, communication, and collaboration took place.
I have instead started focusing on creating an organizational structure that supports completely remote teams, with opportunities for personal relationship building through off-sites and other methods. I have come to understand that this approach is much more effective in fostering collaboration and communication in a distributed team, and I believe that this is a mistake that many leaders make. The constant news of “remote work doesn’t work” and “we need to have staff back in the office” are reminiscent of my own mistake in not understanding how to lead a remote organization.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
One lasting leadership behavior is the focus on relationships and inter-team communication. I have come to understand that the environment in which my teams communicate and distribute information is the driving force in the success of an organization. As such, I have made a conscious effort to prioritize and cultivate strong relationships within and between teams, and to create an environment that is conducive to open and effective communication.
To measure the success of these efforts, I have started tracking the ways in which the organization communicates between team boundaries. I believe that this is one of the most valuable ways to create success, as it helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal. By focusing on relationships and inter-team communication, I believe that I can build a stronger, more cohesive organization that is better equipped to achieve its objectives.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
If you are asking your teams to come back to the office, my advice would be to adopt instead new ways to measure how work gets done internally, how your teams communicate, and how information is shared. This could involve using data to track the effectiveness of different processes and approaches, rather than relying solely on physical proximity to your staff.
By updating the way you lead your organization using a new set of management metrics, you can get a more accurate picture of what is working and what is not, and make more informed decisions about how to move forward. This may involve letting go of certain practices or approaches that are no longer effective, even if they have served you well in the past.
It is also important to embrace the future rather than go back to how things used to be. The world is constantly changing, and what worked in the past may no longer be competitive or effective. By staying open to new ideas and approaches, you can continue to be a successful leader in an ever-changing world.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to seek help from existing leaders, whether through mentors, colleagues, or resources available on the internet (like this interview). You don’t need to reinvent the wheel yourself; there are many existing solutions to the problems you will face as a leader. Instead, focus on optimizing these solutions to fit your leadership context and style.
Another important piece of advice is to be open to learning and willing to make mistakes. Leadership can be challenging, and it is natural to make mistakes along the way. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance when you need it, and be open to feedback from others.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Manage their organization with metrics — Effective leaders understand the importance of using data to drive decision-making and track progress. For example, a client I work with noticed that their organization was using a digital communication tool, such as Slack, but was only using thread functionality in 10% of messages. This leader identified that this was a potential source of the team’s distractions and set a goal to increase thread usage to 45% over the course of 4 weeks. By tracking this metric and working with their teams to improve their use of the tool, they were able to significantly increase efficiency, reduce noise and notifications, and improve communication within the organization.
- Input employee opinion into their decision-making — Effective leaders understand that their employees are a valuable resource and seek their input when making decisions that will impact them. For example, another client I worked with recognized that they had an efficiency issue in their product development process and set out to find the root cause. Through soliciting input from the team and analyzing their workflows, they discovered that a significant portion of the delay was due to excessive red tape surrounding code reviews. By rethinking this process and allowing a wider group of team members to review code, they were able to reduce the review cycle time from 4 days to just a few hours without any negative impact on the quality of their releases.
- Benchmark their assumptions against industry standards to identify potential issues — Effective leaders are proactive in seeking out industry best practices and benchmarking their own assumptions against them. Most of our clients use our industry benchmarks regularly to identify areas of their business that differed significantly from the rest and needed to be prioritized for change.
- Are not afraid to backtrack a decision when the impact was not desired — Effective leaders are willing to admit when they have made a mistake and take steps to correct it. For example, a client I worked with made the decision to cut back on a number of regular meetings with a belief that it would save time. However, this ended up causing misalignment and a lot of time used for one-on-one communication. After recognizing the negative impact of this decision, they reinstated some of the meetings and found that the time saved was less than the time lost to rework and realignment of goals. This leadership team demonstrated their willingness to backtrack on a decision when it was not having the desired impact.
- Own their organization’s internal communication, and interface with other departments and teams — Effective leaders understand the importance of strong communication within their organization and work to foster positive relationships with other departments and teams. A leadership team I worked with recognized that there was room for improvement in the way processes interacted between their teams. They initiated regular reviews of cross-functional relationships with the goal of finding ways to streamline and improve the way they interacted. As a result, they were able to identify and address multiple inefficiencies, leading to better productivity and client satisfaction.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
I live by continuous improvement and leaving things in a better state than I found them. For me, this means taking the time to carefully review and revise documents, actively listening to and considering others’ ideas and perspectives during meetings, and proactively seeking out ways to improve processes and systems. I believe that this approach not only helps me to produce higher quality work which I don’t need to revise later, but it also creates a positive and collaborative work environment where others can succeed.
The compounded interest in this habit becomes evident when I look back at the progress that has been made over time. By consistently striving to leave everything I encounter in a better state, I have seen improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of my work to build upon. It may seem like a lot of effort on a daily basis, but I believe that the long-term benefits are well worth it.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
I strive to create a culture of transparency, open communication, and inclusivity, and to empower my team to be active participants in shaping and improving their organization. I believe that by focusing on the productivity, and meaningfulness of the work of my team, I can help create a positive and sustainable impact on the companies we are working with.
My ultimate goal is to make every company in the world a little bit better at collaboration and communication by adopting these same principles of leadership.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
One of the best ways to stay updated on my current thinking and projects is to visit my company website (www.flowtrace.co) and sign up to our collaboration newsletter. I also welcome the opportunity to connect with others on LinkedIn, so feel free to reach out and connect with me there as well!
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!