Kim Kristensen, a former Danish military colonel, NATO medalist, and 2009 Leader of the Year recipient, is promoting a new way of leading people. His book Follow me - Leading from the Front was selected as the 2015 Leadership Book of the Year in Denmark.
What’s the main message of your book in a nutshell?
The main message is leaders need to be courageous. I often see leaders focusing more on cost sheets than people. You can’t lead people by looking down at your papers. It’s now time to look up and show direction, be brave and take responsibility.
The bottom line is that we are human beings made of flesh and blood. As a leader, you have to first lead yourself and be more human. Artificial leaders are not followed by employees.
I believe that top performing leaders love their employees. Many CEOs don’t get how huge of an impact their behavior has on peoples’ lives. If you don’t show you truly care, people won’t accept your leadership. When things get difficult, they won’t follow you.
How have people responded to your thoughts?
The “loving your employees” claim always comes up in discussions. I clarify that loving and caring is not a hippie thing, as it also means that you demand a lot and train your people so hard they survive when things get tough. They might not love you, but they will trust you. And that’s crucial because when hard times hit, people won’t follow you unless they trust you.
One of my arguments is leaders should always be present during difficult times. I often hear CEOs make excuses regarding their absence when something bad happens. Explanations like, “I needed to take care of the board members and the press,” which is a lie, they just lack the courage. If your employees know that you will be there in good and especially in bad times, you’ll build credibility.
What kind of feedback you have gotten when it was chosen as the Leadership Book of the Year?
It took me six years to write the book and the most difficult part was chapter three. That alone took one year to write. If you read it, you’ll understand why. From the beginning, I decided to tell my own story with my own language. Based from the feedback, it was the right decision. There are so many complicated and theoretical books about leadership, full of references to other books and studies, while my book is down-to-earth, which makes it personal and trustworthy.
When it was published, people initially thought it’s about war, however, when they realized it’s a leadership book, it became a bestseller.
Of course, not all leaders agree with my ideas — like some financial and legal leaders — because those go against their ideas of control and discipline. Those leaders feel safe and secure working with cost sheets.
What will leadership look like in five years?
High-performance leadership is rapidly transforming. We are in a new leadership wave with new ways of measuring leadership and managing everyday work. I believe there will be less artificial leaders in the next five years. Top leaders will be a part of a team, lead people, be good examples, and work as coaches.
You have to decide not to participate in artificial leadership, but to instead be yourself, follow your insight, and make reasonable decisions.
Kim Kristensen of The Queens Royal Household is the 2009 Leader of the Year in Denmark and author of the 2015 Leadership Book of the Year “Follow Me – Leading from the Front.” A former colonel in the Danish army who’s served in the Balkans and Afghanistan, Kristensen also held office at the Danish embassies in France, Spain, and the Netherlands. As a leadership and strategy consultant, he’s worked for over 100 Danish and international companies, organizations, and institutions.
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