Well before he entered the executive suite at the high-technology company Ericsson, Anders Lindblad flew a Saab JA37 fighter plane during a six-year stint as an engineer and pilot in the Royal Swedish Air Force. The head of Ericsson's Middle East and north-east Africa operations discusses how his time in the air force still steers his leadership style today.
q How did the air force prepare you for a leadership role?
a In the last two years, I started diversifying by flying half the time, and the other half of the time being a leader or manager at the air force staff headquarters.
q What was the most important leadership lesson you learnt?
a You learn a lot about how you lead teams. Also, how important it is to have clarity in the way you talk about expectations. The extreme importance of explaining about the huge opportunities for subordinates, and what kind of career opportunities they have.
q What leadership lesson did you learn that you now apply in business?
a The necessity of being able to make quick a decision and continuously assess what that leads to. You don't want to discuss too much. You have to have the guts to make a quick decision - try it on, see if it works and then have the guts to rethink that decision and change it if needed. I think [this is] quite unique in a pilot's life, and I do use it in business as well.
q Is there anything you could not incorporate into your leadership practice today?
a I don't think there's anything you can't do, except for flying a Mach 2 [fighter plane]. It is more difficult to replicate the extremely close team spirit you create in the air force, and also the excitement and pride factor you have there.
q What was the biggest leadership challenge when you became head of Ericsson in this region last year?
a The change for me is always the toughest part of the leadership, because when you're driving an organisation with breadth and depth - with 23 countries and 5,000 to 6,000 people, and you are in contact with everything from marketing and sales to operations - it [requires] a very broad skill set. It's a big organisation, so introducing completely new ways of working is very difficult.
q Share your best success story thus far.
a I often don't think about it. Most of the time, you're thinking about what isn't working … We have conducted some research in the market, where we have increased [Ericsson's market] perception dramatically. If you do lead, you need to lead strategically and drive the leading indicators to make sure you get sustainable change.
q On the flip side, what has been a major mistake you have made?
a You make many. It's very easy when you sit back and [say] I should have done that differently. Of course I would have liked to focus even harder on the customer side, even harder on project performance.