Servant Leadership in Minimalist Style - Help me do it myself

Blog | March 7, 2024

How Kodan thrives between minimalist and servant leadership to foster success? Read the blog post from our COO, Toni Mikkola.


This blog is inspired by Assistant Professor Frank Martela's article on "Nordic minimalist leadership," presented last December in Harvard Business Review, and an insightful interview with Tuomas Syrjänen of Futurice by Helsingin Sanomat, based on the aforementioned article. It's challenging to articulate any counterarguments to the points raised in these discussions, but every company likely navigates these concepts in its unique way.

Kodan is a relatively modest-sized company, with just over 30 employees, so an official Kodan leadership model would easily seem unnecessary. Nevertheless, our culture and some semblance of the company's DNA have absorbed themes related to this topic. I would say we find ourselves somewhere between minimalist leadership and servant leadership, with a few minimalists facilitating and serving the organization. The key is to provide our employees with the best possible conditions to succeed and thrive.

One crucial aspect is ensuring sufficient or as comprehensive visibility as possible into all information regarding the company's operations. Not perfect visibility, as that is likely an unattainable ideal even for the CEO. However, it must be remembered that not all employees need or necessarily want to digest all information. Thus, we cannot assume everyone has sufficient knowledge, self-confidence, and the desire to make decisions on behalf of a minimalist leader. Support and service from the CEO and colleagues are always available, encapsulated in our value of Collaboration.

Another prerequisite is a clear direction. Mere principles, missions, and thumb rules may not be sufficient for everyone; some individuals crave clear guidance, direction, and examples. This again requires delicate balancing, ensuring we do not restrict the creative and boundary-pushing thinking of any of our experts who might be exploring beyond the confines of rules and established practices, possibly discovering something significantly better. This natural inclination is vividly reflected in our value of Creativity.

The third prerequisite involves aligning tasks and responsibilities with employees' skills, interests, and passions. While Martela advocates for training employees to think like CEOs, we approach this differently. CEOs bear the responsibility of navigating complex situations, measuring all moving parts, and embracing uncertainties and risks. From the employee's perspective, it suffices for us to understand each other's thought processes. Knowing how a CEO thinks is beneficial, but employees need not be compelled to adopt the same mindset, acquire new skills, or gather information on topics that simply do not interest or cause stress and meaningless, even unnecessary work. At that point, tasks and responsibilities should be partially or entirely delegated to someone else. This perspective aligns with our values of Well-being, easy living, and meaningful life.

As the operational leader of Kodan, I find it easy to relinquish control. Instead, I often ponder the primary principle I learned from my three sons' experience at a Montessori daycare: Help me do it myself.

This text was written by Kodan’s COO, Toni Mikkola.

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