Finns are known to strive relentlessly towards their goals. Our straightforward nature, outspokenness and equality sometimes raise eyebrows even among our Nordic colleagues. Courage has become a megatrend in the international discussion related to leadership and organisation cultures. How could we use these Finnish virtues to our advantage in the working life?
The friendship between Kati Saari, who works as a strategist, and Jutta Vatanen, the director of American Express Meetings & Events Finland, goes back several years. The two friends are brought together by a courageous attitude on life, among other things. Jutta calls for the courage to keep challenging yourself as well as others to find new ways of thinking. For Jutta’s “courage muse” Kati Saari, a normal Wednesday at the office may be more challenging than moving abroad to find a new job. In the sidebar, Kirsi Paakkari tells us what courage means to her. It appears that the age of superheroes is behind us.
Kati Saari is a prime example of an outspoken, confident and courageous risk-taker. Her merits include developing Onninen’s business and launching the Zara chain in Russia, creating the Stockmann Outlet concept and, as her latest venture, creating a highly visible career as a consultant. She has already seen several different roles, industries and locations, and taking on these new challenges does not seem to have affected her self-confidence one bit.
“I am a first-born child and got used to dragging my two younger brothers behind me already when I was very small. This, I believe, is the source of my survivor identity. I have never consciously tried to be courageous during my career. I have simply wanted to do things that interest me. And, anyway, you can only determine after the fact whether a decision was courageous or reckless,” Kati analyses.
Saying goodbye to the cult of the manager
Kati does not consider gender to be a relevant factor in career discussions: “Being good at business takes courage. Gender is not a prerequisite or requirement for success.” She also wants to do away with the cult of the manager: “When opening Zara in Russia, I decided to genuinely be myself from the very beginning. The traditional leadership culture in Russia is very hierarchical. For me, however, it was natural to be carrying boxes or slow dance at a company party.”
Maintaining a strict hierarchy or kowtowing to bosses is not respected at Finnish workplaces. Kati Saari remembers an excellent piece of advice that she received during the early part of her career from the then secretary of Stockmann’s managing director. She calmed the nervous young woman who had arrived for a meeting by telling her to think about how the managing director also probably has a hole in his sock.
Where does strength come from?
Only the strong dare to be outspoken or stick to their opinions. However, outspokenness is an art form by itself and not synonymous with being rude. This has also become apparent to Kati over the years: “In one of my jobs, I was given a set of keys for Christmas so I wouldn't need to break in the door every time I walked in.”
Who wouldn't like to be strong? A person not affected by any adversity or negative comments. Kati wants to challenge this view as well. “To me, being strong is also about daring to be vulnerable. When you are giving more, also at an emotional level, and truly committing yourself emotionally in your work, you are also putting yourself in a vulnerable position. In fact, the strongest one may be the most vulnerable one.”
Thoughts about courage