Keith Silverang on Leadership – The Power of Empowerment

We discussed leadership together with Keith Silverang. He approached it through the prism of philosophy, history and values. Biking also played big role in the discussions.

Keith feels very much at home in Finland. He appreciates the Finnish respect forKeith310_230.jpg sincerity and privacy – substance over packaging. Strong faith in people is one of the key factors in Keith´s leadership style. He believes that if a person really wants to, he/she  can achieve almost anything. Success requires skill, experience and good values. The everyday leadership challenge we face is that people are intelligent, complex, frequently self-centred and sometimes quite stubborn.

”Empowerment at the Centre”

Silverang believes that empowerment is a powerful force.  If you provide clear KPIs, targets and the tools to get the job done, he says, people usually deliver. Keith considers himself an optimist and believes in people and in value-driven leadership, even if that optimism occasionally leads to let-downs.  On the other hand this philosophy has transformed Technopolis from a one-man-band to an orchestra full of talented and increasingly like-minded professionals. Nobody is indispensable. When Keith was hospitalized because of  a bike-race accident, life at Technopolis went on largely as usual.

As is well known, Keith has a passion for biking. Not surprisingly, his metaphor for teamwork comes from this sport: ”Individual riders usually always breakaway from the Peloton, but in 95 % of the cases they are caught by the group. Even talented individuals often succumb to the wind and fatigue while the pack can manage both better as a group. Teamwork has more power. ”

”Our Culture is our constitution”

Silverang sees the company’s culture as a constitution, which sets the framework for operations. Individuals are encouraged to pursue their personal goals and ambitions, but within this overall framework and they must be ready in the event of a value conflict to the greater good of their team and the company as a whole. The CEO has a crucial role as an example to others. If leaders’ act in contradiction to the values of the organisation, they lose the respect of their subordinates and can destroy the organizational foundation.  

We are very target-oriented at Technopolis, says Keith,  and without this balancing framework we could become an organisation, where people act only according to their self- interest.

”The Plague of Corporate Narcissism”

Keith is worried that narcissists are taking increasingly dominating positions in business and politics. Many of them are intelligent, skilled and charismatic people. Keith points out that although you can’t do much about the narcissists above you, you can about the ones below. “ There’s not much you can do about those above you, but you can manage your own behaviour and influence your subordinates through coaching and by your own example.”

Silverang points out that narcissists frequently target their own success at the expense of others. Social media multiplies the effects of narcissism, but on the other hand increases openness, which is positive for value management. Keith recalls that until the late 19th century people were valued more by their internal qualities than their external accomplishments, as compared to today. “Egocentricity has become so extreme that people think of themselves as the centre of the universe. I want to avoid that in my organisation.”

”Impressing your DNA”

According to Keith in recruiting the higher the profile the more important it is to have effective HR processes that are able to detect a value fit…or not. And for him it’s personal. I”I think every CEO transfers his own values to the organization he or she leads.” Keith´s laid back personality comes naturally. He might work the whole day in his biking clothes and sometimes he gets criticism about this. Keith laughs that the older generations expects the leader acts like a leader – some Finns seem to want their old authoritarian President Kekkonen back. For young people an approachable leader is more natural. 

Silverang claims that when it comes to values, he doesn’t demand anything for others that he doesn’t require of himself. “The best way to see a person´s values are in situations when they are providing service to their superiors and colleagues and especially their subordinates. Drive, service and integrity are at the center of our universe and you can see it in how our people serve. Customer promises are kept “hysterically” well, which requires professional preparation and good team spirit.

”Values can change”

One of Keith´s concerns is whether the next generation has strong basic values. Keith explains that a good foundation for leadership is created by parenting, which highlights the boundaries and the consequences for breaking them. Otherwise young people can develop an instant gratification-based work ethic. And that´s a challenge for leadership.

Values are often considered fixed. Silverang disagrees with this notion. He says they can change and some people can learn. As a leader Keith would like to have a better understanding of whether personality drives values or can they be learned over time. 

”Recruit people smarter than you”

Silverang believes strongly that empowerment works best when leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than them – in their own areas of expertise. Leaders need to understand their own limits and create teams of strong professionals, explains Keith. He feels his own strengths are strong energy levels and the ability to keep his distance from himself, maintaining an ability to understand his own limitations and weaknesses, and compensate for them through others. On the other hand he feels that he has a pretty good ability to analyse and cope with different situations holistically.

How does Keith want to develop himself in the future? “ In order to cope as a leader, you need to be able to evaluate professionals in their own areas. When the substance know-how of subordinates gets so strong that you cannot analyse them critically, the decision making gets tough. You need to constantly learn new things in order to balance understanding and empowerment.”

Thank you Keith for the meeting! It was great to know a value leader on wheels and get confirmation that teamwork beats individualism.

Interviewer and originally published in Finnish By Jukka Saksi at LinkedIn