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A democratic leap forward

Does distancing make for more democratic leaders?

07 July 2020

Leaders all over the world know the importance of being able to have a spontaneous and informal check-in with members of their team. How can one adjust their leadership to the New Normal and not just endure it, but learn and thrive in the new circumstances?

Cecilia De Leeuw is responsible for our Telecom customers, and her background from the telecom and tech industry has provided her with deep insight into how technology affects leadership and democracy.

Cecilia, how would you say the telecom-industry affects democracy?

Funny you should ask that, as the democratic aspect of functioning telecom industry is actually the reason I started working in that industry, years ago. One of the biggest cornerstones in a participatory democracy is being able to make your voice heard, and the emerge of telephones and the internet has been an important part of enabling people to participate in important discussions or start discussions of their own.

About half of the world’s population has access to the internet, and in northern Europe alone it’s almost 100 %. It’s important to remember that all the information technology we use today – whether it’s for business or pleasure – is quite new, relatively speaking. 

I also believe there is a democratic aspect in the way technology enables some of us to control our working lives to another degree. We’re not always bound to an office anymore, meaning you can look for opportunities regardless of where your home address is. 



Pictured: Cecilia De Leeuw

How do you lead a team from a distance? Are there any one-size-fits-all tricks you care to share?

To answer the last question first – no. There are no magical quick fixes. All teams consist of different individuals and as a leader, you’re in charge of getting to know them and trying to find different ways until you find what works for your team and yourself. However, there are ways of making sure that you’re not just a democratic leader, but also an effective one when leading from a distance.

As we all know, there are certain flows of information that needs to reach everyone. During times like these, you have to make sure you’re clearer than ever in your communication with your team and make sure that the information doesn’t get distorted as it gets passed down further in the pipe. You also have to make sure everyone feels included, and not just for the sake of it but because they truly are included. 

We tend to talk about “customer obsession”, meaning we have the customer top of mind 24/7. Instead of me talking to our customers and passing on feedback to our team, we’ve created a forum called Telecom Community in which everyone’s welcome to participate, customers as well as anyone from our business who’s involved in the delivery – regardless of location.

This means that my team can talk to the customer without having to go through someone else, and it’s been widely appreciated – not just by my team, but by the customers as well. This community has become a vital part of our culture, where “customer obsession” is central. 

Personally, I’m used to having a team that’s more or less spread out around the world. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I had to make sure that I spent the same amount of quality time with everyone regardless of location. We all know it’s easier to have a spontaneous lunch or coffee with a member of your team who’s sitting two meters away from you than trying to schedule quality time with someone who’s not even in the same time zone as you are – but easy isn’t necessarily good.

I believe my leadership skills have developed, and I’ve become an even more democratic leader now as my whole team is working from home as everyone participates on equal terms. 

As a leader, what can you do if you feel the team spirit is starting to fade?

I’ve noticed that people, regardless of role in a team, tend to hold on to a kind of nostalgia about life before Covid-19. This results in clinging on to old routines and trying to force old ways of working into our new ways of working. Take digital coffee breaks for example. Having scheduled digital coffee breaks doesn’t work for me personally, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s not a massive fan.

I’m doing walk-n-talks instead, which I personally get a lot more out of. We need to let go of what was acceptable and what used to work and embrace the New Normal. Listen to your gut, listen to your team, and keep on trying to change for the better. 


Curious to hear more of Cecilia's thoughts about leadership, learning and data?

Watch the recording of our livestreamed event (in Swedish).

For more information

Cecilia de Leeuw

Tietoevry alumni

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