108: Lead with Values -- Fostering a Thriving Company Culture with Global Financial Magnate Lars Seier Christensen

Ep108 Lars Seier Christense TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

A company’s core values are at the heart of its operations and culture. Yet, not all companies or leaders make their core values explicit or even realize why they should. On this episode of The TalentGrow Show, I speak with Saxo Bank co-founder and former co-CEO Lars Seier Christensen about the seven values that Lars embedded into the culture of Saxo Bank and why it’s incredibly important to make your company values explicit. You’ll learn why Lars chose the seven values that he did and how they each contributed to a successful and thriving company culture. Not sure how to prioritize certain values or narrow down your most ‘core’ values? Lars and I discuss how to think about the hierarchies and relationships between values as well. Learn the why and how of giving immediate and frequent feedback – both positive and constructive. Plus, discover which philosopher had a powerful impact on Lars and his leadership ethic. Listen and share with others in your network!

ABOUT LARS SEIER CHRISTENSEN: 

Together with co-founder and CEO Kim Fournais, Lars Seier Christensen has received great recognition for developing Saxo Bank into one of the key players in the investment industry, both in Denmark and in the international marketplace.

As of 2016, Lars Seier Christensen decided to step down as co-CEO of Saxo Bank. Still a major shareholder in Saxo Bank, Lars Seier Christensen founded his own private equity firm “Seier Capital” with investments in businesses ranging from IT-start-ups to the Danish gourmet restaurant, Geranium.

In 1992, Seier Christensen and Fournais founded the Danish service broker, Midas. Since 1995, Seier Christensen and Fournais have managed the company together. In 2001, Midas was granted a banking license and officially changed its name to Saxo Bank A/S. In 2007, Lars Seier Christensen and Kim Fournais received the coveted Achievement Award from FX Week in New York. The award was given for their outstanding contribution and their strong commitment to the success of the e-FX industry.

Over the years, Saxo Bank has received a multitude of international awards for its unique online trading platform, SaxoTrader. With the development of SaxoTrader, Saxo Bank has secured a strong position in online investment trading. The combination of innovative technology and a unique understanding of the global capital markets have been instrumental to the success of the Bank. More than 100 partnerships all over the world have helped ensure Saxo Bank's success.

Lars Seier Christensen has shown great interest in social affairs and does not hesitate with involving himself in public policy debates.  

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN: 

  • Halelly shares a surprising fact about her early career (6:54)

  • Halelly lists the seven values that Lars always incorporated and later made explicit in his company (8:05)

  • The importance of making your values explicit (9:12)

  • Lars explains the influence that the Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand had on his thinking (10:00)

  • What is meant by the virtue of rationality, with an example in the context of sales (10:51)

  • What the virtue of independence is really about (12:16)

  • Lars explains the virtue of integrity and why intellectual honesty is so important in a business context (13:28)

  • How Lars understands the virtue of justice in a business context (14:55)

  • Lars talks about the virtues of productivity and pride (16:10)

  • The Tall Poppy Syndrome and how the virtue of pride is seen in America versus in social welfare states like his native Denmark (17:35)

  • The interconnected relationship between each of the seven values (18:58)

  • Halelly hones in on the value of justice in the context of leadership (20:00)

  • People are proud of working for a company that has explicit values (20:28)

  • Why peer recognition from colleagues can actually be more important than pay-raises (22:01)

  • Lars explains why you shouldn’t evade telling someone on your team when they have done something poorly and shares a compelling example about his friend (23:00)

  • You’re not doing anyone a favor by ‘saving’ them from the truth (23:57)

  • What do you do when there seems to be a conflict between the values of an employee and the company’s values? (25:55)

  • “Capitalism unites people.” How business and the profit motive help foster peace (28:11)

  • What’s new and exciting on Lars’ horizon? (30:51)

  • One specific action you can take to improve your leadership skills and career success (32:36) 

RESOURCES: 

Transcript:

Episode 108 Lars Seier Christensen

TEASER CLIP: Lars: It’s actually my belief that most successful, great companies pretty much take all of these values intuitively. But again, I think, let’s say you’re an entrepreneur and you want to create a new culture or something. The earlier you can get explicit – maybe you can vary some of these values – they work very well for me and for us, but be explicit about it. Really think it through. If you don’t, other values will be created and some of them are probably not even fairly described as values, but actually negative things. People will find ways of doing things and they will find modus operandi of doing various things, so the more explicit you can be, and the more concrete you can be. I also find that my colleagues and the people that work for Saxo Bank really like when you’re clear on these things. People enjoy values. They’re proud of working for a company that has explicit values and this is very important, obviously, that people are proud of their company and where they work.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey TalentGrowers. Welcome back to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I am Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and I’m really very fortunate, I have to say, that I’m able to speak to such interesting people. And usually that’s because I take a step into the scary area of approaching interesting people, even if I don’t know them, and suggesting to them an opportunity to share their insights with you. This week I have exactly one of those situations. My guest is a very well known global leader in the world of banking. His name is Lars Seier Christensen. He’s actually based in Europe. We talk about his approach to building a very successful company, Danish broker Saxo Bank. He was involved with, for 26 years he’ll tell you, in the show, and created the company culture with seven explicit values that guide the company and guide leaders in the company.

We talk about what those values are, and more importantly, why it’s so important to have explicit values guide your work. This is a really important concept for a lot of leaders to really think about, and we even speak a lot about how to give feedback, how to give praise, how to celebrate success, and a lot of things that go into leadership that you don’t necessarily think about as explicitly as we do in this show. He also talk s about what he’s building over in the world of crypto currency, and the final action that he suggests is like, wow, it’s more than one action, but I think it’s a great sound bite for very, very important work in leadership. So, I hope that you will stick through to the end so that you can hear that. Also, there is a very good connection here to a recent review that we received that is related to applying what you learned. I’m going to read that at the end. Here we go.

TalentGrowers, this week we have a treat. We have Lars Seier Christensen. He is the co-founder of the Danish broker Saxo Bank. He co-founded that firm in 1992, and after 20 years as CEO he stepped down in 2016, but he’s still a shareholder in Saxo Bank. He also founded his own private equity firm, Seier Capital, with investments in business ranging from IT startups to the Danish gourmet restaurant Geranium and has been also involved with investments and research into bit coin. I recently met Lars at a conference where he was one of the speakers, and as soon as I heard him describing the culture of the organization he built at Saxo Bank, I knew for a fact that I wanted to share that with you on this show. I cornered him and got him to agree, so I’m really happy. We’re having a conversation that is across the Atlantic, because Lars is in Europe and here I am in the U.S. Lars, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Lars: Thank you very much.

Halelly: I’m so glad that you’re here. Before we get into the meat of the conversation, I always ask my guests to introduce their professional journey, just briefly. Where did you start, and how did you end up where you are today?

Lars: I think my route has been pretty unusual in that I’m very much also auto-didact in what I have been doing, and actually just as I was about to go to University, I decided to take a break from that. I went with one of my best friends to Spain and we opened a bar, of all things. That actually was quite a nice way to pass your time. We ended up spending four or five years there. In the end I thought I needed to move on from this to something else, and I got very interested in financial markets in the meantime. I went to London, went around through a few brokers and tried to sell them the idea that I could help them get into new markets and introduce them into Denmark and Scandinavia and eventually somebody gave me a chance. I kind of learned about brokerage and trading and derivatives and foreign exchange by learning by doing. In that sense, I ended up spending quite a few years in London, working for various businesses in the financial sector. I observed a lot of stuff that was going on in those days. It was very manual, obviously. It was sort of late 80s, early 90s. Some new thing beginning to show up called the internet, and various sort of early online attempts, but in the end, I thought, I wasn’t very, very impressed by how the business was working, so I decided to start my own brokerage together with a client I had at the time. From very, very humble beginnings, with just a couple of employees, we then started what subsequently started what became Saxo Bank. I didn’t actually join the company for the first two or three years. I focused on securing them a good service from London and my partner started up this small business, but in the end, it seemed so interesting that I also decided to join it full time. Since about mid 90s, my partner Kim Fournais and I were co-CEOs in what became Saxo Bank. While I retired as CEO from this a couple of years back, my partner is still running it, sole CEO today. It’s pretty much been him and me throughout these nearly 26 years, actually.

Halelly: Wow, amazing. Just the fact that you were successful running a company as co-CEOs, I think that could probably make a very interesting entire episode. How do you make a partnership like that work? Because that is no easy feat. So congratulations on all of your success. By the way, I don’t think you know and I don’t think that listeners necessarily know this, but I cut my teeth, my early career was in a foreign exchange company. I worked for a company that was owned by a former Swiss banker that was headquartered in Washington, D.C., Ruesch International, and one of my initial jobs was to go to the briefings by the traders in the morning who were explaining about the movements of the currencies, the economic and political factors and how they were affecting the foreign exchange rates, and teach the new employees who were joining the company how to explain that to the client so that they could make a decision about whether to buy a forward contract and so forth.

Lars: That’s cool. The interesting thing about foreign exchange is it’s a very clean way to express a view on a country as a whole. Much more macroeconomic than choosing a stock, a range of stocks, but if you really think the U.S. economy is moving the right way versus the Spanish economy or the Japanese economy, there’s no easier way to express that view than to simply go long the dollar or short the yen or whatever the play might be. It’s very, very high-level macro-type investment.

Halelly: It gives you a much more global view of what’s going on. So, one of the things that was really intriguing about how you built your company to such great success, your bank, and I discovered this through your talk, is you created a set of expressed virtues, or values you called them. Seven values. And you mentioned that you introduced them later on, even though you actually were implicitly using them and didn’t realize it, but you became explicit about them at some point, and that there are seven values that are necessary to incorporate into the work, into the employees work, to operate successfully. And I really wanted to spend some time today breaking down – we can’t get into them in depth in the time we have available – but I wanted to maybe break down a little bit further into a couple of them in the seven. I’ll list them because you have a great PDF that I’ll link to from the show notes that describes them in detail.

They are rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productivity and pride. Let’s just give listeners a brief understanding of what each of these means, and why did you choose these?

Lars: I’ve always said, at least as I began to understand management better, I’ve always been very focused on being as explicit as possible about what we’re trying to achieve. If people don't know what you’re trying to achieve, it’s very hard for them to do it. If you don’t give them feedback on the way you want things done, people pick their own ways and then maybe if it’s a great company, they will pick good ways. Otherwise it won’t become a good company. But there’s also a big risk that they may pick up some unwanted habits and behavioral patterns that you don’t really want in a business. I think being explicit is very, very core in any business. On strategy, on values, on principles, on modus operandi, on partnerships, how you treat your clients, etc. After some searching for the right set of guiding principles and values, I can’t lay claim to having invented this myself. It’s actually very inspired by the philosopher Ayn Rand, and I know she’s a controversial person that many people have many views on, without knowing terribly much about it. But she did describe in her probably most famous work, in Atlas Shrugged, she described the seven – she called them – virtues, that she felt were very, very central to living a successful life. Now, having thought about that, I actually think they work very well for an organization as well, because at the end of the day, an organization is just a group of individuals having found something mutual to work for. Logically, they should also work for an organization.

To go to them quickly, the value of rationality, or the virtue of rationality, in her words, it’s very much about facing up to reality. You need to simply accept what’s out there and react to it in as smart a way as possible. Dealing with reality, not hoping and dreaming that things were different. Trying to tell people that it’s different to what it really is, which is often a reaction pattern from a salesman or an account executive. If a competitor brings out a better product, it’s far easier to try to talk it down, to try to convince people that it’s not as good as it really seems, but the fact is, if it is better, then you will eventually lose out to that competitor. What you really should do is accept that there’s now a real challenge here, analyze it very carefully, and come back with a response to that that’s based on the reality that you face. So rationality is about accepting reality and reacting to it with a thoughtfulness, instead of just trying to evade it or lie about it or circumvent it or create confusion around it. That’s actually the key value of them all, that you look at the world the way it is, the way you address it and think about it and come up with a considered response to it that will work, because it’s based on that reality you’re facing.

The other really consequences of that way of looking at things, so a little quicker I can run through those. Independence is really about you should think for yourself. You should not simply wait for everybody else to make a decision. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect your manager or you shouldn’t look at what people have created in the past, because we’re all building on somebody else’s thoughts, but you really also should be very careful not to fall into the trap of just blindly copying other people’s thinking. You need to think for yourself, and we try to encourage that very much, that people actually can raise questions, can raise criticisms in a constructive manner, obviously. Trying to force people to make their own mind up about things.

Halelly: This is critical thinking, such an important skill, and it seems like culturally we’re losing our ability to do that.

Lars: Many times, also, in relation to the first one, we’re living a little bit in sort of post-factory world, where people just simply don’t always accept things are the way they are, but instead they dream up that they are in a different way. This is a big problem if you are trying to create a setup of false or inaccurate facts to base your decisions on, so that’s a very big problem in politics and to some extent in business, also today I agree.

Next one is integrity which in effect means you are a whole consisting of both your mind and your actions. It’s not enough to think up great plans if you don’t execute them. You can’t go around promising things if you don’t deliver subsequently. So integrity, what you’re saying and what you’re doing is what we’ve trying to encourage people to do.

Honesty is an obvious. If you run around lying to people you might get away with it for a good while, but eventually you get confused in all your dishonesty and who you told what story to, and also people will eventually source you out if you are dishonest to them continually. So it’s no way to build a business, a long-term sustainable business on dishonesty. It’s also about intellectual honesty, I would say, is slightly different. It’s kind of you and I discuss a new service or a new project, and actually your idea is better than mine, but from my career point of view I probably would like my own idea to succeed, because maybe I get the promotion or the pay raise. Try to get people to understand that for the good of the company and the good of everybody’s careers and actually for developing the best possible products and services, you have to be intellectually honest, so that if you have the better idea, we pursue that idea and build on that instead of me forcing my own idea through, even though inside myself I know that actually your idea was better. To be intellectually honest in these discussions is something we try to get people to do also.

Justice, very much you need to reward people if they do great. But you also need to really make it clear to them if they’re not doing great. If you don’t do that, if you don’t make that distinction, the bad will always be the beneficiary. Because you’ll be the guy or the girl doing the good work and doing extra work, if it’s never recognized and rewarded vis a vis not caring and not really doing things, not going the extra mile, then eventually you will lose your motivation to go the extra mile. To be just, and I’m a big fan of bonus-related systems, where you get paid a lot if you do very well and you get paid a lot less if you do poorly. And if you do really poorly, you find another place to work, right? Being just to people, in terms of both in monetary sense but also, and that means a lot to people in a personal sense when you communicate with people. Actually remember to praise where praise is due, but don’t sort of falsely praise something that’s not very good just to stay friendly or to avoid a conflict. The justice part is pretty essential as well.

Halelly: I want to dig into that one a little more, but let’s finish out the rest of them.

Lars: The last we got is productivity or productiveness. At the end of the day, and pride after that, but that’s more a result of having done the other things. Productivity is very important. At the end of the day we have to pay our bills. We have to pay our rent. We have to pay our employees. They have to pay for their families and their lives, so at the end of the day, there’s got to be a dollar somewhere. It’s wonderful to sit and analyze things and make great presentations and make great plans, but at the end of the day, there has to be some productive outcome. If you don’t see that productive outcome, we won’t be able to spend less time on sort of mind games that can be tremendously intellectually stimulating, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a business to run. Everybody I know likes to get paid at the end of the month and unfortunately I have to be the one to procure the money to pay them. So I need to also tell them, on the other hand, that you need to have some productivity at the end of all of the presentations and all of the discussions and all of the Power Points.

Ultimately if you can deliver on it, most of the time on most of these six values that we’ve been through, then I think you should celebrate and be proud of it. That’s probably less important to say in the U.S., because in the U.S. you’re still allowed to be proud of your achievements and celebrate them. In a social welfare state like Denmark, where we originated from, we have a severe case of what some people call the Tall Poppy Syndrome. If you stand out in any way, you should really not be overly happy about it and you should respect that everybody is equal and this, that and the other sense. Everybody is equal in terms of rights, but not everybody is equal in outcome and not everybody is equal in effort. I have always put a great emphasis on people if they conclude successfully a project or some achievement. Celebrate it. Go out and have a dinner. Celebrate it. Have fun. Be proud of it. Tell your colleagues about it. Not in a bragging and obnoxious way, but just in a way celebrating the outcome. Then celebrate it and then look forward and come back again on Monday morning and we’ll make a new project. But get some closure on stuff that actually worked for you and be proud of it. This, sadly many places in Europe, it’s actually necessary to encourage people to do it, because they're so shy of celebrating achievements because they’re so scared that people will get upset with them. You actually sometimes have to remind them to celebrate when they did something great. I think at the end of the day, if you work hard to do something special and go the extra mile and achieve things and deliver fantastic products and services, sometimes also you’re allowed to be proud of them and feel self-esteem and celebrate them.

Rationality is absolutely a core platform for all of the other ones. The five ones are sort of modus operandi, and pride and self-esteem should be the outcome in my view. That’s how I look, in as short as I could do it, on these seven values.

Halelly: And they’re very interrelated. I’m sure as listeners are listening to you describe them, one bleeds into the other because you can’t really separate them. You’re one whole person. All of them are necessary. Also, a lot of times I find that when we think about values and we describe values, at least I don’t know if you’ve done this in your own life, but when I’ve done an exercise where I was trying to prioritize my top values, when you look at almost any value on a list of values, they all look good. Oh, honesty, ye. I love that. Love, oh yes. Harmony, oh yes, that’s important. So when you think about all the values sound good and how do you choose? The ones that you say, “These are the core ones. These are our guiding values.” Because if you have all, you have nothing. I think that it is very telling that you chose these, and thank you for describing them.

I really wanted to hone in a little bit about the one with justice, because that relates to a lot of challenges that leaders have in terms of how often and what kind and how to give feedback. So you describe this value of justice as you have to tell people if they’re making a mistake and you owe it to them. You have to tell people when they’re doing something right rather than just ignore it or just pretend or just expect it.

Lars: Absolutely. One last thing on the values, it’s actually my belief that most successful, great companies pretty much deploy these values intuitively, right? But again, let’s say you’re an entrepreneur and you want to create a new culture. I think it’s something early you can get explicitly. Maybe you want to marry some of these values – they work very well for me and for us, but be explicit about it and really think it through. If you don’t, other values will be created and some of them are probably not even fairly described as values but actually negative things. People will find ways of doing things and they will find modus operand for doing various things, so the more explicit you can be and the more concrete you can be. I also found that my colleagues and the people that work for Saxo Bank really like when you’re clear on these things. People enjoy values. They’re proud of working for a company that has explicit values and this is very important, obviously, that people are proud of their company and where they work. Otherwise why should they spend five days of their week going to my company and not to any other company?

Really, this is what’s going wrong in many, many companies and it’s going wrong in many public sector institutions, that everything becomes so bland, so little difference. Your salary is dependent on whether you’re here 10 or 13 years. There’s nothing to do in many cases with your actual achievements. Maybe you belong in a sense to a given manager that drags you around through every project and if a new CEO comes in you get fired together with a guy that left and blah, blah, blah. So I think it’s very, very important to look at people for what they deliver, look at what they deliver on the stuff you asked them to do, and then be fair to them and really, really, and I would say it’s very hard to do because you tend to take the good for granted and it’s more the bad that springs into your view. But you really, when people have gone out of their way to do something exceptionally well, you have to recognize that in a monetary sense and in some cases also that you say to them publicly, “John here did a really terrific thing and we could all learn from that.” I’ve found many times that that sort of peer recognition and from the colleagues is actually far more important than a pay raise.

People want to be proud of what they do and you want to give them incentives to always try to do as good as they can, inside their particular job function. At least it’s not difficult to say to people, “Oh, you did really great. You just have to remember it.” It can be very difficult to say to somebody else, “Oh, what you just made here totally sucks.” And a lot of people will evade that also. They really don’t want to, they like rather the calm of not really doing very well but nobody has to get into a controversial or conflict or anything like that. It’s equally important for people to know when they have done really poorly. That’s a little bit less pleasant than giving people a pay raise and everybody is happy and you open a bottle of champagne. But it’s equally important. My friend Jack Wells told me once that he had been to one of his many, many meetings where he shares strategy with various groups of people in the old days of GE and an employee came up to him crying and he asked, “Why are you crying?” And the person said, “I was fired this morning, but I was allowed to come and see you because I’ve been here for so many years.” “Why did they fire you?” And the person said, “Well, apparently I didn’t do a very good job, but nobody every told me and now they just fired me.” So you’re also not doing people a favor by not telling them. They may inadvertently not be doing a great job or doing something wrong and you do them a favor by telling them where they need to improve and also maybe if they really are not doing well in your organization, who knows – there might be another organization where they do far better and that way it’s often to everybody’s benefit to part ways, even though that’s not very pleasant either when that happens. I think if you’re a leader and I understand many of your audience are people that manage teams or lead people, etc., it’s really, really important to be explicit when your people do something good, but also when they do something bad.

Halelly: I love that you connected to justice, because a lot of times people feel like it’s doing something negative. They don't want to hurt the person. But when you flip your understanding of the purpose of it, so you’re being just and you’re not allowing them to continue to do something wrong, you’re not enabling them to continue to do something wrong, but you’re allowing them insight into how they could make it better, you are giving them access to the potential for pride. You are not stealing pride from them when you’re not saying it.

Lars: Exactly. You are certainly hurting them far more by not letting them know, particularly if they inadvertently are doing something not so great, which happens a lot. People are just not getting it right. Maybe because they weren’t instructed properly in the first place about what was really required and you’re certainly doing them no favors saving them from the truth, even though the truth might not be particularly nice to hear. You can also say in organizations like banks, where regulation and compliance is absolutely key to even survival of such a business, you see a colleague that’s doing something as incorrect, or bad, it’s absolutely essential that you bring it to attention and get it fixed, right?

Halelly: Or else you get something like Enron happening where people keep quiet and say nothing.

Lars: The worst cases, yes.

Halelly: This is fascinating and I could talk to you about this forever. I did want to ask you, you mentioned earlier this value seems to go against the culture in Denmark and so forth. How do you handle when you have people that come from a different culture? I mean, here in the U.S., employees come from many different cultures and bring with them their norms that they’re used to and all of the things that they’ve been taught all the time. Like the poppy that sticks out gets cut down or the nail that sticks, I think there’s a saying about the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered. So that’s just one example of many different ways in which the values are not necessarily what people bring with them, but they are the company values. So, what do you do when you feel like there’s a conflict? Like when an employee’s value and the culture of the company or the values of the company?

Lars: First of all, we are very international. I’m saying we, not really, but that’s my main claim to fame as Saxo Bank. That’s where maybe this gives the challenges we’re faced. But we are very international business in Saxo Bank, and we sort of count regularly in the nationalities and it’s always around 50 or 60 different nationalities even though we’re only 1,500 people. So it’s a very, very international company, which is necessary because we have offices in 20 or more countries around the world. And for sure there’s a big difference between visiting let’s say our Tokyo office and being in our Danish headquarters. You can and you shouldn’t eradicate those differences because that’s one of the reasons we have all these people, it’s simply that a Japanese person understands better how to service a Japanese client than I could ever do. But what is important when you have quite different cultures, then it is actually even more important to have this explicit set of values and principles for interaction so that people understand where you’re trying to take the company. You can’t change everything and cheat people out of basic respect for not overstepping the lines that are justified and for some cultures. We can speak very freely in a country like Denmark. We’re very literal in the way we express ourselves and that may not be very well received by a Chinese colleague or a Japanese colleague. You have to show a little bit of understanding that other people maybe speak in a different way.

At the end of the day what I did find is that capitalism unites people. And if everybody was just concentrated on doing business and making successful products and services, the world would be a far more peaceful place I think. Because I’ve had people, or even people from very, very different religions, people who are at war with each other, and once they sit down and work around a project, it’s fine. It’s not an issue. So with a reasonable amount of respect for the differences between cultures, which I think you have to have a little bit of what the Germans would call fingerspitzengefuhl, but kind of feel it, combined with a set of explicit values that you want people to embrace and I think that’s quite important. For example, this thing about sometimes saying something negative to people that are not doing well can be very, very hard for an Asian, because of the loss of face or that, it’s a different story in China than it is in Denmark. But on the other hand, I don’t want in my company, whether you’re Danish or Chinese or Japanese or wherever you’re from, I don’t want the culture where we don’t say these things to each other. I think you have to enforce it to some extent with some respect, but maybe you do it in a slightly different way in Asia than you do in Scandinavia or other places in Europe. I won’t tolerate that people run around and don’t face the issues.

If people have conflicts, at least if we have the possibility of putting them physically – many times with my partner Ken – we simply hear the story about two guys that can’t stand each other and we just call them in, stick them in a room and say, “You know what guys? Now you talk to each other about it. Don’t stand at the water cooler and talk behind the back of your colleague now. We understand there’s an issue here. You talk about it and we’ll come back in half an hour and you tell us how you’re solving it.” That can be quite difficult for some people, because it’s much easier to talk badly about a guy behind his back than to actually have to face him. And once people realize that that’s what’s going to happen to you if we find out that you are talking about it at the water cooler but not to the person you have the problem with, they tend to start talking better with each other because they don’t really want to be put in that situation too often.

Halelly: Exactly. It kind of reinforces the values that you profess and acting according to them. Well, we’re almost out of time and before you share one specific action and we’ll also talk about how people can stay in touch with you, what’s new and exciting on your horizon?

Lars: As you mentioned, I’ve been investing some money from my own private fund here in areas various areas, and I’ve been following the Crypto space quite intensively. The Bitcoin and the ATD and all that space, and I think there’s an awful lot of problems in that space with legacy issues and anonymity and criminal actions going and I don’t think that really these older blockchains and Cryptos will ever really gain mainstream adoption. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in that space for coming out with something new that’s true to the DNA of the distributed nature of these systems, but combining it with a more healthy respect for what we otherwise are facing in terms of understanding a customer’s KYC, as they call it, anti-money laundering, identity, etc. Combining all the good things of some of these systems with something that’s more in line with how we otherwise have been doing things in the financial sector I think is a great opportunity and I’m spending a lot of time currently on a new project in that space that is not really fully launched yet, but I will address some of these issues, plus also come up with some technical innovations for better functionality. That has got a lot of my attention and probably the project that I spent most time on at the moment.

Halelly: That’s very exciting, and of course I think everybody by now has heard Bitcoin and crypto currency and some people still don’t even understand what that means, but I know that you are saying that you’re building sort of the next generation? That was the infancy stage and we’re practicing on that, but it’s imperfect, and so looking forward to seeing what you create and how it improves the world.

What’s one specific action that you can recommend our listeners take this afternoon, today, this week, that can improve their own leadership skills or career success in general?

Lars: I don’t think it’s that difficult, really. It’s about directness and saying things the way they are, because again, if people don’t understand what you want from them and they don’t get feedback from you, if they’re not delivering what you want from them, then you have a very high probability that you won’t get the deliveries from them that you expect. So I would say be as honest as possible about projects to the people that you’re managing. Tell them as specifically as possible where you’re trying to go, from A to B, but give them a lot of freedom to actually come up with ideas for the exact route between A and B, but be very clear about the objective you’re trying to reach and at the same time give some freedom to people to be creative themselves. Maybe that’s a little alien in the beginning, to give a lot of freedom to create a solution, and some people are better at it than others, for sure. But it’s also very, very gratifying to have some freedom to come up with solutions.

What’s very important, at least if you’re sort of a CEO or other C-level, there are very important ways to find out how has the potential to go further in your organization. If you just give them instruction through this, this and that, first of all, in all likelihood you’re not going to get all the innovation and all the great ideas and creativity that most organizations and people actually have. Secondly, you will not be able to assess who actually are the leaders of the future and who you should be promoting, who you should be bringing forward. Speak directly to people. Make it very clear what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t tell them the exact way they are unless it’s completely obvious and it only is that way. Give people freedom to get there themselves. Resource them appropriately so you’re not asking something ridiculous without giving people resources to achieve it. And then give them very frequent feedback on whether you think they’re moving in the right direction or not. Ultimately if they do succeed, celebrate them and give them a holler, a chance next time. If they don’t succeed, give them a couple of chances or reduce the level of chance that you put them in in the future. Directness and honesty and giving clear guidance to where you’re going is a precondition to people actually being able to get there. If people don’t understand your strategy, they don’t understand where you’re going, then it’s very hard for them to actually get to the point where you want them to get to.

Halelly: Indeed. Excellent. Thank you for that. I know people will probably want to learn more from you and about you and stay in touch, what’s the best way for them to do that? We’ll put that in the show notes.

Lars: I have my own site for my current activity called SeierCapital.com, where you can see some of the businesses I invest in and some little stories about how we are progressing with these initiatives, so that’s certainly one way. There you can use the contact form if you want to speak directly to me for some reason, or if you want to submit a proposal for a business idea or investment. There’s also a form for that. Of course you can go and look at SaxoBank.com if you want to see what Saxo Bank is up to. Also very interesting company, although we don’t really do much in the U.S. So maybe less relevant.

Halelly: We have listeners all over the world.

Lars: SaxoBank.com is certainly a great place for modern investment and trading, and SeierCapital.com is more about what I do in my life and including new things like what we just discussed coming up.

Halelly: Excellent. Well, Lars, it’s been fun talking with you.

Lars: Thank you for having me.

Halelly: Oh, I wish we had lots and lots more time, but in keeping with our traditional 30-ish minute podcast, I think you delivered lots of interesting insights for listeners, so really appreciate it.

Lars: Thank you.

Halelly: I hope that you enjoyed that, TalentGrowers, and I hope that you’ll take action on what Lars suggested. Lots to think about in this episode and I do really want to hear what you thought about it. One listener that took the time to let me know what she thinks about the show is Staci Clary, and she left us a very kind review on Apple Podcasts, also known as iTunes. Her review, her title for the review is “Apply the action item and you will always win.” Here’s what she said: “I’m a sole practitioner who works alone managing subcontractors serving clients throughout the U.S. I don’t have anyone to ask questions when I need new ideas or process relating to sales, networking, communications. My new go-to is the library of TalentGrow podcasts. The golden nugget for me is the action item. I always apply it and experience great results. Thank you, Halelly, for interviewing the most qualified experts in a wide variety of topics in a 30-minute format.” Staci, you’re very welcome. Thank you for taking the time to let me know that you find this valuable and sharing it with the world so that other people that look at the podcasts and see it pop up on their search have the confidence to give it a try. And like Stacy said, you really have to apply the actions. I urge you and encourage you and challenge you. Go apply it.

Well, I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this has been another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I’m really grateful that you’ve stuck around to the end, that you’ve given a listen and I hope that you will enjoy what you’ve learned and what you’ve applied and shared with others. Until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.


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