Can you tell us a little bit more about your career journey to date?
My name is Birgitta Sjöstrand and I am an experienced professional speaker, leadership trainer and coach based in Sweden, but over my career I have worked in London and also with organisations across Europe.
Before working as a leadership trainer I worked in the financial services in Stockholm and London for more than ten years. Women were a minority and we faced a lot of comments on our appearance, sexist remarks and a large discrepancy between salaries. Actually, when I asked why the manager flat out said that we would only stay for a short time before having children. This made for a challenging working environment! After I found myself working for some inadequate managers, I decided to go back to school and study again and go into leadership training. I studied leadership, behavioural psychology and communication and founded Inre styrka, Sverige AB, in 2003 (Inre styrka means PowerWithin).
In my job I specialise in leadership, communication and empowering middle managers and have achieved a number of different certifications, including from the Scandanavian School of Management, NLP trainer and Master trainer of LAB profiling. Over my career I have worked with clients such as Forsen, Electrolux, Magna International and Solenis Technologies. My keynotes, courses and workshops are grounded in practical exercises and I am a member of the NSA Sweden.
In November 2020 I published my book “Outstanding in the Middle” (Panoma Press). It’s a practical and accessible guide to excelling in all aspects of middle management, particularly aimed at non-native English speakers and I have been receiving great feedback.
Currently I am working on an online course “Executive Communication Masterclass” and delivering leadership coaching and training online, but I am definitely looking forward to delivering some in-person training again when it is safe to do so!
How did you overcome the biggest challenge in your career?
I had a horse-riding accident in my 5th year as self–employed. Unfortunately, I broke my back and had lots of internal injuries. It was a huge challenge to deliver leadership training and coaching. I managed to deliver, but had no energy doing sales and marketing, so there were no new business coming in. I didn’t have the financial resources to employ a salesperson either. Very slowly I got back to working at full speed, but it took quite a few years. Make sure you have a good insurance. Mine didn’t cover “extreme sports”.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
I would certainly say the proudest moment of my career was publishing my book “Outstanding in the Middle”. Often leadership and management books use synonyms and phases that are difficult for non-native English speakers to understand and so I created a practical and accessible guide to excelling in all aspects of middle management. It includes tips on self-leadership, time management, getting the most out of teams and managing change. Middle managers are the lynchpin of an organisation, particularly when working virtually, so it is essential they are empowered with the skills and confidence to be excellent role models and change makers, internally and externally.
What is your life motto?
There are no failures, only feedback. If what you do doesn’t work, try something else.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to managers leading in these uncertain times?
Three piece of advice I would give to managers right now would be:
- Work on your listening skills – Listening to your employees and team members has been so important over the past year and will continue to be important through the recovery phase too. Make sure you are regularly checking in with the team on their wellbeing and really listening to their responses. Actively engage in the conversation by registering their body language, tone and facial expressions to really get to the root cause of what might be going on. It may be that you should also look out for other non-verbal signs they might be struggling too, such as lower productivity, irritability or withdrawal from colleagues and relationships.
- Involve people in any upcoming changes – Things are constantly changing and this can create a very emotional response if you are not involving employees along the way. Where possible, consult people at every stage of the change so that you can gauge their feedback and make appropriate adjustments. Changes will fail that don’t have the backing of all the staff along the way, so to get people onboard be clear about the benefits of the change and set a date, time and platform each week when you will be sharing how the change is taking shape. The increased transparency and opportunity to ask questions will be invaluable to employees.
- Take care of yourself too – To be able to lead others you need to be looking after yourself as best you can, too. Make sure you are also having time off and taking breaks throughout the day. Try to manage your time in accordance with your personal circadian rhythm, so if you are a morning person this is the time to do the thinking– based tasks and save admin and emails for later in the day. If there are opportunities you can delegate, this may be an option to make sure your energy is directed in the most useful places.