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A perspective on leadership: Dialogue works every time

We need to talk more about the things that matter to us, says Mads Skovlund, chief executive at Nordea. He is not afraid of talking openly about his own doubts and insecurities and encourages others to do the same. Dialogue is the path to security and well-being, he has learnt.

7. Feb 2023
4 min
English / Dansk

Dialogue is the miracle remedy of our time, but we use it far too seldom. Let's talk about what makes us nervous and insecure. Then we can be rid of the insecurity.

These are the words of Mads Skovlund, 45 years old and Head of Personal Banking at Nordea in Denmark.

He is familiar with insecurity that arises when faced with major events – whether at the bank or at his first New Year's levee with the Queen.

Over the years, he has also identified what works:

"Safety is terribly important to me. I can’t perform until I place myself in a situation where I feel safe. That's why I have a close dialogue with my manager and my colleagues, where we thoroughly discuss the issue of insecurity before moving on to security, because we cover all the things we might be afraid of", says the chief executive from Nordea. 

We must be able to be who we are

This wasn't the case in 2005, when a young Mads Skovlund had to ask for paternity leave for the first time: 

"I went for months tossing and turning, worrying about what it would mean for my career and what my colleagues would think. I wish I could have told myself then what I know now: Dialogue works every time. Tell people what you are afraid of, so that you are not alone with your thoughts".

He admits that it can be extremely difficult. It's not pleasant, and you may feel embarrassed.  

This makes it all the more important for him to spread the message: Yes, we are all insecure and feel unsafe from time to time, and that's okay.


"I can’t perform until I place myself in a situation where I feel safe. "
- Mads Skovlund, chief executive at Nordea

"At Nordea, well-being is the key to success. We have a dedicated goal to be who we are – all inclusive. Don’t forget this if you become nervous or insecure. Bring it out in the open and engage in dialogue", is Mads Skovlund’s advice.

If you have doubts of a professional nature, you are obligated to do so, he states:

"We must be careful not to reject the insecurity too soon, because then we are not curious enough. Then we won't cover all the potential angles and thoughts."

This kind of thoroughness is a well-known part of the financial sector's DNA and takes the form of various risk assessment models, but it is also useful in relation to human feelings and senses. 

"We have fine conversation and performance review tools available for this purpose, but they only work if they are used with an open mind", the chief executive notes.

A solution-oriented approach, please

People who have dispelled their doubts are unbearable to listen to, reads one of the quotes that Mads Skovlund has jotted down in a book of pearls he has collected throughout his career.

But you shouldn't hang on to the insecurity, adds the chief executive.

He likes asking others for advice and is attentive to colleagues and employees who want to share doubts and concerns with him. Nonetheless, it is important to be solution-oriented in your approach – Mads Skovlund won’t only hear about insecurities.

"It is better to explain what you are unsure about, and then how you plan to tackle it. Or ask: can you help me with this? Make the question as simple as possible: What is the issue, and what do I need help with? After that, it usually goes really well", he sums up.

Talk about what matters

Another good reason for asking directly is that some people,  including Mads Skovlund, cannot necessarily decode what is going on in others:

"I'm not good at listening between the lines. I therefore overlook signs of others being in need of help. On the other hand, I am aware of it and openly tell people that I am not good at it. In that way, people know to be direct with me. And I’ll be happy to help as much as I can", he says. 

He is not afraid of crossing the line between the professional and the private spheres by sharing his doubts and insecurity with others.

"In my view, we don't talk enough about what really matters. So I think we are far from the limit for most people. If we reach the limit, then speak up. But rather back out at that point than not go anywhere near the limit at all".

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