Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
Dani Dawoodson Razmgah
helps you in your leadership.
Dani Dawoodson Razmgah
Name: Dani Dawoodson Razmgah
Title: Head of Infrastructure Services, External Collaboration and Information
Organisation: Bolagsverket, Swedish Companies Registration Office
Currently serving as the Head of Infrastructure Services, External Collaboration and Information at Bolagsverket in Sweden, I am spearheading the digital transformation of the agency. My eclectic background ranges from being the GD of a fintech company, holding senior leadership positions in several government agencies, to years of hands-on experience as an executive management consultant and leadership developer.
The industries I've graced with my presence include government agencies, municipalities, banking and finance, and more. My diverse career journey has been guided by a clear thread: turning dysfunction into optimum performance. Regardless of the industry or role, my mission has been to ensure that what doesn't work is made not just good, but often the best.
In the chaos of the evolving business landscape, I am a steadfast beacon of transformation, committed to ensuring that organizations are not just surviving, but thriving in the digital age.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
One of the most challenging aspects I initially faced as a leader was understanding why, despite my best intentions, there always seemed to be someone dissatisfied with my efforts. I was striving to do the best for my team, yet it seemed that my attempts weren't always well-received.
I eventually realized I had been projecting my own motivations and sources of happiness onto others. I had assumed that what motivated me or made me happy would naturally do the same for my colleagues. This mindset extended to the belief that everyone had the same expectations of each other as I did, assuming we all knew, felt, and thought the same things.
Once this became clear to me, many things got easier. However, it would be a mistake to say I now have all the answers or that I no longer face challenges. Working with people is inherently challenging, and that's part of what makes leadership so intriguing and rewarding. The challenge is in uniting everyone towards a common goal, and it's that very challenge that breathes life into the role of a leader.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Ah, the story of my first foray into leadership - it's as easy to recount as it was utterly unforeseen. Picture me, barely past my 20th birthday, fresh-faced and brimming with youthful confidence at my first 'real' job. Our boss, for reasons unknown to me, abruptly left the company. This left a gaping void, a leadership vacuum that needed to be filled, and fast.
Our boss's boss, in an open meeting, asked some of the more seasoned members of my team if they would consider stepping up. Each of them, humble in the face of the responsibility, hesitated. Even though they might have wanted the role, they were cautious about stepping on toes, and their responses reflected that. Now, here's where the story takes a twist.
I, in my youthful naivety, didn't fully comprehend the gravity of what I was volunteering for. I boldly stepped forward and said, "I can take on the role." The boss's boss glanced at the others and asked if anyone objected. No one spoke up, though I later discovered they weren't exactly thrilled by the idea. But silence, as they say, gives consent. Thus, I landed my first leadership role, not with a bang but a whimper. In retrospect, it was the craziest thing I've ever done, but also the best.
That moment of impulsive courage set me on a path I've been following for over 30 years since, serving in nothing but leadership roles. And to think, it all started because I was too young and foolish to know any better!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
As a visionary leader, I find that no two days are alike. My primary mission is to enable my team members and reporting managers to reach their goals. Ultimately, it's not what I do but what they accomplish that truly drives success for me and the organization.
Their victories become my victories. It's crucial to remember to attribute the success to the hard work they put in and not to claim the glory for myself. On a typical day, I wake up and head to work. I hold off on eating until around noon, practicing what's known as intermittent fasting.
Once I've fired up my computer, I address any urgent emails that have popped up overnight. Then, I check my calendar and prepare for the day's meetings. These meetings often involve decision-making or creating conditions that enable someone to achieve a goal. Around noon, I break for lunch, allowing myself a moment of respite in what can often be a whirlwind of a day.
I make it a point to end the day no later than 17:45. It's not just about maintaining a work-life balance for myself, but also setting a good example for my team. I firmly believe that a well-balanced personal life leads to a more productive professional life. It's not about the number of hours spent at work, but what you do with those hours that truly counts. And that's how I structure my day, always with the vision of enabling others to succeed.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Let me share a tale from the not-so-distant past, one that unfolded within an international project I was supervising. This project involved no fewer than 21 agencies spread across the Nordic countries. While I was formally responsible for the Swedish portion of the program, I was also the point of contact for the program leader.
Just as our multinational endeavor was gaining momentum, we hit a snag. Things began to look bleak, and it appeared as though we were sailing into a storm without an umbrella. However, the looming disaster sparked an extraordinary response.
My team members in Sweden and colleagues from across the Nordic agencies rallied. Harnessing their collective determination, creativity, and the power of collaboration, we were able to rescue the project from the jaws of defeat and navigate it towards success. This episode served as a powerful reminder of two crucial leadership lessons: Firstly, the power of a dedicated team is something to marvel at.
When faced with adversity, their collective commitment and resourcefulness can turn the tides. Secondly, even when you're not in direct control, your influence as a leader can make a significant impact. It's about steering the ship, not just commanding it.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The book that has profoundly impacted my leadership is "The Human Element: Productivity, Self-Esteem, and the Bottom Line" by Will Schutz. Schutz was an influential psychologist and consultant who introduced the theory of Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), which addresses three dimensions of interpersonal relations necessary for human interaction:
Inclusion, Control, and Affection1. In "The Human Element", Schutz presents his psychological perspective on organizational development, arguing that all interactions and communications in any social system are influenced by the unconscious preferences of humans. The book elegantly lays out the dimensions of his Inclusion, Control, and Openness paradigm, which underly the processes by which individuals, groups, and organizations develop2. This book had a profound impact on my leadership journey as it introduced me to a new way of understanding myself and my relationships.
It emphasized the importance of self-concept and self-esteem in personal and professional effectiveness, and made me realize the potential for teams, groups, and entire organizations to become more productive and foster more pleasant working relationships as they gain greater awareness of these dynamics2. The principles laid out in "The Human Element" inspired me to undertake the Understanding Group and Leader (UGL) training, which further shaped my leadership approach.
The training's focus on on-the-job self-development, in connection with the work that needs to be done in an organization, resonated with me. It offered a refreshing contrast to the common 'outside-in' approach to organizational development, which posits that changing structures will change behavior and ultimately consciousness2.
The insights I gained from this book and the subsequent training have been instrumental in my journey, and have even led me to become a leadership developer myself. The understanding and awareness I've gained from Schutz's work continue to inform my approach to leadership, helping me foster more effective, harmonious, and productive teams and organizations.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Don't assume everyone thinks like you or is motivated by the same things. The most important aspect is that tasks are accomplished effectively, not necessarily in the exact way you would do them. For instance, ask yourself what's more important - that a meeting is well-executed, or that you, as the leader, are the one facilitating it? If there's someone on your team who is better suited to lead the meeting, empower them to do so. Leadership is not about being at the center of every action but enabling the success of your team in the most effective way possible.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
One of the most meaningful stories from my time as a leader takes place in the early 2000s when I assumed a leadership role in the IT department of a large bank. On my first day, I was told that the team was largely unmotivated, resistant to change, and disengaged from their work. They had seemingly lost the will to contribute beyond the bare minimum.
Instead of accepting this narrative at face value, I decided to dig deeper. I spoke to each team member and quickly learned that they had been through seven different leaders over the past two years. Each of these leaders had eventually quit, finding the team too challenging to lead. As I listened, I heard an array of ideas for improvements that the team had been sitting on.
They weren't against change, but rather against changes that didn't make sense to them because previous leaders hadn't taken the time to explain the reasoning behind these changes. At the time, this team had one of the worst scores in the bank's employee satisfaction survey.
A common mistake leaders make is taking a long time to agree on a change and then expecting their teams to understand and accept it in a brief 20-minute meeting. If it takes us six months to understand a change, why would we expect our teams to get it in 20 minutes? Rather than imposing my own changes, I encouraged the team to make changes they felt were necessary within certain boundaries. My goal was for them to feel like their workplace was the best of all.
Within six months, our sick leave count dropped to zero. In two years, we had one of the best employee satisfaction scores in the bank, and our department became a sought-after place to work. Not only did we begin to deliver on all our projects, but we also exceeded all our goals. The team was motivated, engaged, and happy. And when a quarter of the team left, we didn't need to replace them. Before I started, the team felt they were 5-10 people short of what was required.
Two years later, we were delivering double our set goals with three-quarters of the original team, all in high spirits. The most rewarding part of this journey is that many of those team members are still at the bank today, all of them in higher management positions. I'm incredibly proud of this. It's a testament to the difference between being a boss and being a leader.