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7 Questions on Leadership with Nora Tandberg


Name: Nora Tandberg


Title: Chief Financial Officer


Organisation: Papirfly AS


I am the Chief Financial Officer of Papirfly, an online SaaS platform for brand management. As CFO, I am responsible for proactive, ongoing and strategic planning. This ensures Papirfly stays focussed on growth and profitability targets whilst having the resources necessary to get there.


I come with a professional toolbox from audit, accounting and M&A advisory from 10 years at the Big 4 accountancy firm PwC prior to becoming CFO.


I am passionate about data and trends, and motivated by working with great colleagues to understand underlying drivers behind business success. I serve as a financial strategist to lead the organisation to successful and sustainable growth.


Having lived and worked in London, Abu Dhabi and Oslo, I thrive in multicultural teams.


I have a busy home environment with two lively young kids, and most of my free time is spent with my family or friends or practising ashtanga yoga.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Nora's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


The biggest challenge for me is that leadership is a lifestyle, not a job. It’s a 24/7 responsibility that does not go away. While I might default to a perpetual work mode, this is not possible or sustainable, so the challenge for me is finding the right balance. One that is acceptable to my family and friends and that balances looking after myself with looking after my work.


When I first took on the role of CFO at Brandmaster, my kids were aged 3 years and 6 months and needed a lot of micromanagement. Together with my husband I meticulously planned my days to ensure I was able to commit myself to be there for my colleagues at the right times as well as at home.


This meticulous approach to planning my days is something that has stuck with me, and it is now part of my daily routine to plan the next working day before I log off each day.


More important than the time commitment that comes with leadership, however, is the mental and emotional commitment. Having ultimate responsibility for a company’s finances can be burdensome, especially with competing demands from different stakeholders. I have to balance the needs of our lenders and bank with those of our investors, CEO, senior management and employees, while keeping the financial operations of the company running smoothly.


The need to provide clarity in the midst of competing stakeholder demands, whilst maintaining empathy with those around me, leads to increased complexity that means my brain is doing a lot of work outside of what you might call normal working hours. This is why I feel that leadership is a 24/7 responsibility. I love it, but it comes at a price.


2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


My transition to a leadership position happened quite suddenly. Although I had spent my whole career preparing for a CFO role (starting out in audit, getting my accountancy qualification, then transitioning to deals advisory), at the time I accepted the role of CFO at Brandmaster, I had no real experience of leadership in an industry setting.


The learning curve was steep. I found that I was relied on for decisions ranging from who we should furlough (I joined during covid) to handling our office coffee machine subscription, and problems ranging from how we can raise capital to which accounting standards we should select. I quickly realised that with many things the buck stopped with me. My CEO listened and gave great advice but most of the time just preferred me to handle the various issues that came my way.


I made the mistake in the beginning of working at maximum capacity continuously, until I realised that there would be no natural break between different projects as was the case previously at PwC when I switched between clients. The experience of wearing myself out in this way taught me some important lessons about how to manage my energy.

I got myself a coach, and one of his most useful contributions was in teaching me how to preserve my energy in order to maximise my impact. An article in HBR ("Manage your energy, not your time") served as an excellent source of inspiration.


3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


Sleep is a superpower. I therefore structure my day around maximising my sleep quality.


In the evening, I try to stop what I’m doing by 9 pm and plan my next working day. I get a fresh page of my notepad out (I still use a paper notepad) and to the left side of the page I draw out my agenda hour by hour, and on the right I make notes of the desired outcomes of each agenda item. When possible, as part of planning, I block out my calendar on the next day for 1-2 hours of focus time. Although I prioritise being available to my team, I find that unless I proactively block out my calendar at certain times, I will not get time to think strategically. This practice of meticulously planning my next day before logging off and winding down for the day helps me clear my head so that I can sleep well. The routine is inspired by Cal Newport’s “Deep Work”.


Twice a week, I wake at 5:30 am to go to early morning ashtanga yoga (6:15 am - 8:15 am) before coming into the office at 9:00 am. On those mornings my husband is responsible for morning kids’ logistics. On other mornings, I am up at 6:30 am with the kids and twice a week do the school / nursery run. On Fridays, we have help to do the school and nursery run from a wonderful student who lives with us.


Regardless of how I arrange my early mornings, I tend to start my work day by 9 am. A combination of meetings, phone calls and email checking would usually take the entire day until 4:30 pm when I leave the office. I dedicate my time between 5:00 - 8:00 pm to family activities such as dinner and after school activities. By 8 pm I would usually log on again for another hour or more of work and preparation for my next working day.


This routine provides me with a solid foundation from which I can flex to meet those busier and more demanding times, or when I need to travel for work. On the other hand, I do allow myself to take more time for my personal life when times are not as demanding.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


I have learned the hard way that I must hire people who are smarter than me, different from me and who challenge my point of view.


As the CFO of a growth company, I had been running an extremely lean finance team so that we could allocate investments to the parts of the business that drive the most growth. However, I took this to the extreme, and took on too many cost savings in Finance. The result was a team that became burned out and who were managed by a team leader who was too junior to lead the team properly. The team leader came from Big 4 like myself and did not have previous operational experience. This was a big mistake. The whole team churned, causing a lot of disruption. I was forced to hire an interim accounting manager whilst I worked out a new plan.


The new plan involved hiring the best people, with solid skills and experience that complimented my own. I am extremely happy with the result, and now feel I have true sparring partners by my side to challenge my views, bring different perspectives, and shoulder the burden together with me.


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?


“Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Stephen R. Covey and Joseph Grenny.


I used to shy away from difficult conversations. Whenever there was a problem involving a person’s behaviour, I would tend to ignore the problem, hoping it would go away, rather than speak up and address it.


While I thought I was being polite, I was actually doing those involved a disservice, whilst diminishing my own leadership ability.


Crucial Conversations gives a framework for having open, effective conversations about tough topics. It explains in detail how to prepare for such conversations in advance, in order to have the best opportunity for success. I have used the framework for plenty of difficult conversations in my time as a leader.


I have found that many of my challenges at work can be addressed via this approach to crucial conversations. And because of this framework, I now feel able to go into difficult conversations with confidence.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


Leadership is not about knowing everything. You will never know everything there is to know about your particular subject or specialism or industry sector.


Therefore, you must accept that there are people who are infinitely smarter and more knowledgeable than you. Find those people, and empower them to be their best, and you will thrive as a leader.


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


Back when I was a manager in PwC Abu Dhabi, there was a partner there who gave me a lot of responsibility early on. One of the tasks he gave me was to manage a team located in Oman. Although the team lead in Oman was more senior than myself, this partner believed I could be the bridge between the local team and himself.


His complete confidence in me, although surprising, was very motivating, and a prime factor in my success in the task. This experience has taught me the importance of having full trust and confidence in my people.

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