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5th May 2023

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IMI recently hosted the second in our 2023 Masterclass series, sponsored for the fourth year in a row by Mason Hayes and Curran. This time, we were delighted to welcome author, keynote speaker, and senior advisor, Malene Rydahl, who travelled from Paris to share her insights into wellbeing and performance based on the Danish model.

Denmark has regularly emerged as one of the happiest countries in the world, and that happiness is based on three key characteristics: trust, freedom, and individual responsibility. Malene’s Masterclass took attendees on a journey through these three factors.

Firstly, it’s important to figure out what makes us happy. Increasing our individual levels of happiness is critical to making teams feel involved, motivated, and psychologically safe. Our relationships have a huge impact on our happiness, but that’s not the only factor.

In fact, 50% of your happiness is determined by genetics, says Malene. Think about babies… some of them cry constantly for years, while others – even within the same family – seem a lot more content. Another 40% of your happiness comes from your own attitude and actions. Only 10% of your happiness is determined by external factors, even those as significant as the Covid 19 pandemic.

Malene told the attendees a story about two leaders she worked with during the pandemic. One was full of complaints – their holiday was cancelled, the government didn’t know what they were doing, their kids were unmanageable. In contrast, the other leader found the positives in the situation – spent time reconnecting with nature and family. This is a classic illustration of happiness being based on attitudes and actions, rather than circumstances.

When you find yourself in a set of circumstances, they will provoke your thoughts and your beliefs, in turn provoking your actions, and in turn your results. This is all linked to your perspective. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy – what you believe to be true will re-enforce what you see, and how you see things.

Using Denmark as a case study, Malene delved into the three factors.

According to Malene, there are four main characteristics of a good leader. They are recognition, people coaching and development, empathetic listening, and care. If we don’t have those four characteristics, we’ll have conflict. 85% of people have to deal with conflict, and people don’t tend to leave this conflict at work, but rather take it home with them, and take it out on others. Stress, ego, wanting to be right, and wanting to prove that you’re right are all major causes of conflict.

Psychological safety at work is of utmost importance. According to research by Harvard’s Amy Edmonson, psychological safety is closely linked to performance at work. When teams feel that it’s safe to ask questions or submit ideas – without the fear of ridicule or conflict – that’s when you start to see improved overall performance.

Self-awareness is also key to performance. Everyone operates by a set of values, some of which might be subconscious. In the room we did an exercise, which you can take a few minutes to do for yourself now, before you continue reading. Think about which values are most important to you. These can be things like trust, responsibility, honesty, independence, or dedication.

Within the room, we produced a cloud of all the values that the business leaders shared. Some of the top values that emerged were honesty, independence, integrity, respect, kindness, and empathy. But there are dozens of values that came up! Everything from duty, to freedom, trust to curiosity.

When you really value a certain trait, you’ll be subconsciously looking out for people who embody or don’t embody it. We have an extreme relationship with what we consider to be a value. By doing value exercises within your company, you’ll come to understand how people feel about the organisation’s values and their own values, and what potential positive and negatives can come out of each value.

The final aspect Malene talked about was trust. Ask yourself the question now, “Am I a trustworthy person?” The vast majority will say yes. But there’s a bit of a grey zone that goes alongside this, and it’s up to you to decide what you find to be acceptable. For example, if you look at Covid restrictions – did you bend them at all? Malene gives the example of having visited a friend during lockdown and positioning it as being for medical reasons. It’s up to you to define your grey zones.

With trust comes improved performance. Studies have shown that trust is associated with 32x more risk-taking, and in turn 11x more innovation, and 6x more performance. In order to become a trustworthy person, you need to embody a few different characteristics.

  • Reliability: Do what you say, and say what you do
  • Accountability: Acknowledge your mistake
  • Confidentiality: Don’t share confidential information or gossip
  • No judgement: Don’t judge others
  • Generosity: Give people the benefit of the doubt

In summary, there are a number of ways that we as business leaders and team members can channel the Danish ways in order to enhance our wellbeing and performance. Ensure that you’re thinking about trust, personal responsibility, and freedom in everything you do at work.

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