Katarina Walter is a true inspirational leader. She is the CEO everyone wants to have as their boss. But what makes her such a good leader?
Read her story about her goals in life, why she does what she do, and her tip to stress down in tough situations.
Tell us a little bit about your story and what you are doing?
I’m CEO of a Swedish service design agency called Antrop. We help companies to work customer-focused. We analyse real customer experiences and design services that really match people’s needs, behaviours and motivations.
We want to use our skills to make the world a little bit better. That is what we work towards.
For example we have worked with Google to understand the needs of visually impaired people in order for Google to develop digital services to that target group. We have worked with the Swedish National Board of health and welfare to improve the conditions for Swedish families who take care of child refugees that come alone to Sweden.
Unfortunately nowadays I don’t have the time to work hands on in these interesting projects but before I became CEO I worked as a service designer and user experience designer myself.
Why do you think you are where you are today?
My dad was a stay at home dad when I grew up. When I was 5 years old, I asked him what I could be as a grown up. He asked me what I loved to do and I said math and deciding things. His immediate response was CEO. So when grownups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said CEO. Some took it seriously and some laughed but I didn’t care at all. The most important person in my life believed I was smart and that I had great capacity in me. I think this did something very important for my self-image.
What are your goals in life? Have they evolved over time and are different to when you were younger?
My goals in life: have time for family and friends, be healthy, and use my skills to try to have a positive impact on the world.
I have always wanted to improve things and make things fairer. With a working mother and a stay at home dad I think I became a feminist at birth and a strong believer of equality. I became a vegetarian when I was a teenager because it didn’t feel right to kill animals for food. For a long time I have also donated money to different organisations that work for a better world.
However, it hasn’t always been clear for me how I could contribute to this in my working life. It is something that I have only realised recent years. I used to separate it, me trying to make the world a better place and me making a career, previously my goal was to work for big brands – now it is to work in projects that have a positive impact.
Are you a realist or do you get caught in your dreams a lot?
I’m totally a realist, but with a strong vision. We will become the best design agency for positive impact and sustainability. It’s not a dream – We will make it happen.
What motivates you?
Sharing a strong goal with a team of smart, funny and kind people.
What do you need in order to reach your goals?
A team of great people and a work environment where it is okay to be both strong and smart as well as small and stupid.
Your role as CEO today demands a lot from you and I guess you demand a lot from your team. What makes you a good leader?
My starting point is always to trust people and think the best of them. With this mindset it is easy for me to give people increased responsibilities, new challenges and freedom. I think this makes people around me grow. I have always loved when my managers have trusted me so it’s natural for me to have that approach myself as a manager.
Of course this approach also can get me in situations where things don’t work out perfectly but we can always learn something from that as well, and that is the most important thing, to keep learning and growing. I think the alternative to be suspicious and controlling as a manager, is devastating for people, the team and the company.
I also don’t put on a job façade. I’m just me. When I don’t understand – I say that. When I’m nervous – I tell people. When I’ve made a mistake – I share that. When I feel small and stupid – I ask for help. It’s important for me to relax at work and be myself and I can imagine that people around me get comfortable by this.
Do you have a Role Model? Source of inspiration?
I have so many role models! I can get inspired by how someone in a hotel reception takes care of guests. How Swedish singer Robyn goes her own way. How Barak Obama holds a speech. Knowing that a woman – Angela Merkel – is the most powerful politician in Europe, that’s super inspiring!
Any tip in order to not stress yourself out?
Realise that you will never be finished. Your to-do list will never be empty. Do the most important things and go home when the clock strikes 5. If you do this the majority of days – you will have the energy to work until 10 when it’s really necessary.
Surround yourself with people that also love to take responsibility – then you don’t have to do it all yourself. And you will share the joy of doing great things together.
Have you experienced any type of stress in a work situation? When and why?
I get a little bit stressed a couple of times every day. For example before I have an important meeting with a potential client that I really want to work with or before I give a big presentation. That is the positive kind of stress I need to be at my best. But then it’s the bad kind of stress that makes me not be able to sleep because I’m worried about something. Now a days I only get that type of stress a few times a year but in the beginning of my career I got it maybe once a week when I was nervous about a meeting or when I thought to much about what others would think of me. It’s absolutely fantastic to get older! With experience, you gain more confidence and become more relaxed.
A couple of years back you read a book and decided to change your life situation and work situation. What was so special about that book and how did you convince your co-workers to change course?
It’s a book by Nina Åkestam and it’s about finding your purpose. There’s an exercise in the book where you imagine yourself as an 80-year old. What you are proud of, who you hang out with, where you live. After this it became so clear to me that I wanted to devote more of my time at work to strive to create more positive impact.
It wasn’t hard at all to convince my colleagues. We all did the same exercise and when we shared our stories it was clear that all of us wanted to use our skills for positive impact. It’s something that we truly share. We strive to work in projects where we can be part of creating services that has a positive impact on the future.
If you could give yourself an advice to a 20-year old Katarina what would that be?
Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as your best friend would.