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Life lessons
Sondre Gravir

Imposter syndrome about a promotion taught the CEO of SATS that behaving authentically is the most important part of leadership. He talks to Kath Hudson


An experience which has had a big impact on my career, and especially how I lead teams, is when I took over as acting CEO for a regional newspaper. Previous to that I’d been a line manager and it was a big step up, at short notice, with a lot of responsibility.

I didn’t feel I had enough experience and was insecure about taking the position. To prepare myself, I thought about the leaders who had inspired me and made up this picture in my head about how I should act as a CEO. I tried to play the role of this theoretical version of a leader I had made up, but I ended up behaving more like a cartoon character. It was a disaster and I didn't gain any trust from the team.

After a couple of weeks I had to fly back to Oslo to meet my mentor and I explained the situation. I remember he said to me: “Why don't you just be the person that you are in your private life? Don't try to play a role that you're not comfortable with.” After taking his advice, it worked out well over time and I built a very strong relationship with my colleagues.

The biggest learning for me was that when you take leadership positions you have to act as yourself. I want people at work to see me as the same person my friends do. If the way you are doesn't fit the role you’re stepping into, you have to take the consequences. Do something else – change your job –  don’t try to change yourself.

Of course, you can always try to improve and develop as a leader, but you cannot change your personality. It will never have a successful outcome, because you won’t be real and you won’t gain the trust of your colleagues.

Leadership isn’t about acting a certain way or playing a role, it’s about building strong relationships. When you trust yourself and have trust among your colleagues, then there’s room for failure, there’s room to be honest with each other and to give each other feedback without taking things in a negative way.

Trust creates the environment and culture that drives performance. However, you cannot build trust without having close relationships and you can’t build close relationships if you're not your true self.

I have a few guiding principles. I need to work with a brand that I’m really proud about and I need to be able to act myself at work. If that doesn't work, the solution to the problem is not to try to change myself, it means I have to change my job.

Professional and personal
I found the pandemic particularly challenging from a leadership point of view. It was extremely difficult having to temporarily lay off thousands of employees from our gyms in four countries.

From a professional point of view we were all very concerned about the company, the future and trying to find the right things to do to come out of a difficult situation in a positive way. But, for me, the really tough part went back to the relationships again and the consequences for our employees.

I remember going to the grocery store and meeting a colleague – who is now back with us as a club manager of a site which is doing fantastically well – but at that time she’d been laid off for almost a year and as a single mother was finding it very tough. The conversation has stayed in my head ever since, because I felt such a burden of responsibility for all of our colleagues who were struggling as a result of being laid off.

As a business leader it’s important to keep the perspective about how your decisions will impact your employees. A good leader makes decisions not only around professional values, but also private and personal values. For example, if you make a decision to open a club, it should always be because you believe it will offer secure employment for a long period of time.

There's a huge misunderstanding that this approach is soft and doesn’t result in good business decisions. For me, being people-driven in your leadership and making rational business decisions go hand-in-hand. You still have to make good decisions, based on the facts and reality, it's more about the way you implement them, considering the consequences for people's lives in those decisions.

If you have to close down a business and lay people off, be compassionate, transparent and allow them enough time to find another opportunity.

If I were to give some advice to young people, it would be around doing what you love doing and delivering in your role. Work with a product, service or a brand you love, and where you feel true engagement around the purpose of what you are doing.

Then focus on doing the absolutely best possible job in your current role. Don’t think too much about positioning yourself for future roles, or what is the next step. If you deliver in your role, and with passion, great things will come your way. Simple as that!

Gravir says if you decide to open a club, you should believe it will provide secure employment for a long time Credit: photo: SATS
 


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14 Jul 2024 Leisure Management: daily news and jobs
 
 
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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2024 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Sondre Gravir

Life lessons

Sondre Gravir


Imposter syndrome about a promotion taught the CEO of SATS that behaving authentically is the most important part of leadership. He talks to Kath Hudson

Gravir shares his learnings about trusting your authentic voice photo: SATS / Anita Arntzen
Gravir says if you decide to open a club, you should believe it will provide secure employment for a long time photo: SATS

An experience which has had a big impact on my career, and especially how I lead teams, is when I took over as acting CEO for a regional newspaper. Previous to that I’d been a line manager and it was a big step up, at short notice, with a lot of responsibility.

I didn’t feel I had enough experience and was insecure about taking the position. To prepare myself, I thought about the leaders who had inspired me and made up this picture in my head about how I should act as a CEO. I tried to play the role of this theoretical version of a leader I had made up, but I ended up behaving more like a cartoon character. It was a disaster and I didn't gain any trust from the team.

After a couple of weeks I had to fly back to Oslo to meet my mentor and I explained the situation. I remember he said to me: “Why don't you just be the person that you are in your private life? Don't try to play a role that you're not comfortable with.” After taking his advice, it worked out well over time and I built a very strong relationship with my colleagues.

The biggest learning for me was that when you take leadership positions you have to act as yourself. I want people at work to see me as the same person my friends do. If the way you are doesn't fit the role you’re stepping into, you have to take the consequences. Do something else – change your job –  don’t try to change yourself.

Of course, you can always try to improve and develop as a leader, but you cannot change your personality. It will never have a successful outcome, because you won’t be real and you won’t gain the trust of your colleagues.

Leadership isn’t about acting a certain way or playing a role, it’s about building strong relationships. When you trust yourself and have trust among your colleagues, then there’s room for failure, there’s room to be honest with each other and to give each other feedback without taking things in a negative way.

Trust creates the environment and culture that drives performance. However, you cannot build trust without having close relationships and you can’t build close relationships if you're not your true self.

I have a few guiding principles. I need to work with a brand that I’m really proud about and I need to be able to act myself at work. If that doesn't work, the solution to the problem is not to try to change myself, it means I have to change my job.

Professional and personal
I found the pandemic particularly challenging from a leadership point of view. It was extremely difficult having to temporarily lay off thousands of employees from our gyms in four countries.

From a professional point of view we were all very concerned about the company, the future and trying to find the right things to do to come out of a difficult situation in a positive way. But, for me, the really tough part went back to the relationships again and the consequences for our employees.

I remember going to the grocery store and meeting a colleague – who is now back with us as a club manager of a site which is doing fantastically well – but at that time she’d been laid off for almost a year and as a single mother was finding it very tough. The conversation has stayed in my head ever since, because I felt such a burden of responsibility for all of our colleagues who were struggling as a result of being laid off.

As a business leader it’s important to keep the perspective about how your decisions will impact your employees. A good leader makes decisions not only around professional values, but also private and personal values. For example, if you make a decision to open a club, it should always be because you believe it will offer secure employment for a long period of time.

There's a huge misunderstanding that this approach is soft and doesn’t result in good business decisions. For me, being people-driven in your leadership and making rational business decisions go hand-in-hand. You still have to make good decisions, based on the facts and reality, it's more about the way you implement them, considering the consequences for people's lives in those decisions.

If you have to close down a business and lay people off, be compassionate, transparent and allow them enough time to find another opportunity.

If I were to give some advice to young people, it would be around doing what you love doing and delivering in your role. Work with a product, service or a brand you love, and where you feel true engagement around the purpose of what you are doing.

Then focus on doing the absolutely best possible job in your current role. Don’t think too much about positioning yourself for future roles, or what is the next step. If you deliver in your role, and with passion, great things will come your way. Simple as that!


Originally published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 3

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