“Managers must be able to listen”
In order to lead, we must be able to listen. To be sensitive to what drives individuals is the most important consideration in order to become a good leader Katja Grillner believes, who has received the KTH prize for academic leadership.
The leadership prize was based on the work Katja Grillner had done as Vice Dean at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, and as chairman of the school’s Academic Appointments Board. In the motivation, active coaching, systematic work, great enthusiasm and high integrity were mentioned.
“She has a strong and critical way of thinking in legalistic terms but nevertheless promotes these equal-treatment issues in a balanced way. And she has an ability to get things done,” explains the school’s Dean Stellan Lundström, who nominated her for the prize.
Deeply committed, but at the same time methodical and constructive, that is. It is also the impression Katja Grillner provides when she describes her approach.
“I am quite questioning. But I’m not the type that just sits there and tears things to pieces so that there is nothing left,” she says.
Wants to be constructive
The willingness – and the ability – to be constructive, she regards as both a personality trait and a result of education and professional experience.
“As an architect, you are trained to continuously find solutions,” Katja Grillner points out.
And this is necessary, she says. Because academic leadership is difficult – and quite special, because an academic leader must act in several arenas. It is important to be active in research in order to obtain legitimacy at the same time as the manager must be given the chance to develop his/her leadership and commitment to the educational programme.
“Almost all leaders at KTH are involved in a great many assignments. And the various areas that they have to keep an eye on also have an impact on different groups of people. Therefore, it is not always easy to know who you should turn to as an employee or as a manager.”
To be able to listen and to be responsive are recurring expressions when Katja Grillner describes her approach to leadership. That, she says, is the most important consideration for a good leader and coach.
“As a supervisor, for example, I think it is important that you try to listen and understand who you are dealing with; you must consider the student’s abilities and motivation more than your own idea as to what constitutes the perfect thesis.”
In order to be an active listener and a responsive leader, you also need to have a strong driving force, almost a passion, says Katja Grillner.
“I am driven by a commitment to gender equality, so that employees are treated well and correctly. In my research, I work with a feminist perspective, and that is a very good tool to see and understand how power is exercised.”
According to Katja Grillner, one of her strengths is the ability to keep an eye on many different levels at the same time. To be able to see a question from an overall strategic perspective and at the same time be able to concretize what it will mean for the research group.
The reasoning behind the awarding of the leadership prize is that Katja Grillner pursued “active coaching” of the young faculty. What does this mean?
“It is not so complicated; it is simply a question of taking the initiative, calling for lunches and talks which we hold together. The special thing about academia is that this type of systematic coaching is not expected.”
New challenge as a leader
Katja Grillner became Vice Dean in 2009 and was previously responsible for research and doctoral studies at the School of Architecture assuming that position in 2004. But when the leadership prize was awarded in November 2011, Katja Grillner had already resigned as Vice Dean in order to assume a new leadership challenge – or rather two.
She is now head of a strong research environment, an unusually large research project for architectural research. The allocation from Formas’ Research Council is for a total of SEK 50 million, of which SEK 25 million spread over five years is for the research environment which Katja Grillner leads.
At about the same time she was informed of the research allocation being authorized, the family’s second child arrived, a little girl from Ethiopia who has now reached the age of 11 months.
“Being a parent is also a challenge. Being responsible for the research project at the same time as being on parental leave three days a week would have meant that it would have been unreasonable to continue as Vice Dean.”
The research project will study architecture’s social dimensions, how people and society are affected by the built environment. The initiative, which also includes another strong research environment led by Chalmers, is a collaboration between all four architecture colleges in Sweden and a few universities.
“The starting point is to lift and strengthen architectural research in Sweden. It is a project where quite a few people are involved, a total of about 25 scientists, and several graduate students. For me as a manager, I have to understand these various researchers’ own driving forces and deal with them in order to build the work up together,” says Katja Grillner.
Text: Ursula Stigzelius