Solutions Driven

How Knowing Yourself Makes You a Better Manager with Sara Milesson  

“What effect does my behaviour have on the people around me?”  

This was one of the main talking points of the latest Talent Intelligence Podcast where host Alan McFadden sat down with Sara Milesson, VP of HR at Trelleborg.  

Clearly someone who has done a lot of self-reflection on her leadership style, Sara admits that she can come across as intimidating – but she’s put the time and effort into changing that and making herself a better leader and manager.  

According to Sara, the pandemic did a lot to change her management style and made her take a step back and consider what was best for the team overall, not just the leadership team.  

She also believes that knowing who you are is a vital trait for being a good leader.  

Sara and Alan dig deeper into these points in this episode, and look at:  

  • How to better enable managers to become better managers  
  • How to improve communication with your team  
  • Why tech can be both a help and a hindrance  
  • And what Sara would go back and tell herself at the beginning of her career  

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Alan McFadden: Hi! Good morning, everybody, and welcome along to the Talent Intelligent podcast. My name is Alan McFadden, and today I’m delighted to have with me, Sarah Milestone from Trelleborg Industrial Solutions. How are you, Sarah? 

Sara Milesson:  Hi! Thank you for having me, Alan. Just off a fresh trip to Scotland as well. So. I might start mimicking your accent over an hour, and then at least you at least you understand me. 

Alan McFadded: now for our listeners today.  I have been chasing Sara to get her on the podcast for the last couple of months. I am a massive fan of what Sara does, what she believes in what she speaks about on Linkedin. So, Sara, this has been definitely something I’ve been really excited to get you on to speak about couple of really key subjects I’d like to go over today, but before we get there just let people know a little bit about yourself how you get into HR and a career that spans over 20 years.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: So thank you for having me. Thank you for those nice words, right? So I’ve been in HR for almost 20 years now, and I’ve kind of grown from starting in the recruiter part of the of Hr. And then slowly but surely working my way to a business partner, role from a country perspective, the Nordic perspective. I’m Swedish, by the way, so that makes sense for me, and then to a European role. And now I would say, over the last 7, 8 years more global roles.  

I am dead passionate about people and people’s behavior, and I’m like particularly interested in. Why do people act like they do? And what can you do to maybe influence them to move in a different direction, and one might say manipulation. But I tend to think of it more as – what can I do to help you? What can I do to coach you to move in a direction that would be beneficial, not only for you, but also for the organization that we work for. 

So I have 2 main interests. I would say one of them is business, and one of them is psychology. And Hr. For me is like the perfect combination of those 2. So that’s how I got into HR to begin with, and I love my job, Alan. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to do anything else. 

Alan Mcfadden: I think every time we spoke you talked about your interest in people. So that’s the thing always comes across to me. I’m a little bit like you I like too. I like to get to know people. I like to get to know what motivates them, and I I don’t think there’s anything better than improving people, and I’ve always done that. That’s one thing I love about my role, but the thing always get from you is the energy. Really, you’re passionate about it, and it takes us onto today’s subject, and honestly, one of the reasons why I started speaking to you in the first place, was all round about genuine leadership. Now, I think genuine leadership can be taken lots of different ways. But for me nowadays it’s mostly about how we look at self insight. That to me is the most key to being able to understand yourself as a leader. How you can move others, how you can help people to become better. And the roles, you know, I think, from genuinely to Ship point of view. If you just give us a little bit of an overview.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: agree so genuine leadership for me. You describe it really well and sorry if I sometimes say something that doesn’t make sense in English. Probably so genuine leadership for me is. It’s pretty simple, a simple philosophy. To be honest, it’s about making sure that you understand who you are, what are your values? What are the things that you will never budge on. And what type of leader are you? And what type of leader do you want to be? Not mimicking anybody else? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: You can take bits and pieces and be inspired. But you cannot become somebody else, and if you are genuine in your leadership you are going to attract the right people for you so the people who want to follow you because face you stand for something right. And if you mimic somebody else. 

I mean from a from a human psychology perspective. We’re quite clever in that. We can always sense. If someone is being untruthful. I don’t want to go as far as saying that you’re lying. But if you’re acting like something that you’re not, we intuitively pick that up as something’s off with this person, and we register that in our brains as a lie which makes us trust you less. 

So, even though you can have all the great intentions, and it’s not about you trying to be something bad, or something, you know, trying to lie to a person you will come across as someone who is well, not being genuine, right? 

If you know who you are, and you have that insight first, and you would then become a genuine version of yourself. You will then also attract people who want to work with you, and want to do great things with you. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And that could be different. That could be a different crowd for me than it is for you than it is for somebody else, and that’s perfect, because there is no one size fits all when it comes to leadership. 

I I absolutely hate these leadership books where it’s like. Oh, these are the 5 top traits of a successful leader, and all of us have to become like that, and all of us all of a sudden have to wake up at frickin dawn and go out running and do all kinds of crazy things, and that’s great if that’s for you. But if it’s not then be who you are right, and be as successful as you want to be, and it within your field and within your realm if that makes sense. 

Alan Mcfadden:  I think over a career as I’ve spoke to you. I’ve been kind of in professional sports, most of my career as well, and the managers who I could always get behind with the people who I knew have been themselves 

Not trying to make a Jose Morinho from on the television, or whatever I used to see through it, and we do see through it, and it’s so different to the staff that you bring in. Do you think there’s a real characteristic, then, to being to being a manager? 

Alan McFadden: What would you see as a key characteristic to understanding yourself. Do you think it’s been self-reflective, or what? What would you say it? The kind of I think I mean to to be a successful leader.  

Sara Milesson: Yes, there is one trait you need. You have to be interested in people, because otherwise there’s no point in being a leader. Right? Then, then, you become a specialist, and that there’s nothing wrong with that, either. You just have to make sure that you are absolutely interested in the people around you. That’s what makes a good leader. That’s the one trait that I would say. 

 If you’re interested in people, it comes automatic to me that then you should also be interested in in you. Alright, so why do I act the way that I do? 

But most importantly, I’m not encouraging everyone to lay down on some side of the psychological couch. And you know, oh, my childhood and all of this, that you don’t have to do that. But what you really have to recognize is there are 2 versions of you. There’s the version that you believe that you are, and then there’s the version that you are perceived as. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: and that’s the trick to becoming a great leader for me. You can understand yourself and have the self insight, but it means nothing. I was about to say a bad word, but it means nothing If you don’t also understand how that comes across to other people, so let me give you an example. I know for a fact that I am super passionate about certain things. I know. I’m also very quick. I’m not super detailed, focused. I’m very good at looking at big pictures patterns. Where do we go? How do we move there and then, to be honest,, I don’t really care exactly about the details. I leave that to my team to make sure I’m surrounded by the type of people that can come across as being a super passionate, genuine leader who is like, this is where we’re going.  

 I’m good at motivating people. It can also come across as someone who is too aggressive, who doesn’t listen to people. It can be a bit intimidating if you don’t know me right. If you don’t know why I act like I do. I can come across as someone who intimidates people to actually open their mouth in a meeting which is the opposite of what I want. 

Because as a leader, you really need to take input from everybody, especially those who think differently than you do. And if that’s what I want to happen, but in reality I actually scare some people off who might be more introvert or shy, or whatever you want to call that right, then I’m not having the desired effect, even though I’m being myself in, even though I’m being genuine, so self insight is to start. But then you also need to understand. What effect does my behavior have on the people around me? 

Is the best thing for that then communicating, and so to full probably. Is it communicating your style to your team? But then also being able to probably get people round about you, that a better, this stuff that you’re not to do that, is it? Maybe? What would you say? Is it a I think it’s both. I mean, let’s go back to what you said before. In this sense of you can. As a leader you’re not expected to know everything right, and those are not the leaders that motivates me. Your 

To be honest, you need to be someone who can lift others who can say and be vulnerable. To say that this is not really my area of expertise, but that’s why I have this person or that person on my team, and together we do something great, right? So it’s about being vulnerable in that. And then also, yes, communicating that, I know that I can come across as. Yeah, I’ll use me again as an example, right. I know I might come across. This is normally what I do when I have a new team or a group of people that I need something out of. If you feel like. I’m talking too much, if you feel like I am not listening or not hearing. Please know that that’s never my intention, and it’s actually the opposite. So if you, in any, you know time during our time together, feel that please make sure to just notice me and make me make me notice that, and raise it, and then we’ll address it, and we’ll talk about it, because my number 1 point while I’m here is that I want to listen to each and every one of you, so you can start off with something that’s simple it gives everyone permission, then to say, hey, I actually do have a question. It also gives permission to the people who know me well to say, sorry you need to sit down and shut up now for a minute. You’re being too passionate about something right?  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And I just think that’s part of knowing yourself and not taking that as an attack or being intimidated by someone else having something that’s worth of saying. So I think it goes in those 2 ways, you have to communicate around it. You have to be vulnerable about it, but to be able to do that, you also need to know that this is what can happen right.  

Alan Mcfadden: I think that is quite key sometimes having people round about you that Aren’t scared to see you. I think myself in the case who work quite close growing our growth team here. We were worried about mixing personal with business for a long time. I’m very passionate. I can sometimes go past it and Nicki would just give me this little look and I’d known I’d gone too far. I’m going too quick or I’m jumping ahead.  

We’ve employed a team of 9 heads since January. So some of the things you’re talking about is like, how do you understand each person and their learning skills? Are you better speaking to someone personally or one to one in a group? It’s just, all these things are so relevant. You brought about technology hampering people’s ability to be managers? And my answer was, I think it’s there to enable teams.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Of course it’s affected. We would be niave to think not, but I don’t necessarily of as bad right. I think of it as a tool that you, if you use it wisely, then it will only enable you as a leader. I’ll give you an example right? So I have people oon my team who are not necessarily comfortable in talking in front of everybody else . Or not necessarily comfortable in raising their hand when there’s a lot of people in the room or having discussions. 

They can then send me a message while we’re having the meeting and then ask me, can you raise this because I think it’s important? And I’ll raise the topic and they’re comfortable saying “I agree with Sara because of X and Y”. That’s what makes them comfortable.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Well, let’s have the whole hybrid workplace discussion while we’re at it. Right? 

That also makes a lot of people more comfortable, and it makes a lot of people less comfortable, and you kind of need to know which ones, and then how to treat them. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: How do? How do you act appropriately, right? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And then my my sort of main point when I speak to any of the teams that I coach is please, don’t believe that just because you have a leader, that that person is some sort of guru that can just read your mind. Okay, You also have to open your mouth, and that’s your responsibility as an employee and say to your leader, hey, I would really prefer if we do it like that or I don’t really like it when this and this happens and if you have a genuine type of leadership then people will.  

But but then you will be able to have those type of individual conversation, and also understand that this is not an attack on you or your leadership style. But it’s about your team members telling you – can we do it like this because that makes my world easier.  

Alan Mcfadden: Technology really needs to be there as an enablement tool. We use a couple of really good ones for even just prompting things like your monthly check in. These things can be totally great when you use them the right way.  

I agree, they’re amazing. When I want examples, I just quiz on people and don’t purely rely on automation for doing a lot of stuff. 

Sara Milesson: That is right back to everything I talk about in recruitment. I think there’s a lot of great technology out there but the human aspet of it is never going to go away. And I think also, we need to be aware of the fact that every since piece of technology out there was created by a human.  

So I mean, you could use whatever tool in a good way or in a bad way and it depends on your intentions. Right, so, and sometimes you can have the best of intentions. But if you just go ahead without actually speaking to somebody about this, what’s going to happen. It can have bad results anyway.  

So again, we’re back to have an open conversation about it. I mean we do tend to hire adults here.  

Alan Mcfadden: totally. So Sarah what is your top tip for enabling managers. Now I know that’s quite a big subject. But what would you say is the key thing if you had to give one bit of advice, to the team of managers who are leaders?  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: you mean from if I how do I enable my manager to become a better leader. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: and I would say on this just an honest conversation, because we are then again talking about a genuine leadership style and a genuine leadership. Style cannot be a one size fits all, even within your team. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: You cannot come across as a leader and say, okay, so I know that the that I can be perceived as overly aggressive, because I’m so and so on, so far ago I’m going to treat all of my team members exactly the same, because I think that’s fair. And now you know me. That’s bullshit. Okay, you really need to be able to understand. I need to tone this part of my personality up or down, depending on who it is that I speak with. 

And the only way for me to honestly know that as a leader is, if you tell me is if you give me feedback around… so when you said it like that, that made me feel so and so, or that made me think blah blah blah it was that your intention? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Yes, it might have been, or I go. Poof! No, absolutely not. I wanted it to be perceived like this? Thanks for telling me. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: and that’s the only way that you can coach your own manager into becoming the best manager for you again. We’re not freaking superheroes just because you’re a manager, right? We need to be told. What is it that you prefer? It’s like any partnership. It’s like any relationship that you have with another human being. You need to talk. 

Alan Mcfadden: Gavin our CEO says to me all the time, manage up the way He says it all the time he wants. He wants feedback.   

  What the expectations can be, etc., and it’s always something that sticks to my mind. The communication is key right? And I think sometimes that people when they come across like me, and you do, that can be overpowering right.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: They say, you realize that’s how that sounded? I’m like God, No, and that’s something that if you don’t know about it, how do we ever check our sales for doing it? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And then I mean, there’s let me give you an example of of the of the person that I had on my team a couple of years back 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: for him. It was really really important to spend the first 10-15 min of any conversation we had about nothing about social things, you know. That doesn’t come natural to me. I always jump in like “Hi, everyone fine? Great, ok, let’s go!” 

 And it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because  that’s just not me. It doesn’t come natural to me. So when he told me “what you’re doing now, Sarah, makes me feel like you don’t care about me”, and I said, “that’s absolutely not the truth but thank you for telling me”  I made a conscious effort of so it wouldn’t freak me out or stress me out. I just prolonged all of our meetings with 15 min, and then I knew that the first 10-15 min all I have to do is say, hey, what’s going on? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And then he would blab around, you know, for 10-15 min about things that was really important to him, and I wouldn’t get stressed thinking, hey? I need to get through these like 5 points with you, and we only have this amount of time. That helped our relationship so much.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: and all I needed to do was just listen to him and say, okay, I didn’t want that to happen at all in our relationship. So, let’s go about it this way, and then I have other people who are exactly like me where they’re like, okay, yeah, fine. Oh, shit. I forgot to ask you, hey? You know, because  I never feel like they don’t care about me. 

Alan Mcfadden: I’m the same most of the time as a manager. We are thinking next task diary management what we got to do, and it’s all about that. I wake up in the morning and I know the next 6 tasks I’ve got to complete in the next few hours. I get that so it’s probably it’s great advice to anybody, who is more motivated by understanding getting some things off their chest especially and I think that takes us to the next point that came up a lot during remote working and been able to look at people’s mental wellbeing during that point.  

Alan Mcfadden: remote working, and been able to look at people’s kind of mental well being during that point. I know you’re a big advocate. You talk a lot about this, and it’s something really passionate about. But I think, taking myself as an example here. So I think when my boss and my old team used to speak to me about remote working when she first spoke to me about remote working, I hate it because I was in a one bedroom flat myself 24/7, with nowhere else to go. Then when things opened up, I could start to then go to play golf, go to the gym, do things after, they become more appealing to me because I didn’t start to concentrate on things like I don’t need to sit for hours in the car getting to Glasgow every morning in traffic for a 15 minute drive.  

There’s a thin line between whether it’s good or bad.  

Do you think hybrid working has been good or bad for people’s mental wellness. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: I I think both. I look at it then from a global perspective, because every country kind of treated it differently. So you guys were on complete lockdown. We were not, for instance, I mean, those 2 things have a huge impact on your mental well-being, and how we could interact with each other. So again, it’s about the communication portion around it. I happen to live in a house where I can have my own office space right, and I can walk from my office in my house to a different location in my house and be like, okay. We’re done working for the day. 

 Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: I also have colleagues who live like you right and also, sometimes even worse. Where it’s like, okay, I live with my partner, and we live in a one bedroom apartment, and he or she is also working from home, so does one of us sit on the bed, or I mean what’s happening here. So we kind of treated it like there is no one size fits all when it comes to hybrid working. So we really try to accommodate through those 2 years. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: What’s going on in your country? What’s your living situation? What can we do to support you? And in the beginning all of my managers, all of my leaders wanted me to come out with the Golden Rule for 6 and a half 1,000 employees to say you’re allowed to work this amount of hours from home, and it cannot be on the Thursday, or whatever Bullshit and I just came back, and I said, I’m really sorry, guys, but that’s not going to happen, because again there is no one size fits all. You need to sit down with your individuals and ask them what’s your preferred situation here? And then as a team, you then discuss what’s our preferred situation? Do we always want to see each other on Wednesdays to have creative meetings, or when do you have to pick up from daycare, or how’s your dog, or you know, whatever. And then you guys decide as a team. Our decision is that we always meet in the office for blah that conversation that’s difficult to have via the link you and I are doing right now if you didn’t have a relationship built on trust already. So if you had that, it became quite natural as a leader to continue to have those conversations.  

Let’s say you had a newcomer into your team, or you just didn’t have that type of report with your team before Covid, that’s when I saw it becoming very, very difficult. And that’s also when I saw the effect of mental wellness  on both employer and managers, and that’s where we needed to step in from an HR Perspective and Coach and I don’t have like a golden rule that though then we did this and that worked for everybody because it doesn’t so. But those were the times where I felt like Okay, here you’re going to need a little bit more of an HR support. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: I also really encouraged all of our leaders to reach out to Hr. And ask for the help and be vulnerable. Because, I said, none of us have been in this situation before, so we don’t really know either. So we have to kind of like iterate. I have an iterative process back and forth,  what is it that we do to make this work for as many people as possible. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: But I do see that the colleagues who live in countries that were on complete lockdown are way worse off than colleagues who happen to live in countries where it was more of a hybrid model already from the beginning. I suppose it’s probably got even, and people don’t really probably measure it as much. It’s probably gone after effect as well. There’s probably some people now. 

Alan Mcfadden: I had someone join my team and she was like I’m going to walk to the office every day because she couldn’t before. She has been in the house every day.  

Alan Mcfadden: I think you’ve already kind of said that communication is key. You know what I think sometimes people think it’s just the employers responsibility. Some people think it’s just the manager. Some things say, well, it’s their employee, but really it’s all 3. It’s all 3 people being able to communicate the best way to make sure you know what motivates them the best way. It can help with that. And I think the golden rule to that is, just make sure people aren’t scared when you’ve got HR teams that are as talented a syou guys are. Ask questions. Be curious as a manager. Enable yourself to do what actually helps.  

What question should we be asking to see whether people do want to return to the office? Does hybrid work? What can help? 

It’s dead weird. You could see, even in the selfies like, for instance, like single parents, stay away. I’m happy being at home. 

Alan Mcfadden: I was single myself at the time. Not now, but at the time it’s like, yeah, I want to get back to the office. Want to meet people. Want to speak to people, because the biggest thing for me was, I used to be meetings with peers like yourself, and we just talked business because we had time to. 

Alan Mcfadden: I remember when I first went back in the office, one of my colleagues went on, how he’s a football. The weekend and I was like we haven’t spoke about that for 2 years now. But I do think you’re probably right.  

 Communication is absolutely key.  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: and knowing kind of like the process around it, because I mean, let’s be honest. Not everyone has that type of report, neither with your manager or maybe with our team. And I mean, I remember I come from 7 years of traveling every second week for jobs. 

And then and then Covid happened, and then I couldn’t travel at all. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Me and my family. We’re simply not used to me being in the house every day, and it’s freaked us all out, and I mean, I I swear to God. After 6 weeks of home I thought I was going to kill at least one member of my family, and then that kind of forced me to think a little bit about it. We’re back to self insight, why do I feel like this?  

What is this restlessness that causes me to feel like this. What kind, what can I do to channel that in a different way? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Exactly. And then you, me as an individual? Then I’m responsible for figuring out. What is it that I need to be able to stay calm and productive, and you know, through this period. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: But then I also need a manager that I can talk to. Who said to me, Whatever it is that you need, Sarah, we’ve got you right, and then you also need an employer who says, hey we’re just not going to schedule calls from 80’clock in the morning till 50’clock, because I know some of you don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. So it’s like we’re not going to do that anymore. So it was an iterated process. The first I would say4 5 6 months even, and at the beginning all of us thought it was going to end. We were just like, yeah, yeah, in 2 weeks, time and all in 2 weeks time, and then you realize, shit. It’s never gonna end, you know. But now we’re back to more of a okay. This is the new normal. How do we deal with that? 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And it’s totally changed the way we want now, hasn’t it, You think I think, back to travelling like every moring to the office. That makes me so anxious to think about. I was just in a car sitting, bored out of my mind before I even got productive in the day. It’s not optimal at all and I will never go back to a job that requires me to travel every second week because I’ve got i’m we’ve got 2 boys right then. They’re now 12 and 16. They grew up knowing that their mom was away every second week. I don’t feel like oh, you know they didn’t miss anything they that is amazing. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: But he also has a job. So he carried a lot of the weight at home. I didn’t know who had football practice on Wednesdays, or what kind of school was happening, and blah blah blah! And now that i’m working from home, I work from home almost 4 or 4 days a week. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: I get to be here when my kids come home from school and spend 10 min with them. That’s all they want from their mom. To be honest, they’re 12 and 16, but I guess to spend those 10 min with them and just say, hey, what’s going on? Are you okay, do you need a snack? Blah blah, blah! And then I can go back to work again. And then I also know that I’m here, for if they need me. They don’t need me every day, but if they do, I’m. Here, you know. 

 Alan Mcfadden: I think it’s definitely changed for the good. Especially for you? Quite. I spoke about this in the previous episode. But you’re probably similar to me. My obsessiveness probably got to where   I can be very obsessed with stuff, but it does damage parts of my life at times. I get it so totally. Listen: Sorry I really again. I know how busy you are, so I really appreciate your time today. There’s always something to do at the end of every podcast. Try and keep it clean for me. If you could go back to your younger self starting in your career, what would be the one bit of really key advice you would give yourself. What would it be?  

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: It would be in the very, very beginning of your career. Try as many different paths and different industries and different types of organizations as you possibly can to figure out which one actually suits you the best. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And when you kind of know that that’s the one that suits me the best, be it an organizational style, I mean huge corporate, or like small start up, or whatever it is that suits you, and also the type of leadership that suits you. Then stick with that, no matter what people around you are saying that this is actually a better career, move. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: So go with the one that suits you, you know, and that’s where you’re going to be the most successful, the most productive, the most happy in your choices, because success doesn’t look like just the one page. You know. It can be so many different things, and you get to decide that for yourself. But it to be able to know that you need to try a couple of things out. 

I used to get have vices to see all in your twenties have fun. Try as much as you can. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: And career wise 30, understand what you’re good at and get really good at it, and 40 and make money over.   

Alan McFadden: Thank you very much for that, I’ll let you go. Thank you for that. No, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you. 

Sara Milesson, Trelleborg: Thank you. 

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