My 4 point leadership philosophy for building a high performance team
Four years ago, Mourad Daifi (40), the manager of Enfo’s Data Management Technologies team, started as a database developer at a Boston-based IT company. He had moved to Boston for work with his wife for the second time. Both of the family’s children had been born in the city during their first trip. The family had a warm relationship with this city located on the east coast of the United States.
The Daifi family had returned to Finland from their first trip to Boston in 2011. Mourad, “Murre” Daifi had gotten a job as an information management consultant at a company named Rongo. Through Rongo, Murre worked as a consultant for the same customer for 2.5 years straight. He worked on the customer’s premises for almost the entire period. This practice is common at many companies offering IT consulting services.
Projects are long. Many customer companies buy more pairs of hands from consulting firms in the industry as an extension of their own team. For this reason, consultants will go to work specifically at the customer’s premises. It largely depends both on the culture of the customer company and on the consultant’s own employer, and especially manager, what kind of an employee experience the consultant will ultimately have. Which work community do I belong to, which will I commit to?
Murre’s experiences as a consultant in long-term customer projects, and at this stage through several employers, had made the consultant-employee experiences disconnected somehow. The feeling of not belonging anywhere had become stronger and stronger. One coffee table discussion with a colleague was pivotal: Murre realized that his journey as a consultant was coming to an end.
The invitation to come to work as a database developer in Boston came at the perfect time. The opportunity to focus on the future employer company’s own development project, be responsible for it and utilize the things learned sounded extremely appealing. It seemed almost like a fate that the master’s thesis his wife was working on at the time focused on a Boston-based MBA school. The Daifi family packed their belongings and moved to Boston again.
The experience that put a name on Mourad’s vocation
In Boston, Murre was able to focus on the company’s own project. The chance to really feel like you belong and to commit to a single employer, team and manager was finally at hand! But things turned out differently. The colleagues were great, but people were led by fear. Promises were made but nothing was ever delivered. This became the worst employee experience in Murre’s life!
Murre is known as a team player and coach who is continuously developing his own expertise and understanding. The negative employee experience made him take an interest in leadership theories and human resource management. He spent a lot of his free time in Boston finding out how employees should be led. He became increasingly sure that managerial work was his calling. In that role, he could have an effect on the employee experiences of others, make successes possible and show by example that, even in the IT sector, people are more important than computers.
Manager who lives out Enfo’s values
“I have a vision that especially these young consultants in my team whose whole early career I can influence will remember me as the manager and person who helped them achieve their career dreams.”
The Daifi family decided to return to Finland in 2017. Murre contacted two of his previous employers and Rongo, which had merged with Enfo, made a job offer within 20 hours of Murre’s initial contact.
“It all felt like I was really wanted here,” Murre says.
Murre started at Enfo in April 2017. The following month, he got wind of the fact that a manager was resigning and immediately submitted an open application for the managerial position.
“I justified why I am the best choice for the manager of this team,” Murre says with determination. The most important phase in Murre’s career so far began in July 2017: career as a manager.
Mourad Daifi has been active in sports all his life. Team sports in themselves already teach how to play with a team of equals, take them into account and work towards a common goal. There is no room for your own agenda in a team game.
Murre plays American football at the Finnish Championships level. The intensive role on a winning team has also influenced Murre’s own leadership philosophy.
“At the start of my career as a manager, I made myself a leadership manual with four cornerstones. They encapsulate my leadership philosophy,” Mourad says and lists his cornerstones:
- Leading by example
- Dialogical leadership
The cornerstones of Murre’s leadership philosophy can also be closely linked to Enfo's values: collaboration, trust, continuous development and expertise.
- Coaching and dialogical leadership are emphasized in building and maintaining collaboration.
- Building trust is a lengthy process in which both dialogical leadership and leading by example play a key role.
- Continuous development requires support from mentoring.
- Both mentoring and a strong team spirit maintained through coaching are central to maintaining and developing expertise.
Mourad Daifi truly lives out Enfo's values as the manager of the 14 consultants in the Data Management Technologies team.
Mourad’s 4-point leadership philosophy
“Point 1 of my leadership philosophy, coaching, comes from my long-standing experience as a team athlete.”
Coaching requires a coach. Finnish managers can learn a lot from the coaches in team sports. Nothing affects a company’s performance and productivity as much as the ability of its managers to lead and hire “top experts”.
Coaching and leadership through coaching are crystallized in the coach helping an individual maximize his or her own potential. This creates elite athletes and top experts. In addition to leadership through coaching providing value to the organization through individuals, a team comprised of top experts attracts more top experts and those wanting to become one. We all recognize the allure of a coach who is known to turn young prospects into world stars. Such managers also have pull in working life. That is the kind of manager that Mourad Daifi seeks to be.
Few people have internalized how important trust is in collaboration and how central a role managers play in securing that trust. The manager determines the rules for what is allowed and what is not. Zero tolerance for pursuing your own interests and for the silo mentality is something that cannot be compromised. Every exception undermines trust. Experts will only share their own expertise and the knowledge that gives them a competitive edge if everyone genuinely has the same objectives. That is the case in Murre’s team. Coaching, which ensures team spirit, has played a key role in this.
The better I am able to know the members of my team, the better I can support their success.
#2 Leading by example
The credibility of a manager suffers if he or she preaches one thing and then does something else. Many employees have become so cynical that they do not even expect anything different.
However, leading by example is the second cornerstone of Murre’s leadership philosophy. It sounds like Murre looks himself in the mirror often. Regular efforts to assess the relationship between what he says and what he does are emphasized in his discourse.
Many managers and leaders in the technical field are technically oriented. They are passionate about equipment and technology, not people and relationships. Murre, on the other hand, says that his fondness for computers is extremely low. His calling is directed specifically at people and relationships.
“I have learned that every person in my team is an individual who feels differently and is excited about different things. The better I am able to know the members of my team, the better I can understand them both as individuals and as employees, and the better I can support their success. I use a lot of my time for this.”
“I genuinely care about people. I believe in positive leadership. The motivation to help, listening to my own instincts, genuinely acting as myself and having a good listening relationship with each of my team members are things that I rely on as a manager,” Murre continues.
As is the case at most western workplaces, Enfo is also going through changes rooted in digitalization that are shaping business and the ways in which it is implemented with a heavy hand. The transformation applies not only to Enfo’s customers, but also Enfo as a whole and all Enfonians.
The first year of the new CEO is behind us and as with other companies in a similar situation, Enfo has been shaken up from the inside and out. Of Enfo’s values, the need for continuous development also extends to Enfonians themselves.
As the third cornerstone of Murre’s leadership philosophy, mentoring affects the need for and value of continuous development. It is emphasized both in Murre’s own way of developing and sharing his expertise and knowledge as well as in the internal relations in Murre’s Data Management Technologies team.
In this 14-person team, roughly half are experienced veteran consultants in the field and the other half are junior consultants just starting their careers. The different backgrounds, practices and perspectives enrich the team’s mutual relationship and opportunity to learn from one another.
“I have never myself been super intellectual. But what I lose in intelligence, I win in my work ethic. I work as much as is needed to achieve the same result or effect,” Mourad says. He also appreciates this quality in his team members.
“I think that, as both a manager and a senior consultant, it is great to learn from the young members of my team! They are full of enthusiasm, want to learn, to evolve and to be involved in making a change. Young professionals are an excellent source of renewal also for us experienced folks. When you keep an open mind, we all learn from each other,” says Mourad and laughs.
#4 Dialogical leadership
The fourth cornerstone of Murre’s leadership philosophy is dialogical leadership. Dialogical leadership refers to a leadership style that emphasizes inclusion, listening and dialogue. Murre believes that this has a great impact on his team’s well-being at work, performance and sense of confidence in the fact that we can talk about both good and difficult things.
The importance of dialogue is highlighted in consulting work in the IT sector where a lot of time is spent at the customer and little as a team at one’s own workplace, and where it is customary to focus on technology and computers rather than on people.
“Thank you, please and sorry are the most important tools in the toolbox of every consultant and manager. They are used to build good relationships, increase sales and lead people. They may sound small and trivial next to expensive management schools. But small things tend to have the greatest impact,” says Mourad Daifi.
- Mourad Daifi, 40
- Consultant Manager
- Unit: Information Management
- Team: Data Management Technologies
- Office: Espoo
- Family: wife and two children born in Boston
- Vocation: “Leader of people with a big heart”
- Team sport: American football