New approach to the art of leading and following


PhD student Lykke Silfwerbrand with her mentor Christina Jutterström.

Today's leadership theories have run their course. This is the opinion of doctoral student Lykke Silfwerbrand, who is looking to brain research to better understand how we humans best follow and lead each other. At UU Innovation's Mentor4Research programme, she has the support of Christina Jutterström and her vast experience in leadership in the media industry.

“Leading and following each other is like dancing or having a conversation. It is possible to practice and improve through cooperation, trust and predictability. The brain wants to know what is going to happen; it loves everything good that it has been part of in the past. The breeding grounds for creativity lie in that security,” says Lykke Silfwerbrand.

It was in connection with a degree project in Tokyo that Lykke Silfwerbrand came into contact with the brain research that maps out how different activities are represented physiologically in the brain. Back in Sweden, she worked as a management consultant and began to think about the most common leadership theories.

“Multiple surveys indicate that many employees are unhappy and feel that their managers are not inspiring. To understand this better, I earned a Master's degree in leadership and organisation. It was there that I got the idea to use brain research as a new approach to study how we lead and follow each other,” explains Lykke Silfwerbrand.

What is unique about this research project, which is being conducted in collaboration with the Tokyo Institute of Technology, is that it maps out the brain activity of two people simultaneously – one who follows and one who leads.

“In this contact, you have different brain activation depending on whether you are leading or following. We see that the roles differ. When we understand these processes in the brain, we may be able to train ourselves to lead and follow in the future.”

Would it be possible to use the method in the annual performance reviews in working life?

“No, it would be more of an approach and daily training for both parties,” says Lykke Silfwerbrand.

She finds that participation in the Mentor4Research programme gives her leverage that opens doors and speeds up her doctoral education.

“It is incredibly fun and motivating to have Christina Jutterström as my mentor. She has a lot of experience that I do not have myself, and is also one of the people I want to reach with my research.”

Christina Jutterström became interested in both the project and Lykke Silfwerbrand as a person.

“I like people who have many different layers, and saw that you also sing opera. I found that enticing. But, it was naturally the research in a new approach to leadership that attracted me most. You are onto something important there.”

Together, they made a plan for how to define the research and target group, and to make contacts. Christina Jutterström asked a lot of questions. How? In what way? Please clarify!

“I really had to train in how to package my research in a way that makes it understandable and useful in the market,” says Lykke Silfwerbrand.

“Yes, in the beginning I asked a lot of questions and also made suggestions for improvement,” confirms Christina Jutterström. “Because, that's my profession. But, above all, I have a pretty good network and it is a lot of fun to be able to share it. Sometimes things are in sync and the meetings are very positive.”

As former editor-in-chief for the newspapers Dagens Nyheter and Expressen and CEO of the broadcasting company SVT, Christina Jutterström would have liked to have had access to better tools in her interactions with employees. Particularly in tough situations.

“From practical experience, I can vouch for the fact that the need for this knowledge is great. I took part in employee cutbacks in the economic crisis of the 1990s. Not many in my generation have this experience. At that time, a deeper understanding of how we follow and lead each other would have been valuable.”

Together, they have also found a way to commercialise the research to a new target group, training companies and scientific consulting.

“My goal is to offer consulting and education in different forms. Either as part of a group or on my own,” says Lykke Silfwerbrand.

Lykke Silfwerbrand

Background: Master of Science Degree in Engineering, Master’s degree in leadership and organisation, instructor and project manager in leadership and organisation, soloist in the opera company Gävleoperan.

Current: Doctoral student in conscious biological leadership at the Department of Neuroscience and seeking new contact networks and collaborative partners via Mentor4Research.

The best thing about having a mentor: Getting a different perspective on what I’m doing and access to key people that I would have never been in contact with otherwise.

Christina Jutterström

Background: Raised in Uppsala, former editor-in-chief at the newspapers Dagens Nyheter and Expressen, and former CEO of the broadcasting company SVT.

Current: Author of the memoir book “Uppfostrad av män” and the new book “Kvinnorna runt sjön Björken och deras längtan efter bildning” about a number of women who learn everything from knitting to astrophysics as part of a study circle.

The best thing about being a mentor: Nowadays, it is a way for me to rejuvenate my passion. It is exciting to step outside of the media field, which is my comfort zone. I learn new things.

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