Before Anita Krohn Traaseth was a mother of three, a blogger, author, a managing director of Hewlett-Packard Norway, and now the new CEO of Innovation Norway, she was a high school teenager who loved to write.
Traaseth, now in her forties, grew up in a town about 90 minutes south of Oslo in what she describes as a typical working-class home, and she came to realize a few defining things about herself early on.
One discovery that came early that she wasn’t phased when some told her that she was not good enough for something. Like the time a high school teacher told her that no matter how hard she tried–or how strong a writer she considered herself–she’d always be a mediocre student.
Ever since then, one of Scandinavia’s most successful businesswomen has been disinclined to heed her critics.
That’s one of the themes she weaves throughout Good Enough for the Bastards, a book about her career published in August. An executive can take any number of routes to arrive at the boardroom or the corner office, and Traaseth’s book–a kind of Norwegian version of Lean In–is about what happens when a female business leader lets values like imagination and courage lead the way.
The book’s release came about a month before Traaseth took the reins at Innovation Norway, a state-owned venture focused on promoting innovation and economic development. The organization employs more than 700 people and has offices in more than 30 countries.
The title of her book is a nod to some memorable encouragement that came from her father–a reminder to her that she’s always the one who gets to decide what “good enough” means.
“It’s one of my father’s favorite expressions and has saved me from being an unnecessary perfectionist,” she says. “If you don’t take care of yourself, set your own standards, decide when enough is enough, learn to balance and rest, you’ll have limited success. I learned that life was not about striving for perfection.”
“I started out my career as a trainee for IBM in 1996, and I applied for the job without being the most perfect candidate or meeting all the criteria IBM asked for,” she tells Fast Company.
“I was never the president at school. I did not have top grades. I believe the courage to apply comes from my childhood and my father’s informal saying that gave me the guts to at least try–that I was good enough to try.
“Later on, as a leader, as a CEO, this perspective has clearly given me a robustness that’s key for delivering on all the demanding tasks and setting limits.
While it’s set in Norway, the fact that the book follows one woman’s journey from a small town to high profile corporate jobs and business success gives it universality. That’s why, for example, Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recently encouraged his 26,000+ Twitter followers to check out the book because of the values Traaseth says have been critical to her leadership style.
“My choices are based on what women before me have fought for: freedom to choose what you want to do with your life and, not least, to contribute to society,” Traaseth writes. “I have chosen to combine family and career, and all without being burdened by the guilt of not being good enough in either of those roles,” she says.
“‘Women can’t have it all’ is the saying. Really? Who decides that? What do you mean by all? My children are well looked after, and my husband and I have a good marriage. We manage our lives well, and that is more than good enough for me.”
One of the values she’s placed a high priority on throughout her life and especially during her career is courage–the courage to experiment, courage to think differently.
“Talent, they said at school–you need real talent to secure a trainee position,” she said. “I doubted whether I had that talent. However, the fact that I had a strong desire to make a difference was something I was absolutely sure about. And if I didn’t have talent, I would develop it.”
She ended up getting hired at IBM, much to her surprise, and she parlayed that into a business career that’s taken her from there to HP and beyond.
Transparency, meanwhile, is something Traaseth values just as highly as courage. Soon after taking the job as managing director at HP Norway, for example, she invited colleagues to an informal chat. She regarded it like a “Speed date the boss” concept.
She wanted to ask people, one-on-one, questions like: What should not change or be messed with by me at HP Norway? What should be changed? Give me examples of bottlenecks. And, finally, do you have a talent or skill you don’t get to use now in your position?
The effort resulted in close to 170 ‘speed dates,’ she says, and the back-and-forth helped solidify the company’s ambition to become known as Norway’s top workplace by 2015.
Traaseth’s way of thinking also can be seen via the blog on leadership she started four months after getting her managerial position at HP. She did it, she says, without any warning and didn’t ask her own boss for permission.
“Personally, I was convinced of our need to muster the courage to become a more social company,” she writes. “We simply had no other choice. We had to display our competence, people, and opinions.
“If we are to stay current, we must also know what’s happening. We must keep up a dialogue with customers, the market, and potential staffers. In this work, my position dictates that I must lead the way and show that my company and I both understand and master new technology.”
“The feedback after more than a million blog visits in the first year tells me that this has been an appropriate and perhaps important example of sharing and engaging, even if some people still believe this to be trivial,” Traaseth writes of her blog.
“If you are visible, people will have an opinion about you, particularly as a female senior manager in the world of trade and industry; we are still too few and far between.”