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Insights Entry Three


Q&A with Lise Render Nielsen, Director of Leadership at LEGO

This is the fourth feature from our series “Leading Women with International Careers”. In this interview Lise Render Nielsen, Director of Leadership Development at LEGO based in Singapore, shares her experience of moving internationally and describes how being globally mobile has benefitted her career.

What was your route to current role?

I studied for my Masters in Psychology in Denmark (my home country) and undertook my first role within Organizational Development. Then my partner had an opportunity to be expatriated to Hungary and I found a fantastic opportunity with LEGO working within their HR team in Hungary and later as a Strategic HR Business Partner for a global business area. My partner’s role moved again to Germany and LEGO offered me my dream job to be based in Munich and take responsibility for Leadership Development globally. Due to organisational changes, I have just moved to Singapore, this time with my role and my partner is coming with me!

What’s your role now?

I’m in charge of leadership development globally for LEGO. My focus is on developing quality, consistency and distinctiveness in leadership to ensure strong organizational performance and health and developing a strong pipeline of leaders for the business.

How has moving internationally impacted your career?

Moving internationally has definitely enabled my career. I have learnt so much professionally and the exposure to different organisational contexts has enabled me to progress. I have been exposed to a lot of different people in the business and the fact that I have been flexible, not letting geographic boundaries limit me, means that I have had more opportunities opened up to me. As I have moved a couple of times due to my partner’s career, I have been lucky to find opportunities to take on different roles that I have found both motivating and have helped me to develop my own career. It hasn’t always been an easy choice though and I have also had to live with uncertainty and find out how I could continue to pursue my job interests and revisit this every second year due to my partner’s contracts expiring and/or being renewed. As my partner is now moving as a result of my career, he is also broadening his career opportunities and will take on a job that can further build his competence in a culture that fascinates us both! It is of great importance to me that my partner and I are both supportive of each other’s careers and to pursue opportunities that excite us.

You’ve worked in a number of different countries, have you had any issues with differences in culture?

I continue to be surprised by subtle cultural differences. For example when I moved from Denmark to Hungary, I tried to learn the Hungarian language as many of my colleagues were too shy to use English. After the first month I asked one of my colleagues to give me feedback on the progress of my Hungarian. She said I was speaking perfectly, which was clearly not true. In Hungary I realised that honesty and openness have to be earned. I have to continually work on my cultural sensitivity! A couple of weeks later my colleagues started correcting my Hungarian and I realized that I was starting to build the trust with them.

What did you do to prepare for your relocation?

Previously my moves have been within Europe, so the complexity of practical preparation has been greater in my recent move to Singapore in terms of shipping, immigration etc. My employer is supporting me amongst other things with a course on cultural ‘do’s and don’ts’ which is useful but more valuable is what I learn as part of my daily work and interactions. I am aware that in order to learn I need to stay attentive and curious. Fortunately I have some great colleagues who teach me about local culture and customs. So far my experience is that if I show that I have good intentions, build trust and respect the local culture and people, most people are very forgiving if I overlook or misinterpret cultural norms or practices. Underneath all the culture and social norms we are all just human beings wanting to be and do our best.

What were the main challenges you faced when relocating?

When you move to your new country you come with your own paradigm of how you think things should be done. When I moved to Hungary I didn’t always agree with the work practices and it took me some time and tough learnings to realise that I had to adapt my style to a new way of operating and not the other way around. I have my own core values, and it is important for me not to lose sight of them, but I also have to adapt. One example springs to mind, it is commonplace for Hungarian men to hold doors open for women, for an independent Danish woman like myself I found this difficult when I first arrived. However, I became accustomed and now, when I go back to Denmark, I wait for men to open doors for me!

What is your career plan from here?

I don’t have a detailed career plan and never have had. My career plan is purpose driven and I want to become a thought leader in my field and facilitate development and make organisations and people achieve results they couldn’t imagine for themselves that they were able to achieve. This is more of a guiding star to me than a detailed plan and something that I think can be achieved in many ways. That doesn’t mean I am not considering my next steps but that I am not so fixed on a specific path that I overlook other opportunities that could bring me closer to my purpose.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about mobilising their own career?

Don’t expect to achieve everything at once, for example, you may need to move internationally without your perfect job or find your perfect job locally. Ultimately it’s a case of deciding what’s most important to you. Above all, have courage to step out of your comfort zone and seize the opportunities. You never regret that you tried out something and realised it wasn’t you – but you might regret that you didn’t try.

If you’re exploring the possibility of making an international career move, read this article ‘Move yourself’ for further advice and guidance.