What can Iceland’s football team teach us about women in leadership?

Let’s learn a lesson or two from the Vikings.


The Icelandic miracle is over for this World Cup, but with inspiring play and a draw against Argentina (1-1) these North Atlantic peaceful marauders have captured our hearts once again.

How did a country of merely 350,000 make it so far? Others have described the miracle, including Time Magazine in a cover story on June 7.

time_icelandA combination of investment in year-round facilities, more and better coaches, a sports-for-all philosophy, and full support from the population has paid off.

Can we learn anything from this in a business setting? Yes, I believe we can.

Increase the talent pool

On one level, it’s a numbers game. If you look at the best teams in football, you see big countries like Germany, the UK, and Brazil, but also small ones like Croatia, Uruguay, my native Denmark, and yes, Iceland, punching way above their league in terms of population.

On the other hand, China is a mediocre team which rarely qualifies, not to speak about India or Indonesia.

So it’s not about how many people, it’s about how many people play football. This is a different picture, with Iceland in 17th place with 11% of the population in 2006 (probably even more today).

The business application of this has been raised before. By actively or passively excluding minorities, you are reducing the talent pool for employees and leaders. And if you routinely discard half of your employees for leadership positions just because of your gender, you miss out on a lot of potential.

For instance, women hold only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership positions among S&P 500 firms, Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote for Inc., stating: “Companies that ignore the insights of their talented women will lag the curve in delivering successful solutions to the marketplace.”


Remove barriers

True to its name, Iceland has long, cold, and wet winters. This was previously a big obstacle for raising the level of outdoor sports, but by investing in indoor facilities and making them accessible to all children and young people, they effectively removed one of the key barriers to success.

To achieve equality in a corporate setting it is necessary to look at both invisible barriers. These can include work-life balance opportunities, meeting schedules, but also cultural elements such as excessive ‘locker-room talk’, small-talk in a native language, or other elements of stereotyping.

More and better coaches

Instead of relying on parent coaches, Iceland has invested heavily in upskilling of their coaches, with a huge increase in UEFA-licensed coaches, and not only to top-tier clubs. “In Iceland, anyone can join a local sports club that employs elite coaches, for an average of $600 a year,” writes Time.

To succeed in business, you also need good coaches and mentors. If middle-managers play the dog-eat-dog game, thinking only about their next promotion, they are not worthy of the manager title. On the other hand, having managers who nurture and guide their people, spotting talent, also in minorities, is essential to the long-term success of any organization.

Secure full support

Everyone in Iceland is a part of the football adventure. New York Times writes that “In a country of fewer than 350,000 people, most everybody either knows someone on the team or knows someone who does. There is no celebrity culture.”

Around 30,000 fans travelled to France for the Euro 2016 – that’s more than 10% of the population! Similar numbers are reported for the World Cup in Russia. And a staggering 99.6% watched the match against Argentina.


How’s that for a commitment to corporate values? Nobody would expect numbers like that, but if you do want to succeed as a company, you’re surely better off if your employees support the journey. And that’s all employees, mind you.

So, to sum up, there’s a lot to learn from Iceland. Who, by the way, had the world’s first democratically elected female president, from 1980 to 1996. Huh!


The Legacy of Luther and Adventist Authority

Calling out power abuse is just as relevant today as 500 years ago.


Anniversaries always come short of the actual event. How do you do justice to the magnitude of the Reformation, which began 500 years on this day? Answer: you don’t. Not in a single blog post, at least. Others have celebrated and commented throughout the year, for the legacy of the event is pervasive and has many threads.

The impact of the Reformation on Western thinking is indisputable, and not just in the field of religion. Max Weber’s thesis on the spirit of capitalism, while disputed, remains seminal in understanding the world we live in, for instance.

Dealing with Adventist dissent

In this post, however, I will comment more specifically on the issue of religious power. It is ironic and sad that in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I am a member of, this issue should become one of full-blown conflict this year.

Adventists proudly see their movement as a continuation of Protestant ideals, continuing to question the status quo and search for ideas and theologies truer to the original Biblical intent and free of centuries of human degeneration.

Ellen G. White, the thought leader of the movement in the 19th century, described Luther’s adversaries with descriptions like this: “Crafty ecclesiastics, interrupted in their work of sanctioning crime, and seeing their gains endangered, were enraged, and rallied to uphold their pretensions.” And on his banishment from the Church, she penned: “Not a trace of Christian principle, or even of common justice, is to be seen in the whole document.” (GC, pp. 130, 134)

JanPaulsenThis is not far from the words of former church president Jan Paulsen, who recently stated: “I do not see the hand of God in this.”

His words came during a recent debate on how the world church deals with ‘dissent’. The apparent issue is the ordination of women, but that issue has become almost secondary to how the global leadership chooses to approach the discussion.

Matthew Quartey summarized it bluntly in the independent magazine Spectrum: “Our president’s seven-year leadership has been a continuous tugging at the seams of our togetherness.  He has prioritized his antipathy toward women in ministry over the church’s higher goal of mission. He has spent more time and resources engaged in this private campaign than focusing the church on what truly binds us.”

Open or closed leadership?

While women’s ordination is the battle ground, the overarching point here is authority. Any organization needs leadership, sure. But you can choose to lead like a dictator or like an apostle.


The sitting president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is an American, brought up in the system, and his actions convey an overarching goal of not rocking the boat. He pursues unity at any cost, ignoring the paradox that forcing unity destroys openness, which in turn damages commitment and encourages more dissent.

Even more alarming is the apparent ignorance of any limitations to his power. You will find this tendency anywhere, but perhaps it is especially American: If you are given any position of power, you believe you have the right and mandate to do and decide anything.

Donald Trump also acts like this, neither understanding nor accepting the democratic ideal of checks and balances. If you claim to listen to the people, then you need to do it properly; otherwise call a spade a spade and eliminate the illusion of democracy altogether.

The Adventist Church has prided itself in its ‘democratic’ institutions, but there are many limits to how much the people actually decide. And these years even those institutions are under attack from a leadership who wants to centralize, dictate, and enforce.

The Lutheran Church in Denmark, for all its shortcomings, may have chosen a better path. It has a collective of bishops, but no central leadership. Its political leader has no say in matters of theology. While the church is defined as keeping to the Apostolic Creed and Luther’s writings, nobody is able to speak on behalf of the church.

I can see the Biblical and Reformation merit in this approach. Power to the people – a priesthood of all believers – nobody is exalted above others.

Pope or no pope?

George Knight, a well-known figure in the church and arguably a ‘prophet’ for our times, has given a thorough analysis of the situation in a recent paper. He describes the predicament of the church president thus:

“Obviously, what is needed is a new policy that allows the General Conference president to initiate actions against anybody deemed deserving of such attention. Such a policy, of course, would be a major step toward papalism and unrestricted kingly power. […] The October 2017 meetings may help the worldwide Adventist Church decide whether it wants to move more toward an Adventist Ecclesiology or toward a more Roman Catholic variety.”

I am no expert on the theology of the Papacy, but seen from the outside, it makes sense as a coherent system. Putting the authority of the Church over, or alongside, that of the Bible is a valid belief, and if you hold that belief you also accept that authority.

Protestants, however, have no such luxury: putting the Bible unequivocally as the highest authority does not allow for an authoritarian system. Rome claims a legitimate authority over all believers. Protestant denominations may very well represent the body of Christ, but with sola scriptura any attempts towards papal authority in these institutions are theologically void, and must be called out as human power-grabs.

I don’t really want a pope. But if I had to pick one, I would choose the one in Rome, not the one in Silver Spring, MD.


A Whole New World

This weekend, world leaders will convene in Washington for a global summit, with the primary agenda of fixing the financial system of the world, no less. If the right people show leadership, that might actually happen, but why stop there?

Britain’s PM, Gordon Brown, ambitiously envisioned a “new world order” this Monday, calling upon Europe and America to be “internationalist not protectionist, interventionist not neutral, progressive not reactive and forward-looking not frozen by events.” This echoes this article in Newsweek on November 3, calling for an actual world bank to replace the IMF. In times of crisis, the status quo is questioned, creating a window for change. Now is a time of crisis, but also a time of change.

Our current world order was in large part forged on the ruins of World War II. Most global or regional institutions that we take for granted today had their foundations laid in the aftermath of the war: the UN, IMF, WTO, EU, NATO, OECD. Not merely acronyms, but the framework of the world as we know it.

Changing these things is difficult. Once something is institutionalised, a certain inertia becomes ingrained, and changes are mostly incremental, bogged down by endless debate and compromise. The UN reform process or recent years’ failed attempts at modernising the EU are cases in point.

The problem is it’s a new world out there. Neither WWII nor the Cold War defines the challenges facing the world today. As Fareed Zakaria has repeatedly pointed out, power centres are shifting; globalisation is changing the face of the world, threatening to render the current world order obsolete if it’s not adapted to suit the 21st century. In order to maintain and spread peace and prosperity globally, we need strong and functioning global institutions. And they need to be geared to the challenges of today, not those of 60 years ago.

Brown states that “uniquely in this global age, it is now in our power to come together so that 2008 is remembered not just for the failure of a financial crash that engulfed the world but for the resilience and optimism with which we faced the storm, endured it and prevailed.” It just might work. The election of Barack Obama in the U.S. is a sign that the world is ready for change. Obama cannot and will not change the world alone. But the momentum is there. This may be the time when world leaders finally step up the challenge of securing the future of the world.

United States of the World


Congratulations, Mr Obama. You have earned perhaps the hardest job in world at the moment, and you have a healthy majority of people believing you are up for it. I am one of them.

After the Cold War, the U.S. emerged as the world’s only superpower; the single most powerful force (in any respect) in the world. That this situation is gradually giving way to a multi-polar world with American influence waning is true to a degree. The rest of the world is rapidly catching up and increasingly playing along the rules which America invented. But the recent financial crisis has showed us that the need for a strong USA is as great as ever.

What the world needs is leadership from the leader of the world. Not callously wielded military might and arrogant attitudes. No, real leadership that reaches out and inspires. In John McCain’s loser speech he was very gracious and noble toward his opponent, but Obama obviously steals the show with his performance.

Obama’s victory speech nourishes the hope of many that he in fact can and will reach out. Toward the many different people that he mentions in his speech: “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled”. He promises to enforce the ideal of America as a land of equal opportunities, regardless of race, colour, religion or sexuality.

Just as importantly, Obama reaches out to the world. A special mention of those in “forgotten corners of our world” (Australia might be one of them) is sympathetic, but also telling of the foreign policy to come. Of an American president who might finally realise that in order to win friends and influence people, it’s not a smart policy to be the class bully. Obama eloquently stated that “the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

What both the U.S. and the world needs now is a new vision and real change. No single person can do this alone. But Barack Obama might just be the man who can get the wheels into motion and help set the course for the world in this century.

Naser Khader: A Fallen Angel

Just over a year ago Denmark was cheering on a new political party that aimed for nothing less than revolutionising the state of political affairs. New Alliance was founded with lofty goals of doing politics in a new way, minimising the influence from the ultra-right-wing Danish People’s Party, and having a truly liberal and global outlook. On top of that rode Denmark’s new political darling, Naser Khader, a Syrian-born Muslim with secular and democratic ideals who for many demonstrated a fresh breath of air to decades of trench wars on immigration policy.

In the end, however, the ideals were all they could deliver. The early grassroots approach to policy yielded no detailed or coherent vision, and the party became mostly an uneven melting pot of wannabes. In last year’s general election they managed to secure five seats in the parliament, but status quo endured and the sitting centre-right government could continue unaltered into a third term. Two of the five quickly left, one to become independent, the other to join one of the ruling parties. And this week, a third was forced to withdraw from the party, also becoming an independent for the time being. From such highly lauded beginnings last summer, they are now down to two, with no chance in a million of retaining their parliament seats.

What went wrong? Apparently the catch-all approach backfired, and trying to fathom everybody eventually meant reaching no one. There never was more than a vision; no strategy, no planning, no organisation to back it up. Naser Khader’s personality was what started it all, but also what brought it down. In politics, seemingly, ideals can only get you thus far, after that skills are needed. Skills which it became clear in the election campaign that Khader did not possess, after all.

I think the vision had lots of merit. But from there it was pretty much downhill when the vision turned out to be backed by nothing but hot air. In the lyrics for the musical Evita, Tim Rice put it eloquently like this: “You let down your people, Evita. You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all they wanted. Not much to ask for. But in the end, you could not deliver.”

How to Keep a Church Alive

Last weekend, Århus Café Church was away together on a spiritual retreat for the firstbut definitely not lasttime in our history as a church. We had lots of fun, enjoyed good music, prayer, inspiring teaching, and just hanging out together.

Regina and Juris Rekisgood friends, and founders of the church plant “Korinta” in Rigaprovided awesome inspiration and challenged the group to go out and do something for God and make a difference for Århus. The reaction is overwhelming; a great number of people have indicated willingness to be more committed, and lots of good ideas have surfaced. So the big question now is: how do we as leaders keep this flame burning?

The obvious answerwhich a friend gave me todayis that it’s not our responsibility, but God’s. As leaders we are called to do the tasks we are charged with. But so is everybody in the church. We are responsible to God, and committing ourselves to Him as leaders should be our foremost priority.

Even so, it can seem daunting. In the parable of the talents, Jesus says: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 NIV) I feel in some ways that God is telling us: “OK, well done so far. Now let’s go to the next level.” Which is going to be fun, but challenging.

Church growth comes from the grass roots, and we have a strong and committed core of people with a passion for turning Århus Café Church into something really big. Our job as leaders will be not to stifle that passion; but to facilitate initiative, ministry, responsibility, and growth in every member. And to inspire them to continue to grow as disciples.

A great responsibility, indeed, if it were ours alone. Fortunately, it is not we as leaders who create growth, but the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: “I planted the seed. Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)

Back to Reality?


More than two weeks have now passed since the Adventist Church session in Denmark. The unprecedented hike in visitors to this blog is over. Has interest waned also in the future of the church? I certainly hope not.

But we have a tendency to focus on the grand event, the important thing, the parties, and forget the mundane. Take sports. I love watching the World and Euro Cups in football (soccer), but can’t really be bothered to follow regular matches. The super-bowl is fun, but I’d never watch NFL every week. (Others will, of course, disagree on this.) Same goes for politics. It may be interesting to follow in an election year, but how many of us actually care in between?

Sometimes religion suffers from the same tendency. We care about the future of the church because it’s right there, screaming us in the face. But then we go home and go back to work, and life goes on. It is good, then, to know that we have a Union board set aside for seeking God’s guidance for the church. And whatever your opinion on clergy, it is good to know that at least some people spend their time building God’s kingdom. But what about the rest of us?

And one thing is church politics, but what about spirituality? It can be tempting to build your life as a disciple on events, too. Longing for that spiritual retreat, the camp meeting, the summer camp, or whatever, that “fills us up” in order to go on. Or living from Sabbath to Sabbath, waiting to be “filled up” in church.

Don’t get me wrong, these things can be good, and even necessary. But I believe Jesus wants to be lord also of the mundane. Being a committed Christian is a full-time thing. Not sitting piously in the corner all day, for we need to work to keep the world spinning. But it would be a danger if we built our faith on the expectation of the next big thing. In stead, we ought to build on the rock that is the Word of God – everyday.