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How Friend Leadership is practiced

Kirjoittanut: Sille Sinor - tiimistä SYNTRE.

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Written by Hassan Chakir, Samu Nyqvist & Sille Sinor

How Friend Leadership is practiced 

Friend leadership is a theory that was born in Tiimiakatemia by Johannes Partanen in 2007. It introduces us to how the new generation of leaders should practice leadership. When it is practiced well the leader is not seen as a boss figure but a caring friend who you want to follow and feel safe to talk to, where the team feels a genuine connection to the work and has trust and friendship with each other and the leader.  

To practice friend leadership there are five steps to follow along with principles and rules. The steps for friendship leadership are introduced with Musashi M. theory of earth, water, fire, wind, and void from his book Go rin no sho (1997). They are reflected on SYNTRE Osk. team and their experience from 2021 spring of, to see if this theory and style of leadership was followed there.  

EARTH: Lead yourself 

Knowing the inner self of the leader is the best way to start learning. As Musashi says, “Know the smallest issues and the largest issues, most shallow and the deepest.” Musashi 1997. And there is a tool created for this exact purpose called the learning contract, which crystallizes the central targets of the leader. Furthermore, to study the inner self of the leader, many approaches can be used like psychological capital and a 4X drive that leads toward targets. leader’s inner self, many approaches like psychological capital and a 4X drive that leads toward targets can be used  

Every friend leader can develop through their lives. Knowing and understanding themselves is the basis of development. Also, it’s one of the things that highlights the learning contract, especially after a complete understanding of themselves. Learning contract mainly contains a small number of questions that represent the leader’s history (Where have I been?), present (where am I now?), future (Where do I want to go?), methods (How do I get there?) and measures (How do I know if I’ve arrived?). Writing down a person’s story gets them a deep understanding of things that they have been through and made them stronger, as well as dreams to achieve, and ways to build those dreams.  

Transforming psychological capital (self-efficacy/confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience) is a reliable source of self-understanding. The first asset of psychological capital is self/confidence to take challenges, search for the surrounding environment that builds a stronger personality, and dream big while taking small steps. Moreover, personal and common beliefs are controlling and shaping elements in life, here comes the importance of positive thinking which is another asset. However, it needs a realistically inspiring target that brings the feeling of control over things in life. The third asset is optimism, it relies on analyzing the past and predicting the future to achieve better results while keeping in mind that self-effecting leads to affecting others. The last asset of psychological asset requires good self-discipline, and it is called resilience. which is a way to deal with failure and learn from it.  

After getting the necessary knowledge and understanding of where to go, it’s time to put the four wheels for the vehicle to drive toward the chosen destination. The four wheels are learning contracts, books, regular training, and practical actions with customers. Of course, reading is important but a lot of it can be time-consuming, that’s why it’s good to read only what’s needed. In addition, learning with the team means training by having a dialogue. In that way, the leader and his team can measure their learning and become more disciplined. Furthermore, working with customers will help to put the learnings into practice and to observe what works from what doesn’t.

(4 X Wheel Drive in Learning, Toivanen & Kotamäki 2013, p. 30, Friend Leadership a visual inspiration book)

In fact, the SYNTRE team is a good example to use for friend leadership in general and self-leadership specifically. SYNTRE is an international team with high dynamicity and diversity when it comes to culture and age, but this team had two different leaders, the business leader (BL) was into the performance more than the involvement in the team, whereas the team leader (TL) was the other way around. Just to clarify, the individuals in the team had a little bit of everything, but each one leans to one side with a few more percentages.  

Although there are differences between the individuals in SYNTRE, they have some rules in common. The first thing that they had in common was having a good dialogue, which is one of the four driving wheels, and helped with the learning journey and made it easier to make the team to bond with each other. Also, the leaders must have a high level of psychological capital (self-efficacy/confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience), and that’s what the individuals are looking for in a friend leader for them.  

After the team had been set up, it was time to start driving towards the goals and to take the necessary tools like the four-wheel to drive. So, it was time for choosing a mission, vision, and values. As well as, having projects between some of the individuals on the team. Which was part of knowing and understanding each other. However, the learning or training of this example team has not been complete until they had the learning contract, where everyone went deep into themselves to see: where they were. where are they? and where are they going?  

The “Earth” element is one of the necessities for friend leadership, if not the most important asset as the base and the building step for every leader and team. In the given example, the assets of self-knowledge are applied but not in a sequential way. Anyways, the team did what felt right as a whole. However, the team was feeling like they were heading somewhere but not sure exactly where to. Because some of the assets above were missing. Psychological capital was held in a good way, but the learning contract took time. To have completed the first learning contract experience, people had to listen to their hearts and forgive their past. Only then, was the SYNTRE team became able to use its psychological capital to its full potential. 

WATER: Form team significance 

In order to build team significance, knowing each other and building trust at the start of the team-building process is essential. As well as having a meaning for the team, mission, and vision. Also, thinking about values as a core for the building process. Every team needs team members who think, act, are socially oriented, and emphasize positivity and fun. However, all members of any team are affecting the results of the performance of the team. So, if the team is not performing with the right attitude, then comes the role of the friend leader to raise the issue.  

Building team significance is not instant, but it is a process that teams go through which makes the process valuable. And this process can be considered team development. Team development has many phases depending on the way of seeing it. One of the most used ways is the performance curve, which divides the team’s performance into Workgroups, Fake Teams, Potential Teams, Real Teams, and High Performing Teams. However, there are some phases that every team goes through to become a high-performance team.  

First, is the orientation phase. In this phase, teams need to focus on identifying themselves and making a feeling of membership. And the best way to do it while bringing importance to the team as an essential thing is to have a shared vision between individuals and a reason for the existence of the team which is called a mission.  

Second is building trust that engages in building the central values of the team. However, the trust is earned subconsciously over time through the actions of each member. At this point, people notice some important details such as playing the roles as they are or making spoken promises. In this phase, individuals show if their team is going to be a high-performing team or a mock team.  

Third, the most important stage of team forming is shared vision development. Because every team has its expectations, goals, and vision to achieve. So, the teams start to have ideas and thoughts toward the vision. But the ideas need to be clear and simple to evoke feelings and emotions. In other words, the leading thoughts are ethical, and transparent, and ignite the team’s spirit of success.  

With leading thoughts, members considered team values together with the team. The deeper meaning of why the team exists translates into what we do every day. Meaning is created when team members’ ideas combine. For this reason, a shared vision must be carefully crafted.  

The last thing to take in mind is the right attitude to go through the process. The right attitude in this case is having a positive mindset that combines humor and laughter on an average day. Because it makes people feel free together while spreading delight. And that makes a positive vibe during an average day.  

Going back to the mentioned example, the SYNTRE team has done it differently, in their preferred way. The team knew that team significance is not instant. However, the team development process has faced some changes according to their reasons. The SYNTRE team began the development journey by having values, mission, and vision. The mission and vision of the team were clear for everyone, each member knows their goals, their reason to be a team, and what they want to achieve. But the team’s significance hasn’t been accomplished completely. Some of the members lack commitment for the team, or someone might feel like an outsider. Although, the team has the correct attitude of having fun during the average day, and that’s the importance of the attitude.  

A positive and good spirit creates freedom. How can you trust yourself to be relaxed and project that onto others? Humour is a unifying factor and reveals a team’s shared values. If everyone laughs together and a real common source of fun is discovered, the team has come a long way.

FIRE: Ignite the team 

In an organization where tasks, responsibility, and initiative are balanced between the members of the team, a certain level of spirit is needed to uphold the constant strain. The team members must have this inner flame that powers their contribution and dedication for the cause. It is up for the friendship leader to maintain – or at times, ignite – this flame.  

For the younger generations there are five important things in work: freedom, fun, colleagues & community atmosphere, significance, and self-development (Lehtinen, T. & Välinoro, T. 2013). These aspects have been present in SYNTRE’s way of doing this since the start. Mainly by coincidence, because our team is heavily represented by this younger generation. Freedom in our team is implemented in a way that the team members are given a lot of room for self-fulfilment. Self-directing is encouraged, and each team member has the freedom to operate within the given framework. Everyone is also pushed in a positive way to develop themselves in a way or another, whether it be by taking on responsibilities like leadership and managerial roles, starting on new projects, or researching undiscovered topics for workshops and essays. 

To support each member of the team in their journey of development, the collectiveness of the team is there to watch our back. Nobody is alone in what they do – SYNTRE members are given immediate support within the team and, if extra help is needed, there is a community of Proakatemia colleagues, coaches, and alumni to offer support. Each team member is responsible, however, for supervising their own development and the adjustment of it. The significance of the work is also to be determined individually, but the fact that we’re all responsible for bringing value to the team and the company is in the root of it. Lastly, the sense of belonging and figuring things out as we go creates the fun. 

A leader’s role comes with the responsibility to make sure that these important things come true. Leader must build trust, lift the mood and create a positive atmosphere, determine what is relevant to the team members and then implement it. To help with this process, there are five practices a leader should take. These practices (MICEE) were conceptualized and popularized by The Leadership Challenge (James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner, 1987): 

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision 
  3. Challenge the process 
  4. Enable others to act 
  5. Encourage the heart 

Modeling the way 

When modeling the way, it is important to first figure out what are the values that drive you as a leader. Only when you know what you stand for and what is important for you, can you be authentic and seen as a leader. Once you have clarified your own values, you must model commitment to them. You can’t expect your team members to identify with the same values, so you must create space for everyone to explore their own. This way everyone can stay true to their selves and follow your way of commitment to the common cause. By committing to the common cause, values become more aligned, and a sense of camaraderie is formed. By staying loyal to the common cause and setting an example by walking the walk (doing what you say you do), you nurture the behaviors you want to see in others.  “When you take on the responsibility of leading by clarifying your values, aligning with your organization, and setting an example to Model the Way, you are well on your way to becoming an exemplary leader.” (Kouzes & Posner 2017) 

Inspire a shared vision 

Inspiring a shared vision is all about creating a common purpose. As a leader, you should take time to envision the future of where you want your organization. This involves a thoughtful reflection on both the past and the present. Though this may seem counterintuitive, looking back on where you’re coming from is vital in determining where you want to continue your journey. This is applicated to, for example, the learning contracts. When you’ve defined the patterns, trends, and themes that have defined your life until this point, you can look to the future and create the vision that will drive both you and your organization forward. (Kouzes & Posner 2017). Inspiring this vision can be done by expressing passion and enthusiasm toward it. Leaders who do this are consistently seen as more effective and attract people to rally behind the cause. Lastly, it’s necessary to make your vision available to everyone. When people feel that their contributions and dreams have a place in the shared vision, they will be more inclined to commit to mutual goals. 

Challenge the process 

Challenging the process is about coming up with the most effective of doing things in your organization. It allows leaders to look at things from a different perspective, assesses where there is room to grow, and then readjust the way of doing things accordingly. This simultaneously creates an environment and atmosphere in the organization that enables for safe challenging of norms in the pursuit of organizational benefit and overcoming adversity. It is deeply rooted in innovation and the ability to think outside the box. “Sometimes challenged find leaders, and sometimes leaders find challenges; most often it’s a little of each” (Kouzes & Posner 2017). Challenging the process involves challenging yourself. This involves pursuing opportunities outside of your scope and experience. This way you can explore new ways of doing things. Taking small and concrete steps to make an impactful change will inspire innovation both within yourself and those around you. 

Enable others to act 

It is important for a leader to enable others to act. This means that the leader should be able to trust his/her team members to act individually without needing to tactically participate in every step of a process. It is of interest to both the leader and the rest of the organization that people have the confidence to do their jobs and make decisions independently. This behavior can be brought to life by fostering collaboration and strengthening others within the team. Creating a climate of trust and facilitating relationships amongst the people are two action points exemplary leaders must take. Another important thing to consider when enabling others to act is to ensure that everyone has the resources they need to succeed. Whether it be tangible or interpersonal – arming your people with the resources they need to succeed will contribute to the climate of trust and empowerment (Kouzes & Posner 2017).

Encourage the heart 

The last practice an exemplary leader should take is learning how to Encourage the Heart: to create an environment where wins are celebrated, contributions are appreciated, and hard work is recognized. Hard work can feel unrewarding and demotivating to maintain and commit to without a celebration or recognition of some sort. Setting clear expectations, goals, and rules for a path to success gives the team the framework in which to work but encouraging people along the way and celebrating wins is just as vital to keep the flame burning. Learning to give personal recognition to each team member is also important because everyone has a unique way of feeling appreciated. Creating a sense of social connection amongst co-workers through celebrations, recognition gatherings, or purely social time can bring joy and connection to the workplace which helps to build that spirit of community that helps leaders Encourage the Heart. (Kouzes & Posner 2017) 

WIND – Know your environment and create new 

The second last part of Musashi’s theory is about recognizing a team’s strengths, motives, and abilities, and harnessing them to create something new. In other words, creating a strategy and going through the motions with the team. To help in this process, there are many tools one can take, such as building a hedgehog concept to form a strategy profile, clarifying the company’s sales promise through the brand envelope, and following the development of customer relationships.  

Creating a strategy for your team can be challenging, especially when the team is large. Each member has their own opinion on what operations should be pursued and where the business should be taken. This is something SYNTRE Osk has battled with. Coming to a common conclusion is important in the eyes of strategy because you want to avoid following a road that has no regard for what the organization itself is or what it wants. Jim Collins has developed a simple concept that presents the strategy through three questions: What are you deeply passionate about? What can you be the best in the world at? And what drives your economic engine? Approaching the strategy-building from these perspectives helps you understand what your organization is as a whole and where to lead it. 

Once a deep understanding of the company and the strategy to support it has been made, messaging that to the customers is next. The team’s mental associations with customers form brands and at the center of this is image and reputation. You can evaluate what you would like it to be through the brand envelope. It includes everything that is coded deep into the brand: functional, psychological, ethical, and social dimensions; the mission, vision, values, benefits, competencies, and style of the company. By having a brand identity that matches your organization’s identity, you can ensure a sustainable reputation. This then attracts customers that fit your target audience with whom you can create lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.  

Customers aren’t only for the revenue stream, but also for development. This is something to take into consideration: what kind of customer can we offer learning to and what customers can we learn from? Classifying customers into three steps – a potential customer, a customer, and a loyal customer – helps with tracking the relationship between the parties. Potential customers include the customer segment which you and your team have chosen. Your customers have built a level of trust already and are willing to do business with your team and the company. Only a fraction of these, then, are loyal customers. Loyal customers are those that you have to treat with silk gloves – they bring in the majority of your revenue and you’ve invested a lot of time in them. 

VOID – Mindfulness 

Musashi describes the void to be something that doesn’t have a start or an ending. It means that you have gained an understanding of nature’s ways of working and know its rhythm. You are then able to benefit from it and gain victory/success with it. Accepting and adapting to the situation you are in and being able to move on with ease (Mushashi 1997).  

Silence and peace are needed inside the team to give time and space for thoughts and people to understand themself. Many times peace can be underestimated, but it is the key to our best performance. When we are calm and at peace, our thoughts are clearer, and we can focus on the performance. Carl Lewis world-known athlete was able to win his competitions because he gave 85 % in the race. The reason was that the body parts that were not needed to go through the stress were released from it and the focus stayed on the body parts that were most used (Venäläinen 2022). For a leader, it gives an advantage to knowing his thoughts and understanding them at the moment needed. To understand our thoughts, work there needs to be an understanding that our brain has two ways how it is thinking: system one and system two.   

System One  

In system one, the brain reacts to the things happening around it. It’s the part of the brain that resembles the way our ancestors used to think. Because back then humans were in a need of quick reactions and fast thinking. Nowadays this appears in our brains’ fast, unconscious, automatic, and emotional responses to situations and stimuli (Smith 2017). For example, the way we read text from shop windows while walking on the street or how we can ride a bike without thinking about it so hard. It also appears when making a decision. Our system one brain is more influenced by our surroundings and easily make impulsive decisions. Commercials are built for our system one brain to react to them.  

System Two  

System two is the slow-thinking system. This system is triggered and used when the brain needs to have a more analytical, conscious decision made and where there is a need for judgment. The thinking needs to control and slow because it is conscious and seemed “big” (Toivanen 2013). This system helps us understand our values, mental models, and reasons behind our behavior. For example, you use it when deciding who to ask for help in a group of people or while you are parking your car.   

Why we need to understand Systems 1 and 2  

We act and react to things based on our system 1, but to change the way we act we need to change our mental models. To do that we need to understand the thinking behind it by using system two. After understanding our mental models and impacting them in positive ways we gain control of our system 1 and can develop to be controllers of the systems. It helps them to understand our thinking, and to be present and conscious about our thoughts. With that learning leaders can be present in a dialogue, face individuals as they are, and have open minds for new thoughts.   

In Dialogue, we come together with system thinking and the acceptance of the ways of nature. Dialogue is a conversation between individuals and it aims to create new knowledge in the group. For that people should join dialogue with an open mind and practice dialogue diamond aspects of voicing, listening, respecting, and suspending (Isaacs 1999). When a leader can calm his mind and be present in a dialogue, he knows the value of his presents. He values nature’s way of working and can connect the big picture to his thinking during the dialogue. He can face individuals as they are, understand them, and empathize with their thoughts as well as be understood by others.   

Understanding, seeing, and having knowledge of the macro level of how things are working as well as knowing what happens at the micro level means that you can be able to lead the team with strategy. As an example, if the leader knows the widely known theory of team formation steps that include the formation phase, effervescence phase, norm creation phase, action phase, and dispersion (Lämsä & Hautala 2005). The leader can mirror that theory on the team member behaving if he is knowledgeable about what is going on inside the team. When understanding the big picture and knowing the small one he can see where the team is going or should be going.  

In SYNTRE Osk. the dialogue diamond was introduced to the team already in autumn and individuals were reminded about its steps along the way of spring by the members and the leaders. It was chosen to be an essay topic for all the members, and leaders ensured that team members knew the method and how to practice theoretical dialogue in Paja. But leaders also knowledge the big picture about the lack of experience in dialogue and were patient about it. They practiced being present by joining pajas and team meetings and focusing there on the topic and giving space for dialogue. This helped the team during the spring to value paja and the time spent there and encouraged them to enjoy dialogue.  As an example, if a leader knows how the process of building a team is done, he is knowledgeable and able to view where is his team and what individuals in the team are facing and going through.   

Void is the part of friend leadership that needs a lot of understanding, reflection, and work. It is the last step on the stairs and therefore also the most frequently forgotten step, which can take the skills to a higher level. (Toivanen, 2013) There needs to be a deep understanding of system thinking, the ways of nature, and micro/macro level system vision. It makes the difference in leading a team with a strategy and having conscious of it.   


Friend leadership has five steps that help the leader seeking this new generation of leadership. In the steps, the leader learns to lead themself, creates value, trust, and purpose in a team, motivates the team, challenges the surrounding, and learns how to be consciously present. The steps focus on the leader’s relationship with the team and the way a leader can build a relationship with the team but also how a leader needs to work on their skills to serve the team’s interest. In the steps of friend leadership, there introduced tools and theories to help the process of team leading, creating the team and its chore. In SYNTRE Osk. friend leadership was not consciously practiced but did occur more or less during the spring semester of 2022 in the team and in its work.   




Toivanen, H. 2019. Friend Leadership. Vaasa: Oy Fram Ab. 

Musashi, M. 1634 (1997). Go rin no sho (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void). Keuruu: Otava printers. 

Venäläinen, J. 2022. Tehokkain työ syntyy rentoudesta. Flow akatemia. Podcast. 

Smith, J. 2017. What Is System 1 Thinking – and Why Do You Need to Learn It? Observer. Newsletter. 

Isaacs W. 1999. Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together. USA: Doubleday. 

Lämsä, A.M. & Hautala T. 2005. Organisaatiokäyttätymisen perusteet. Helsinki: Edita.  

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2022. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Model. Read on 12.10.2022. Leadership Challenge – Discover The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® 



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