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A personal, goal-oriented, and risk-averse leader

How does one woman manage to manage Orange Cyberdefense Norway - and at the same time be a key person in the company's global management? If you ask Kaja Narum it’s about a leadership style based on a forward-leaning personality and some hard-earned experiences from early in the career. And an occasional break that leaves time to dance ballet.

In November 2022, Kaja Narum took up the position of Senior Vice President for Global Service Lines in Orange Cyberdefense, where she was given responsibility for the company's development of managed services on a global level. As if this was not challenging enough, in May 2023 she also took on the role of interim Managing Director for Orange Cyberdefense Norway. A position she held for eight months until a permanent candidate was appointed to take over the position.

How can a single person handle two such demanding roles at the same time? What kind of plans does she have to make this happen? What was her ambitions for Orange Cyberdefense Norway, when she took the overall responsibility for the company in a period? And what kind of leadership style does she have, which can work in both roles? To get an answer to some of this, we have had a chat with the ambitious and renowned security expert.

“My leadership style is who I am as a person. At work I am perhaps more balanced in certain situations than I am at home, but otherwise I am quite the same at home as at work. I am who I am - and that is very important to me. It would be problematic if I had to take on a role when I entered the office”, she says.

 

Curiosity and calculated risk

In other words, to know something about Kaja Narum's leadership style, it is necessary to study her personality. She herself points out that she has always welcomed change and that she is good at seeing opportunities. And not least that she is willing to take risks, even where others might not want to. But of course, as she emphasizes – it’s a matter of calculated risk.

“I usually ask myself if I could die from it. If the answer is no, I can do it. That's my personal mantra. I am also very curious. I love to learn, and it's something I've had with me since kindergarten. This is something that applies as much privately as professionally. Learning, figuring things out and developing will only make me a better person and leader”, she says.

Kaja is classic example of a T-shaped leader. That is, someone who happily shares knowledge and expertise with other managers across the organization (the horizontal part of the T), while remaining dedicated to optimizing the performance of their own team in the organization (the vertical part of the T- one). Kaja also has another definition of why she is a T-shaped leader:

“The shape of the T symbolizes that I have both depth and width. I have worked in cyber security my entire career, so I have depth there. By acquiring experience in management over many years, I have also gained a breadth. Both my competence and management style are constantly developing. Because the broader and deeper I can become, the more value I can bring to the table”, she explains.

When asked about her personality itself and what she thinks characterizes her that her colleagues may not already know, she answers:

“Well... I'm very interested in fashion and interior design. I'm actually a night owl, but I'm forced to be a morning person. I also dance ballet for two hours every Sunday afternoon.”

Yes/no and the big picture

When it comes to mastering two extensive and demanding leadership roles at once for eight months, it is perhaps not so surprising that managing her time was her biggest challenge. That had a huge impact on what she could say "yes" to and what she couldn’t engage in, simply because she didn’t have the time.

“At the time, I was interim Managing Director at Orange Cyberdefense Norway, I absolutely had to be quite strict about how I spent my time – and on what. The question becomes how I could set boundaries in my everyday work life. So, my biggest challenge was probably saying no to things in a decent and positive way. It is not easy”, she says.

Saying “no” is a challenge she became aware of early on in her career. She has worked for several start-ups, where managing time is often a common ingredient in everyday life.

“Since the beginning of my career I have gained quite a lot of experience when it comes to say “yes” and “no”. In start-ups, you often have a role that covers a very broad field with many different tasks. Then you absolutely must learn to prioritize hard”, says Kaja.

During this period, she also learned a lot of valuable things from making some mistakes.

“Looking back to the beginning of my career, I can now see that I was too concerned with myself, and too little concerned with why I was actually there. I therefore had to learn to focus on what the company's purpose and values were, and how I could help my managers achieve their goals. What was my role and what was the actual purpose of the company. It is still important to me to see and understand the big picture”, says Kaja.

Global values with a Norwegian touch

There is no doubt that Kaja has personality, and that her personality, in combination with previous experiences and strict management of time, will influence how she will tackle her tasks in the future. This becomes very clear when we she talks about her hopes for Orange Cyberdefense Norway in the future.

“The department in Norway is a small part of Orange Cyberdefense globally. As I have come to learn the Norwegian organization, and the people it consists of a very strong and capable team. This role as interim Managing Director gave me the opportunity to help the company chart a course and ensure that the way everyone work daily leads the company in the right direction”, explains Kaja.

She also explains that it is important for Orange Cyberdefense Norway to be linked closely to Orange Cyberdefense’s global values, while at the same time making sure, that the company doesn’t lose its uniqueness, and the strong roots it has in Norway.

“When we look at the Norwegian organization, and that goes for any local country where Orange Cyberdefense is represented, I think it is important that we always as: What works best and what is the right things to do here? I think that is the fundament, to succeed in winning a larger market share in Norway –

and in other countries as well. Expansion is one of the big focus areas for Orange Cyberdefense Group – and for all the local countries, including Norway. And when I held the position as interim Managind Director for Norway, I used a lot of my time and energy on focusing on how we could improve the foundation of the organization itself, i.e. the basis needed in any functioning company. Getting this in place was one of my key tasks as interim head of Norway”, says Kaja.

Get a sponsor

With more than twenty years of experience in the cyber security industry, and several senior roles in industry-leading companies on her CV, Kaja can offer several valuable insights – and some career tips.

“First of all, I would recommend everyone to find a sponsor in the workplace. Not a mentor, but a sponsor, who can, for example, help you advance within the company. It can be about getting a role in projects, changing departments, getting management responsibilities or a promotion”, says Kaja.

She understands that it can be difficult to find such a sponsor but emphasizes that you sometimes must take a step outside your comfort zone to make it happen.

“Start by finding a person you like and see as a partner you are comfortable having open and trusting conversations with. If you bond, your sponsor is often able to put in a good word for you when the opportunity arises? You must think a bit tactically, perhaps especially as a woman in a male-dominated industry. But above all, it is important to work hard and constantly working on developing both personally and professionally - in addition to being visible to the right people, concludes Kaja.

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