Malcolm Burenstam Linder is the CEO and co-founder of Alva Labs, a platform for candidate assessment to help companies with an objective recruitment process.
As I began to focus more and more of my time on the company I was building, not only did I feel my priorities elsewhere begin to slip, I could see the impact this was starting to have on my work and others. My professional life was suffering, and I found it harder to switch off at home. With each struggle only exacerbating the other, it quickly became a vicious cycle that felt unmanageable.
My company, Alva Labs, went from 48 to 75 employees in 2022. As we grew, so did the remit of my role as a founder. We faced—and still do—threats to our business near-daily. Dealing with these challenges, my new responsibilities, and my personal life became overwhelming. I was learning to be a CEO and father to two young children. I turned to an executive coach to help me get my bearings, and a year and a half later, I’m still reaping the benefits.
How coaching changed my thinking as a CEO
In the time I’ve been working with my coach, I’ve noticed an increased sense of calm. Of course, I have a long way to go—this is a lifelong journey of self-betterment. But with my team commenting positively on my ability to deal with the various pressures of the job, I’m moving in the right direction.
I still get stressed out, naturally. I sometimes react in the wrong way to an evolving situation. However, these cases are increasingly in the margins, and thanks to coaching, I feel a sense of continuous improvement.
I can put out the fires, and when they emerge, I’m more able to focus, prioritize, and execute tasks. Reaching my potential as a CEO has a tangible impact on the overall health of my company and our employees. I see it in the growth of interpersonal relationships at all levels—increased clarity for a leader can provide everyone with a greater sense of security and confidence at work.
The right paranoia and its impact on my personal life
A degree of paranoia comes with starting your own company—a preoccupation with the pitfalls and hazards yet to come. It’s overwhelming and, at times, frightening. My coach taught me to consider the right kind of paranoia by translating this unpleasant, difficult feeling into something I can handle better. Paranoia and stress that would have affected me a few years ago now feel more like a healthy awareness of our company’s future challenges.
What I didn’t expect, and what has become one of the most significant byproducts of embarking on my coaching journey, is how it changed my personal life. Delineating between work and family has made me a more present father to my two children, rather than my mind still being at the office. My increased understanding of why I react in specific ways to certain situations has helped me learn how to deal with those moments with greater clarity and patience. There’s still progress to be made, but I’m immeasurably grateful for this improvement.
Coaching has granted me perspective. It stretches from the challenges I face within the company as co-founder and CEO to my personal life at home. As a result of the work we’ve done together, I’m better at articulating and defining my priorities in life. For the first time, I can design my life confident that I’m aligned with what’s most important to me.
Bringing coaching to my company and employees
After just two sessions, I decided to implement coaching company-wide as an option for all employees. My company’s work focuses on candidate assessments, so I know how important employee retention and employee well-being are. It’s the leader’s responsibility to set an example, and I led the way by implementing a process that has been transformative in my own life.
Coaching, as something deeply personal, can’t be built into a business’s operations the way other frameworks can. To help incorporate it, I’ve considered which aspects have worked best for me, but I’ve been learning from my team along the way. That means the approach is adapted to each individual and does not run on a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we’ve worked hard to uphold and sensitively navigate the divide between personal and corporate responsibilities, ultimately reaping the rewards of giving employees someone else to listen.
Alva’s head of people, Linnea Bywall, is a licensed psychologist and provides internal coaching. People either reach out voluntarily, are recommended by their manager, or leverage her as part of leadership training. The coaching is personalized from the first session, where time is taken to find focus for what support the employee needs, and the flow is loosely based on cognitive behavioral therapy. The feedback has been so positive that we’re expanding the program.
We also make external coaching available so the team can access licensed psychologists from outside our company who are specialists in supporting professionals. We see this as another critical layer to our collective self-development journeys and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
There are still challenges. Coaching is relatively new to Sweden and is sometimes seen as an American import. Cultural taboos around men talking about their emotions, especially when that’s situated in a corporate context, remain. But it’s worth the shift in mindset.
Deepening our company’s relationship with coaching
Though we’re only early to coaching as a company, we already feel the benefits. Employees indicate they feel better supported, which will manifest in higher levels of engagement, improved self-leadership, and awareness—and they’ll be less likely to burn out. There’s so much potential there.
It would be contradictory to solely focus on the potential benefits our team has seen as employees. Outside of work, the positives are taking hold too. Colleagues have told me they feel better able to manage their work-life balance and feel more present in their private lives.
I’m grateful for my own coaching journey and glad we took the leap to implement it company-wide at Alva Labs. The results have only been positive. Of course, there’s still much to be done. But with a coach by my side, I feel more in control of all aspects of my life. And by sharing coaching with my employees, I’m not alone.