What would be hardest today? To be a good mum or to be a good leader?

What would be hardest today? To be a good mum or to be a good leader?

On May 9th, I launched a video for all the working mums out there. You can now watch it on YouTube.

On a usual day I would ask myself: What would be hardest today – to be a good mum or to be a good leader at work? Do you have that as well?

The good news is you don’t have to separate those roles, you can learn from both roles. You can become more effective with your team in business when you unlock the leadership skills you learn day-to-day as a parent and the other way around.

Ten years ago, I used to be an ambitious hyper-achiever living in London, traveling the world and on thrived on targets, but every time I reached them . I went running after the next one.

I had my first baby and all of the sudden I had to slow down. It was confusing because plans and targets didn’t match with the new role as a young mum… To be honest I felt a bit incompetent in this. Ten months later I went back to my job as Leadership Development trainer. I remember being in this room outside London, teaching a group of managers about influencing as a leader.. And that’s when I had my epiphany:

I realized that as a mother I am not meant to be just the care giver instead I am meant to lead my child and to prepare her for life. And this leadership role is shared with the father and we both grow as parents and leaders

I had a spark… I wondered : how do other mothers, from different cultures and professions experience this?

Using my expertise as a learning professional I interviewed 20 mothers from different ages, profession and from all over the world: from Mongolia to United States.

Those stories became the basis for the Mothers as Leaders book and for the leadership framework I now use when I help ambitious women like you enjoy both career success and family joy.

Because Leadership, of any kind, starts with taking charge of your life and driving your own bus.

Dare to dream! And don’t be afraid to ask for HELP.

P.S: I am here to help you take back the lead on your life. It’s ok to have fun …both as a mum and as a leader. Love, Steliana

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About the author: Steliana is a mother, a writer and a leader-coach on positive intelligence

Mothers and managers – AD Den Haag interview

Mothers and managers – AD Den Haag interview

This is the English translation of my profile interview written by the journalist Nicolette van der Werff  for AD Den Haag newspaper on 21 Jan. 2021  

 

Nine  years ago,  I stood in this big training  room at the Shell training centre near London, telling the participants (mostly male managers) about leadership.  The topic was about influencing behavioural change through  role-modelling. I remember saying  “Realize that the entire team  is watching you all day long. Therefore, you need to be consistent and always fair. You are seen. Discrepancies are always noticed, causing mistrust. Only when a leader is consistent and clear can a team thrive’. As I stood there in the middle of the podium, it suddenly hit me. ‘Gosh, that also applies to me, at home’. I didn’t have a department to lead, but I had a small child at home and I didn’t know how to cope with this new role as a mother, as a parent. Why don’t I use the leadership training in my home and make my family happier.

Cheese

I grew up in Romania, on a cheese farm near the Black Sea Coast. I was surrounded by a fair amount of sheep, chickens and other farm animals. As the youngest  of the three daughters in a extended family of 9, my family didn’t pay much attention to me. Which, was a great. I had more free time than my sisters and used that time to observe life and things. I watched my grandmother manage our farm. She did this with a gentle hand and with an eye for the well-being of the whole family and the 200 sheep we kept for the wool and cheese. Grandma kept an overview and set the rhythm on the farm and the  family meals. She was sweet and gentle but also consistent and clear, which made her not only a wonderful grandmother but also a good farmer and leader of our family.

Grandma

Grandma was sweet and gentle, but also consistent and clear: a good farmer and leader of our family. When my father got a job as an engineer in the big city, we moved from the farm to a flat. My mother stopped working as a teacher and took care of us. We loved it, but my mother had a hard time because we were three loud teenage girls who rebelled constantly. You see, you don’t have to speak softly for the neighbours when you live on a farm but you do when you live in a flat. My mother did not have an easy time with us.

My father earned a reasonable salary as an agricultural engineer for the government. But everything changed when the revolution toppled the communist Ceausescu in 1989. Due to the enormous inflation that followed, the engineer’s salary suddenly didn’t amount to much anymore. My mother acted immediately. Despite being a trained primary school teacher, she went to work for the best butcher in town as a sales lady and suddenly made more money than my father.

University

The nineties were tough years for our family financially. The whole economic system in the country collapsed and all that matter was the ability to sell, trade and manage your cash. As a teenager I realised that making money and being independent is hugely important for a woman, so when it was time to go to university, I studied Finance & Accountancy.  In my first student year I joined an international student organization, AIESEC, where, thanks only to my grandma’s matriarchal leadership genes, I was elected the first woman president of the local chapter. During my time in AIESEC I met this self-confident Dutch student, who visited Romania through an international exchange program. 

Fast forward ten year and we were married, living in London and starting a family. In the first ten years after graduation, my career and life seemed very much in control: I was employed by multinationals such as Kraft Foods, Nike and Shell to do what I loved most, giving management and leadership training to executives. Everything seemed under control until October 2011, when I had a baby.  Finding my rhythm as a new mother turned out to be more difficult than having a responsible and well-paid managerial job in a corporate . 

“Mothers who do find the rhythm and enjoy parenthood are in fact great leaders and managers’

Parenting style and leadership style

I changed my mothering style when my second child, Thomas, was born,  in the first year back after our family moved in The Netherlands. I suddenly saw the parallels between parenthood and team management. Children, like your team, also watch you all day long. They really hear what you say, but they mainly watch what you do. You have to act accordingly. You need to give them feedback, just like you do when running a team.  You need to tell them what you feel and the consequences on others when they engage in a certain destructive behaviour.  It’s not always Joy and pride,  sometimes its is frustration, anger and sadness.

Kids needed to learn the language of emotions. I needed to learn how to name them.

My parenting style wasn’t the only thing that changed. I became a better employee. Motherhood taught me lessons that  benefited my workplace and my career. Being a young mother used to dealing with toddlers tantrums,  it had helped me develop more patience and focus more on the long term. After all, with kids you need to choose your battles. I became more creative, bolder, more confident and better able to set my priorities.

 The social pressure on Mothers

 

The pressure on mothers is great. Especially here, in the Netherlands. A child here must have a swimming diploma before the age of five. He has to go to tennis, he has to put on nice clothes, throw a great birthday party ( before COVID19) and have a great treat. At our farm house countries, the family as a whole was important. Here the kids come first. Even if the mother doesn’t always like it, even is she has her own personal dreams.

 I wrote Mothers as leaders because I wanted to show how women in other cultures deal with motherhood and  what they are capable of because of it. It has 20 stories of  mothers who had to overcome many hardships  to find the leadership role in their company, their mission or their family. The book is  meant to inspire and motivate you to take the lead in life and thus let the parenting guilt disappear. To make it disappear, not to be ignored because a feeling of guilt is an important red flag. It tells you that it is time to take a closer look at your life, at your parenting, at your career and to make a changes about it. That change could be about anything. In my case it was about my employment contract and the sacrifices I need it to make for a corporate career. I need it more flexibility, so I left the big business world behind and I now have  my own” boutique coaching & consulting practice: Ithaca coaching. Mothers as leaders.

 Family as a team 

Thanks to my Dutch husband and the nuns language school in Vught, in the past years I learned to speak fluent Dutch. It was important to integrate. My two children are raised trilingual. They learn Dutch at school and from their father. They pick-up English from the after-school and from home. On Saturdays I teach, with another mum, the Romanian school in our living room.  We have 3 small students. This is one of the main benefits of being an independent entrepreneur – flexibility.  I am more at home than before, and not just in back-to-back telecons. Time with my kids has gotten more fun and better.

The family is a team. Every member has wishes and every member has a role . Stressed out mothers are sometimes sold the term” quality time”. You don’t have much time with your kids but what when you have it is great. I believed it it at start too.  In practice, however, it doesn’t work that way. You are not alone. A family is a team. Every member has wishes and every member, even the child, has a role. Getting a grip on that together ensures that everyone in the team thrives.

I am aware that I am lucky and privileged to be able to start my own practice while dealing with the uncertainty of income in the early years. By writing the stories of other mothers, coming from different social backgrounds in the book, I gained perspective. I felt humble and in full admiration for the women who, despite being imprisoned for their political conviction and having  to flee their country , they were still able to  nurture and guide the life of their children back home. They did that with the help of a strong family.  Their children grew up respecting them as great mothers and fine leaders, seeing them as role-models of courage.

You don’t need to become a political activist to show your leadership as a mother or a father, it is the day-to-day actions you take both at home and at work, that are going to help your kids develop their own life values and self-esteem.

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About the author: Steliana is a mother, a writer and a leader-coach on positive intelligence

 

 

Should you dream of thriving? What’s wrong with surviving?

Should you dream of thriving? What’s wrong with surviving?

With all the events and restrictions of past year  you might think: ‘it’s  ok to feel a bit: ‘meh…everybody does’.  Someone once said that a problem shared is a problem doubled:).  According to Yuval Noah Harari ‘s Homo sapiens human progress was possible due to the ability of humans to share stories and gossips. More than that, pointing to a common enemy, it has been the rulers leadership method most used in the past millennia. In fighting our common enemy, the COVID pandemic, our government managed to keep people united and its spread sort of manageable (some might debate it) for the first part of last year.

Unfortunately, the civic obedience while  waiting for the big boss government to save us, transformed us in victims of circumstance with the only hope of surviving through this period while waiting for the vaccine to bring us salvation. 

In The Netherlands  we are soon celebrating a year since the first lock-down started and it is a sad milestone. The reservoirs of patience, perseverance and strong will are depleting and the general mental fitness is taking a hit. If you wander what mental fitness is, it is the capacity to deal with life challenges with a positive rather than a negative mindset.   I was fortunate to win a coaching grant for Shirzad Chamine positive intelligence April last year and it proved to be the inspiration I need it.  

Some cynical people challenged me in the past, as to why do you need to be so positive and wanting to thrive. What’s wrong with being critical and just surviving if you just feel tired, frustrated or angry. Some people might say that negative emotions are good, they give you a …. in the backside and help you get your act together to deliver. Well, I tend to disagree. If performance comes as a result of a motivational push, it will not last long and it will cost your overall happiness. I know I made some wrong choices because of it, like applying for a role I didn’t  want out of jealousy or out of frustration. Eventually, it didn’t end up well.

So, if thriving is what we want. How can we get more of it, and how can we stop all those negative feelings, from messing with our head and our ability to think clearly.

Well it is about building your mental muscles when you don’t need them. If we want  to have beach ready abs, you don’t start training during the holiday, you do it before by going to the gym or practising on the mat at home. 

In partnership with  Shirzad’s positive intelligence company we started to offer mental fitness  training as part of our coaching practice and I am must confess the results exceeded even my expectations.  It’s not about the high-end training, it’s not about my coaching skills, it’s not about Shirzad’s wisdom, it is simply the level of challenge and difficulty people have to face nowadays and the sense of urgency to change that makes the Thrive with positive intelligence so effective.

About 10 days ago, Irina Palarie and myself  led two panel sessions about it and we shared the key principles for thriving instead of surviving by increasing your mental fitness and positive intelligence:

  1. Mindset – If you’re not physically fit, you’d feel physical stress as you climb the stairs.   If you’re not mentally fit, you’d feel mental stress, such as anxiety, frustration, or unhappiness as you try to deal with work, family and relationship challenges. You can train to become mentally fit.
  2. Definition – PQ is the measure of your Mental Fitness. It’s the best predictor of how happy you are and how well you perform relative to your potential. Unfortunately, 80% of people score below the minimum level of mental fitness (PQ) required for peak performance and happiness.   
  3. Science – With recent breakthroughs in neuroscience, cognitive behaviour and technology we can now improve our mental fitness, but we need to do something about it, we need to train our muscles,  just like we go to the gym.
  4. Method – There are 3 root core muscles that you can train to increase your PQ:
    1. Intercepting your Saboteurs – housed in the left side of your brain, the reptilian one.
    2. Nurturing your Sage – unique mental powers (i.e empathy, passion, curiosity) housed in the middle cortex
    3. Self-Command – if you would have command over your brain you wouldn’t  stress out over what you can’t control, push away self-doubts, recover from disappointments immediately, and spend little time in anger, regret, or blame. 

A good friend, Koen Timmermans, reminded me of a very powerful quote that sums up nicely, why thriving is so much better than surviving and worrying. 

‘If it can be solved there is no need to worry and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use’ (Dalai Lama XIV)

P.S: If you want to find out more about mental fitness or you just want to pick my brain on something that bothers you, DM me and for our free open events and articles : https://mothersasleaders.com/

 

The year I said ‘good-bye’ to my hyper-achiever

The year I said ‘good-bye’ to my hyper-achiever

The year 2020 showed me the illusion of  the hyper-achiever mindset and reminded me that people won’t  follow me because of  the job title I hold, but they will listen when I speak with humility straight from the heart. They will listen even if my voice is not perfect, my accent is not posh or my pitch is not eloquent. They will listen because the message of ‘Mothers as Leaders’ unites across geographies and social classes.

New stage

I started 2020 thinking that I am going to have a weird year, it was supposed to be my transition year after a 20-year corporate life.

What do you want to write for future generations about COVID19?
I decided to use my package to finance a year in which I will do what my heart desires, and that wasn’t per se lying on a beach in Bahamas. On the contrary, it was about getting myself ready for the new stage in my life.

Still I was starting this new life operating in the old way – I was careful, moderated and taking calculated- risks.    I thought that being ambitious is a good thing, the hyper achiever streak it’s what got me from the girl who grew up on a farm in South East Romania to my current comfortable  life. It must have been a good thing, right?

However at the end of 2019 I couldn’t explain the emptiness I felt inside and the shame I felt for leading a life without a higher purpose than earning a good salary and being better than my peers. I decided that 2020 would be the year for making some drastic changes, but little did I know that the whole planet would go through some drastic changes.

Emotional struggle

On January 1st 2020, I felt on top of the world and at the same time I was so much out of touch with reality, that it was painful to admit it. I was letting go of the safety net of a highly paid job for the uncertain life of an independent executive coach and writer and it was scary. I witnessed with my own eyes and ears how my father, my hero, was losing his mind and his body functions to a an extremely progressive parkinsonian disease. I didn’t want to accept that he might die, I was busy looking for options and solutions to fix this temporary situation I felt he was in. I couldn’t admit it. The hyper-achiever in me, the one who pushed me towards success in my career was becoming damaging to my ability to deal with this enormous emotional struggle.  

Steliana of January 2020, sabotaged by the hyper-achiever was competitive, image and status conscious, good at covering up insecurities and showing up positive image. I would adapt my personality to fit what would be more impressive to the other and I was certainly goal oriented with a workaholic streak. Even my idea around good parenting was influenced by this mindset and I struggled admitting my vulnerabilities to my kids and because of that my ability to laugh, play with them was impacted. If I look back at the  time when I was picking up the kids at the after-school at 6.30 pm every day, I remember feeling like as if I was on an automatic pilot mode. I drove them places and, in the evening offered a healthy meal but that was all – I didn’t have energy for more.

The tipping point became the month of February, few weeks before the March lockdown started. I booked a last-minute flight  to visit my parents because my dad was taken into the hospital and the prognosis wasn’t good. When I saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but still the ‘hyper-achiever’ in me was holding me back.

I kept telling myself that  emotions get in the way of performance and I need it to the one in the family who deals with the doctors, with the hospital and making sure the problem is fixed. I thought I need it to focus on thinking and action. That’s what my sisters and my parents always expected of me.

Breaking down in tears  wasn’t the way I saw myself reacting to the situation. Instead, I camouflaged my feelings for more than a month, starting with the time I was told by the doctors that there was no hope and all the way after the funeral. I was feeling sick in my body and loosing weight, but somehow I could keep  pretending.

The news of the ‘lockdown’   found me in this state of numbness. When all travel stopped, when all social interactions stopped, I could finally slow down and listen to my inner emotions.

Perspective

Losing my father in the ICU ward weeks before the pandemic , gave me a sense of perspective but at the same time it allowed me to grow a sense of deep empathy for all the people losing their elderly parents due to COVID. I could feel their pain because I still had a ‘open wound’ myself.

I noticed that if I let go of targets and goals and the need to be successful I can enjoy the time I had with the kids at home, I can enjoy reviewing the home-working assignments and the adrenaline I was feeling when I had to ‘sell’ myself, my story and my book  to companies and strangers. I didn’t have behind me the credentials and the well-known brand of the huge company I worked for before, but to my surprise – ‘Just being ME, seemed to be enough’.

The more I spoke to strangers via webinars, talks and in-house company presentations the more I saw that so many people struggle with similar issues. I wanted so deeply for them to also feel that ‘they are enough, and that they are awesome’ that I shared my most vulnerable emotions,  because ‘how else can you talk about Empathy if you can’t empathize with yourself’.

It wasn’t a smooth journey and, as the year progressed, I have seen the hyper-achiever in me emerge many times, especially when I got rejected, refused or simply not accepted in a certain circle. Because as we all know, starting up a company is never easy and COVID didn’t make it easier. I could hear the hyper-achiever voice whisper in my ear: ‘If you can’t be outstanding, why bother. You must be efficient and effective. See what others do’.

Positive intelligence

But somehow this year was so extraordinarily different, I could fight that voice. I took up an extensive training on Positive Intelligence taught online  by Stanford Lecturer Shirzad Chamine, and for the past 8 months, I introduced the habit of  daily-practice of mindfulness through 2 minutes exercise and reflections. It helped me intercept my inner-saboteurs and to re-discover my inner strengths and qualities.

So, as I am leaving 2020 behind I am saying good-bye to the hyper-achiever Steliana and I am welcoming the power of empathy and the ability to navigate smoother through the unpredictable tides of life.

  • Have the challenges of this year allowed you to exercise more self-compassion or shifted your inner dialogue?

This article was first published in Thrive Global , Arianna Huffington online magazine on December 28th, 2020. It is a wonderful community for well-being resources and community tips.

Is self-confidence different for women comparing to men?

Is self-confidence different for women comparing to men?

My grandma always used to say, Steliana, you can become anything you want, even a Prime-Minister if you like it. At the age of seven I thought Prime-Ministers were boring men with their grey and dark-blue suits. The only woman politician I saw on TV, Elena Ceausescu, the wife of the Romanian president, was a rather scary lady. I wanted to become like Surya Bonaly, an extraordinary French girl who was the first woman of color to win the world title for artistic skating. She wore happy feminine colors but she was courageous and strong. For me she was and still is a symbol of self-confidence.

I chose to write about self-confidence this week because I realized that what I see as common sense, it is not per se common sense by others. You only notice your self-confidence when you lost it. There were three events that triggered me to reflect on self-confidence over the last period.

The first one, was a remark from one of my interns, who interviewed women and men entrepreneurs for her final thesis. She discovered that all women entrepreneurs talked about their experience and credentials humbly reflecting on their improvements areas while the men entrepreneurs always spoke highly of themselves when reflecting on their challenges.

The second event was a question I received during my engagement with the Renault HR team. One of the ladies in the audience asked me if I ever doubted my self-confidence about delivering on new projects when I had to learn new skills. My answer shocked me: I never did. It isn’t the arrogance of being invincible, rather the conviction that I can learn anything if I can put my head into it. The danger with my approach is that if I don’t ask for help from others, I end up exhausted due to the dedication and passion for learning. I only mastered the skills of asking for help in time with my second child.

The third piece of evidence that made me wonder whether self-confidence to ‘just do it’ is perceived differently by women versus man was a remark made by a driving instructor from London. He said:’ I am really surprised to see so many foreign women who used to drive day-by-day in their home-country, sometimes in tough places like India or Pakistan, coming to me for driving lessons. The women take lessons because they think their driving is not good enough for the London traffic, while their men enroll themselves as taxi drivers from the first week.

So, why do us, women feel the need to get a diploma or a training certificate before starting a new paid profession, while men demand to be paid for their work and their learning process from Day 1?

A part of me hopes that I am generalizing and that most women demand the right pay for their services and their effort but unfortunately the gender pay gap, reinforces my perception. I like to think that we women, want a certificate and need to tick all the boxes on the job requirements because we respect quality and appreciate credibility and reliability for building trust. The other part of me wonders whether we women, and especially mums, tend to loose our appetite for taking risk after becoming a parent.

What is your view? Do you see that self-confidence shows up differently for men and women as well?

I would love to hear your opinion in the comments.