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.

TGIF: Say no to misery. Welcome sun.

TGIF: Say no to misery. Welcome sun.

Friday is again here. Hurray!  I can see that smile emerging on your face😊

There is hope on the horizon that the weekend will liberate us. It will liberate us from our screens, the zoom calls and the invisible chain to our desk chair. Welcome outdoor activities, sports, family and  friends  time or …Netflix movies, new dates and adventures.

This week was a rainy one here in The Netherlands and I knew about it last Sunday. Now, as most of you who know me will tell, I have quite a strong inclination towards extroversion, if I don’t get to see the sun or other people for too long, I end up walking around  the house like this pale-faced, moody working mum cursing the kids for being messy.

Desperate moments call for drastic measures. So, in fighting autumn rain depression and home-working cabin fever I did, take some proactive actions. With the help of my dear family, I did 3 things (Tips for fighting misery!)

1. I remodeled my Home office to get maximum sun and color

I decided I need it my new office in a happy corner of the living room, with my beloved brainstorm whiteboard and post its next to it. My dear husband, who never ceases to impress me, managed to surprise me and he did all the set up on Sunday afternoon while I was at the gym.

 2. I adapted my meeting agenda to make it more interactive and ALIVE😊

Like most of you, my Monday was packed with back -to back meetings: client calls in the morning, onboarding meeting with a new team member, a workshop design brainstorm and administration filing. Sunday evening, I had the idea to invite my team mate for a brainstorm at my home so that we can brainstorm at a social safe distance and also tackle the admin. She assured me that she is healthy, but out of paranoia, I suggested we wear face masks.

(Ok, I know that in the current COVID situation face -to-face meetings are banned but if we learn to wear masks during our work meetings our life will become easier. The entire Europe, wear mask, I don’t know why, we Dutch are resisting it still.)

3. I stopped fighting the inner MISERY and low energy when the rain poured down my face while dropping the kids at school on Tuesday morning.

Since   April I started a new digital coaching program on positive intelligence and while I learned a lot while doing the 6-weeks practice exercises, I am learning even more now that I teach it myself. Anyways, one of the best 4 min recordings is on… how to accept misery. It felt counterintuitive to me, but apparently the neuroscience proves that:

 ‘the more our brain tries to fight the misery, the worse it gets. The pain in itself is less than our effort to fight it.’

 If you didn’t come across positive intelligence yet, check out their free saboteurs’ assessment.

Now, if you think, that this is just another letter telling you how great Steliana is and all the things she does, then you must have guessed two of my inner saboteurs, the Hyper-Achiever and the Restless.  However, I must tell you in full confidence that the idea of writing Friday TGIF letters comes from the Sage version of me, the one that knows that only through  being courageous and vulnerable and you can dream big and  help others take action on their dreams. So, my dear friend, this is an invitation for you to sharpen your pencils and to start writing.

 I am convinced that there is a book in all of us, or at least a letter or… a blog article.

 Don’t postpone it, the world is waiting.

I hope you are as excited as I am to begin the weekend.  

Career is only one part of one’s beautiful career.

Sincerely,

Steliana

Can you have it all? Career, family and life?

Can you have it all? Career, family and life?

I am sure you all heard the famous jokes, made mostly by men, about the perfect woman. I can’t stop thinking that there is a self-inflicted pain a woman experiences when aiming to become the ideal woman. It all starts in the teenage years when you discover you like a particular boy and suddenly everything that boy appreciates (or doesn’t) becomes the centre of the universe. ‘Ah… the first love. How romantic!’ most people would say. Years pass and, after being disappointed by several boys and men from your youth, you are less likely to be as naïve as in your teenage time but you still fall for the same type of men.

There still seems to be something biologically coded in all heterosexual women that makes them define success through the ability to find a father for their future children. I don’t even understand why we women follow the man we love into the riskiest and most adventurous career and life changes but, when it comes to our dreams, become cautious and risk-averse.

The ‘Work – Life – You’ balance

When you are a working mother with two small children and no additional household help, you know that the idea of work-life balance is a myth or a catchy title the human resources department in corporations tend to use. You have your good days when things are relatively in control and you can still play with the kids in the evening but you also have the chaotic days when one of your children gets sick while at school or nursery. The fragile balance is immediately broken and you have to get back into crisis planning mode.

Some are lucky and manage to navigate the choppy waters of the mid to late thirties but still for many working mothers the personal sacrifices required to keep that well-paid job that covers the expensive nursery costs stops making sense when the health of one of your children is at risk.

Being raised in a spartan Eastern European regime by a mother who kept her full-time employment despite receiving no help with the house chores from my father, I guess I am somehow naturally wired towards being a working mother. One of my core beliefs is that educated women should not abandon their professional jobs for which they trained for years, to become overqualified housewives and class mothers at school.

However, in the past years, I became more understanding and less judgmental towards the women who do just that. There is always a story behind that decision. The added bonus of writing the book Mothers as leaders was that I got to hear the life story of some amazing women and I could gain insight into their decision process.

The life-story that made me humble and respectful towards the courage it takes to give up a hard-built career and completely change your lifestyle so that you can be there for your family is the story of Katja, a thirty-eight years old Dutch woman and mother of two who took a career break of two years by resigning from a prestigious Marketing Director job. She did that so that she can focus on her family and on her health. The stressful life-style of combining a high-profile role and two children below 3 years old at home was significantly damaging her health.

On the other side of the spectrum, it was the life-story of Catherine, a mother and now a grand-mother who had a working life of 42 years. She became the first woman in Europe to become partner at a prestigious consulting firm. She raised two boys into successful young men and, not to be underestimated, she managed to keep her first marriage. She did decide early on to use most of her salary for outsourcing the household work and the school duties. She valued her work identity so much, that after she retired at 65, she went back to a reduced working week and she is still doing executive coaching.

I could relate to the story of both women, but at the same time I knew that I am not a Katja or a Catherine, I guess I am a hybrid, or simply Steliana:)

I worked for twenty-years in a competitive environment while guided by clear career goals, but as I saw that I could easily reach goals, success stopped being motivating.

Going back to the: ‘Can you have it all?’ in my title, I must confess that this was question that tormented in the early thirties in the first years of motherhood, but somehow as I managed to break my own imaginary career glass ceiling, I realized that having it all was quite tiring. It created a sort of pressure for being successful that ended up sabotaging your own inner peace and happiness.

On my 40th birthday while I was driving to a whole day team development event, it occurred me that although I felt I was getting old I had 27 years before pension and that there are so many things I could do in all those years.

‘Career is only one part of ones beautiful life’

I decided to change my profession and my life-styles so that I can prioritize time for my family, while doing something that it is in line with my values and purpose in life. It might take a while before I can reach, if ever, the same income I was earning when I was on the corporate career scheme, but I know that this is not my key motivator.

There is no silver bullet to solving the ‘work-life-you’ dilemma. The choices women make to stay employed after having children are rooted back in their beliefs about the idea of family, the role of parents and their working identity. Personality traits such as perfectionism and the inner drive to please others, can negatively impact the ability of some women to manage the work-life-you balance.

What is the story behind your choice?

What does that ‘All’ mean to you?

The power of language for breaking barriers

The power of language for breaking barriers

‘In good times, but especially in bad times we discover over and over again how powerful language can be. Words can heal or they can hurt, they can unite or they can divide nations.’ 

No matter where you are in the world, you have probably been watching daily briefings from the leaders of your country as they try to navigate us through the current pandemic. You may have also noticed the reports / headlines / social media posts highlighting the success of women leaders during this time.

 

Plenty of countries with male leaders have also done well. But when you consider the fact that women make up only 7% of heads of state, we can safely say women have disproportionately passed this test with flying colours. But why?

Traditionally, women leaders have been criticised as being over emotional, too empathetic, not focused enough on the business side of things…. These women leaders have shown they are committed to the business of saving lives and saving their country’s economy. They are literally making life and death decisions that require the support of millions of people to be effective and they are gaining that support because they are emotional and empathetic. So can we once and for all agree that these traits are not a weakness?

The 39 year-old Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden has been praised for her leadership style. She spoke to the country about Covid-19 with empathy, respect, clarity and responsibility. These are the key communication ingredients required in a period of uncertainty and stress as COVID19.  Whilst she has addressed the big issues of job security and quarantine measures, she’s also addressed the logistical issues the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy may face. Similarly Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen and Norway’s prime minster Erna Solberg have both taken the unusual step of directly addressing the country’s children. These women are demonstrating their awareness that they are responsible for leading everyone in their country and they are able to adapt their communication styles appropriately.

As mothers we are also faced with the need to adapt our communication style depending on the age of our children for example. Whilst these examples highlight the maternal nurturing instincts of these leaders, which again are often seen as weaknesses in women leaders, these women are successful because they have an arsenal of weapons in their communication toolbox. Not everyone is born a skilled communicator.  You can learn through communication and media training how to improve the clarity of your message but you can’t learn empathy in a course, it comes with life experience.

What I picked up while listening to Jacinda is that she is not preaching to me, but she stands next to me as she is talking. Her tone is calm and reassuring and I almost felt that she cared about me personally, and I am not even from New Zealand! When I compare this speech with the one of a variety of male leaders what I find striking is their choice of language. Even Mark Rutte, the prime minister of The Netherlands, who is seen as a charismatic communicator falls in the trap of preaching when he wants to show care and empathy.

Seven years ago I  was invited to join a structural dynamics certification training delivered by David Kantor institute and since than I used David Kantor’s model and assessment tool to help many teams and leaders with improving their interpersonal communication.  Let me give you a short snippet of how we can use this approach to communicate in a way that touches people and to use a language that resonates with most.

David Kantor  is an American sociologist who developed a model for interpersonal communication called Structural dynamics, This model was developed through an empirical study of family communication over 35 years ago and has evolved and expanded over time an application to families, couples, teams and whole organizations.

Kantor discovered that next to the stances or positions people take in a dialogue, to move or oppose an idea, there is another ingredient that makes the difference for impact interpersonal communication and this is the Language or the Communication domain. When I use the word language, I  don’t mean English or French. Kantor talks about 3 key languages people understand and use: the language of Power (Action), the language of Meaning (Rational thinking) and the language of Affect (Feelings).

We are all born with a preference and fluency in one of the languages but we are all able to learn the other languages too. People who are fluent in the language of power use words as ‘decide, steps, plan of attack’ etc. A good example of this is the prime minister of Sint Maarten, Silveria Jacobs address: “Simply. Stop. Moving,” she said. “If you don’t have the bread you like in your house, eat crackers. Eat cereal. Eat oats. Eat … sardines.” An action based approach for a country with a population of 41,500 people and 2 ICU beds.

Those who are fluent in the language of meaning they will use words like ‘ thinking, reasoning, concept, relevance, etc’. In Germany, Angela Merkel has been hailed for direct but uncharacteristically personal public interventions, warning that up to 70% of people would contract the virus – With a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Merkel’s clear, calm expositions – a clip of her explaining the scientific basis behind the government’s lockdown exit strategy was shared thousands of times online – have also helped propel public approval of the fourth-term chancellor’s handling of the crisis above 70%.

Finally people and leaders who are strong in the language of affect will tend to use word such as ‘passion, caring, feeling, attention, etc. Whilst Arden’s speeches are primarily constructed through the language of affect, she is also using the language of power and action to bring clarity and a call to action.

In short these women leaders are successful because they are building trust and respect rather than fear and control.

I know as a parent to young children there are times when I feel the need to control, currently this is focused on washing hands and understanding the concept of social distancing!

If we are to hold a mirror to our own power/meaning/affect language combination at home or at work, what would we observe? What is effective and what is not? What can we learn from these women leaders to help us communicate more effectively at home?   On that note we’d like to leave you with the following quote and invite you to continue this conversation with us during our next zoom call. On that note we’d like to leave you with the following quote and invite you to continue this conversation with us during our next zoom call.  Enroll for free here: Linkedin event

When: May 14th 2020 Time: 20:00-21:00 Central European Time Via: Zoom Meeting ID: 795 803 0752 Password: 1234

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” ( Lao Tzu)

Authors: Steliana van de Rijt-Economu(leadership executive coach) and Donna de Haan (Associate Professor of Applied Sciences). If we captured your interest join the conversation in our LinkedIn group: Mothers as Leaders learning across borders. 

Mothers as leaders learning across borders – Families as Teams

motherhuggingearth-1We spent the last two weeks homeworking, homeschooling, feeding our families and meanwhile trying to keep fit with our workouts.  We are almost all turning into the Wonder women, but wait…how sustainable is this situation on long term?
How can we replenish our reservoirs of energy?  Were can we create a place for our own  development and motivation through these tough times? 
We made it through the first two weeks but what if this new situation drags through the entire 2020. The changes happening now will be having lasting impact on the inner family dynamics and the roles we each play in it.We can treat this situation as diligent mum managers, who are trying to work harder and faster every day, or we can step back and look at the challenges as true leaders of our family. A lot to ask from one human being. 
Inspired by the examples of so many people around me who leverage technology for global solidarity, I felt the need to put my professional knowledge and the resources of the Mothers as Leaders practice  in the service of others.  I called Donna de Haan (a fellow mum and an Associate Professor at The Hague University) and we decided that now more than ever, it is the time for mothers to step up.  We decided to  create a LinkedIn Group  and to do a series of  webinars for women to get inspired, learn, laugh and build motivation throughout this difficult corona time. The topics of the first two webinars will be: Families as teams and Empowered Mums.  Donna and will  play the host role and curate the topics but as the community grows we will open invitations for members to present and do peer coaching and mentoring.
Do you want to join us?   Please register on the Linkedin Group: Mothers as Leaders – Learning across borders
Upon registration you will receive more information about the first zoom webinar, Families as Teams is  on Thursday, 2nd April, 20.00 pm CET incl. the dial in details.  We will continue posting our next webinars on the group to avoid communication overload. 
We look forward to meeting you up virtually. Feel free to share it on your social media. 
Thanks,  Steliana & Donna
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Steliana van de Rijt-Economu – Leadership Coach & author of the internationally awarded book ‘Mothers as Leaders’
Donna de Haan –  Associate Professor at The Hague University of Applied Sciences,  Adviser on Gender equality for UEFA