Duty. Are you Mister or Mrs Responsibility?

Duty. Are you Mister or Mrs Responsibility?

Last week my six-year-old son received the ‘Responsibility’ spotlight award. Apparently, it is a big thing when you are a first grader at his elementary school.  I was proud but also a little bit worried. Perhaps it is too soon to be responsible. The word that I heard many times as a child was: ‘Duty’. Duty was a trendy word in 1986 in Eastern Europe, but now it is completely out of fashion. It is responsibility the word that a first grader in the US is taught.

So where are you, my dear reader when it comes to Duty and Responsibility? Do you like it, do you hate it, does it drive you?

When it’s 6. 15 0 am and the alarm goes off, do you jump out of the bed? Why do you do that? There is one answer to it: Duty.

As many parents and working people do, I also get out of bed at 6.15. When I enter the room of my 6-year old (Mrs. Responsibility) there is yawning, screaming, sleep- walking towards the washroom and sometimes rejection of every T-shirt. There is complaining about my taste in socks, but after 15 minutes we manage to get to the kitchen for breakfast.

I don’t like my mornings and I even wonder whether raising kids with a strong sense of discipline and duty from such a young age is a good think. We are no different than the communists who were preparing the five-year old children like me to become pioneers. But what else can we do?

The society rules are clear – the school is offered but the discipline comes with it. I hate to say it, but in the morning, I am not the patient leadership coach who gives clients the time to think. In the morning with the kids, I am a tough soccer coach with a whistle and a timer in my hand. I am cheering them up and ushering them towards the front door to catch the school bus.

In leadership training, one of the most often question we pose when it comes to the life’s purpose is: What gets you up in the morning? I always struggled to come up with an intelligent answer to that one – the truth is there are only 2 things for me: the alarm clock or one of my kids showing up next to my bed.

In fact, what lies behind the alarm clock is the word Duty. …the duty towards the employer who pays you salary or the client you serve, but ultimately it is the duty towards your family or even the future family if you are planning for one at some point.

In this new world of purpose driven mission statements, duty is a world we don’t like. To me it felt old-fashion, it reminding me of the communist propaganda from the first 10 years of my life in Romania. To a lot of my friends from The Netherlands, duty sounds like attending the extended family birthday parties or even worse like the catholic church.. Here in America duty is associated with army and patriotism.

But, still if we were to give ‘Duty’ the credit it deserves in the world, we would soon realize that Duty is what makes the world move.

It did so ever since humans started to organize themselves in social units called families.  As the social forms got sophisticated Duty became the driving force behind churches, armies and countries, it is what makes the 7. bil people on this planet subdued, obedient and compliant to the order of things. Duty is often hidden in words such as Love, Dedication, Loyalty and Patriotism.   Still, Love without duty is simply a fleeing affair, loyalty without duty is an empty word and Patriotism without duty is hypocrisy. 

Despite our reluctance to admit it, for generations and generations the primary duty of any girl was to become a woman and bear children. It will take years of feminist movements to remove that predefined norm in so many of our societies. As early as the age of 3 we start observing our mothers who dutifully attend to our feeding and nurturing needs and without realizing we learn why is it important. Later, in school we learn to practice duty in small steps, by learning to obey rules and doing our homework.

There is still a short period of our life, when we are ultimately free of that clenching gasp of Duty – the teenager rebel time. We think that we escaped it  but when we are not paying attention, a new duty might come into play and that is the Duty to our GANG of friends.

Later, as a young adult you go to work in an organization and you learn duty to your boss and to your team, in order to get the monthly salary to feed your family. The Circle is complete and the next 30 to 40 years until your retirement, you are driven by this invisible force that makes you do things you don’t want. While Responsibility and Duty for the others is important, where is the DUTY to ourselves? What kind of responsibility do we have to keep our health and mind sane until the end? What kind of responsibility do we have towards our childhood dreams.

How can we keep our eyes open to see duty for what it is. When we turn 80 or even older and we look back on our life – what will we think it’s important and  what will be our regrets?

👍Steliana van de Rijt-Economu, the author ‘Mothers as leaders‘ is a leadership and positive intelligence coach.

Check out  Mothers as Leaders for our coaching and training offer for parents, leaders and organizations

Why do women trust men less and viceversa

There is  a worldwide gap of trust at the moment and it is making me sad.

 It is not only the divide between Russia and the rest of the world, it’s not only the divide between the BlackLivesMatter and the whitesupremacy in the US , it’s not only the immigration versus nonimmigration in Europe, it is a much bigger divide and with wider implications. 

It  is a growing  worldwide deterioration in trust between women and men. 

The rise of the feminist movement and the me-too campaign had many positives but they also brought with them some side effect: women and men start trusting each other less. The impact is most visible in the teenagers, young adult and singles.  

In this apparently danger littered world people rely on the dating apps algorithms more than they rely on their brain, their heart or  on their hormonal impulses. As a teenager, how can you rely  on your judgement about trusting a boy or a girl when you discover everything you need to know on google, tiktok or tinder. 

How can you fall in love, when you are not vulnerable?

Beyond the obvious dating impact, I noticed the deterioration of trust in the entrepreneurial sector as well. Ever since I wrote the “mothers as leaders’ I have been ushered towards Female networks, mumpreneurship, women financial grants, women mentors and so on. Even within the well-respected International Coaching Federation I kept being matched with other women coaches. In the last reciprocal coaching round I wrote in my application that I want to be matched with a man to make the diversity happen. Bud has been a wonderful executive coach because he didn’t label me as a mumpreneur.

Maybe you work in a global corporate company and you don’t see the issue. You are part of a global gender diverse team and you trust your male colleagues as much as you trust your female colleagues.

 But let’s look a little bit under the hood. During the pandemic and you even now during the   hybrid working culture, you learned to build trust with your colleagues via the virtual channels, Zoom or MSteams has been your meeting place. You do  build trust but you build what I call:  the Intellectual level trust. 

Which means, you trust someone to ping you or message you if something doesn’t work out or if there is bad news. 

If you have a great amount of intellectual trust – you might even trust her to pick up the phone unexpected. In the corporate world that it is a big step – a phone call without planning a meeting it’s a big thing. 

Intellectual trust works well for normal circumstances but when you want the psychological safety type of trust that breeds innovation and higher performance, you need to be able to pop by her desk unexpected. When you really care about someone and you have a deep mutual trust you need to be able to ring his doorbell when he doesn’t show up at work or answers the phone and you need to not feel hugely uncomfortable about it. If you are his boss or the HR manager it might even be part of your job description.

If you think you are part of a great team, ask yourself: How many people in your team would do that for you?  From those, how many are of the opposite sex?

Trust is the noble bloodstream that flows through our veins and arteries providing the essential ingredients for our heart and our brain.  It is like oxygen for our society ability to cooperate and thrive. As a leadership coach and consultant, I spend a lot of coaching hours listening to interpersonal issues around trust and emotions.

Based on my 43 years of experience of being a woman and on 20 years building trust within global organizations, here are my 10 tips for building trust with women, both in business and in the private life.

  1. See it as a Partnership – if you see yourself as superman, she sees herself as wonder woman, no one likes to be saved
  2. Keep your promise and hold your Duty – reliability is what gets you the meeting nr 2, 3 and so on
  3. When you can’t keep your promise say it in time – nobody likes a cover-up and when women smile it is not always a sign of approval
  4. Don’t walk away from Responsibility and commitment – when she talks about her family it’s a good sign, even in business relations 
  5. Cherish open communication – if she wants to share about her day, it means she likes you.
  6. Invest daily in keeping up the GOOD Spirit – Humor and positive thinking is what makes a man desirable not money or muscle
  7. Recognize and appreciate effort not just results – when a woman puts time in something she wants to be appreciated  for it, she doesn’t only do it for fun.
  8. Listen until the end and don’t jump to solutions – it is your ability to listen that will get you closer to a business deal, not your brilliant solution
  9. Develop common goals, dreams and plans – your willingness to collaborate and cooperate shows you are self-confident and that’s women want from men
  10. Embrace the Word: TOGETHER😊

It’s time to start reinventing the trust between men and women working together. It’s not enough to recruit gender diverse teams, you need to invest in building trust across genders.

When structures are lost, when we become informal, when we don’t know others well enough we tend to hang around with people like us.It is a famous likeability  bias.

What would it take to step out of the  imaginary gender bubble and trust equally  both men and women you just met.

It starts with a small step: be aware of who do you talk to during the coffee breaks and make a change.

What have you learned in 2021?

What have you learned in 2021?

As we come to the end of 2021, the optimist in me is somehow surprised that no miracle has happened. How come nobody came to save us from this new reality of living with the COVID pandemic. I belong to a generation that was brought up   with numerous ‘end of the world’ type  movies with a strong hero and a happy ending. If you work hard and play our small part, eventually things will get better, I was told.  Well, this time each of us has to step up and be a hero in his or her own  way, it seems.

The battle is not out there with the rest of the world, but it is with our own mind and our own soul.

If you are forced to spend Christmas at home alone, in self-isolation or even worse in the hospital how do you keep yourself motivated to fight and to hope for a better future?  A friend who returned home after a month of hospitalization told me that it was a vision of himself in a future moment that kept his hope. He is now appreciating life and the wonderful people in his life with a renewed gratitude.

 

After the shock and drama of 2020, this year proved to be in some way predictable. As with any dramatic change, we moved from the shock of 2020 lockdown, the anger a of street demonstrations and anti-vaccine campaigns to the acceptance of the fact that we have to live with the reality of changing pandemics and climate change. One of the most influential books I read in my youth is Steven R. Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people’ brings up the difference between Proactive focus, when positive energy enlarges the circle of influence you have and the Reactive focus, when negative energy reduces the circle of influence.

 I think 2021 has finally given us the chance to reconsider our Circle of Influence and to make conscious choices about how we let our positive or negative emotions to influence us.

 

Through my executive coaching practice,   I had the honour to support the personal learning journey of numerous  clients who chose to invest in training their positive intelligence and mental fitness. Being of service for their learning  and being a witness to their career achievements that followed was the most rewarding present of this year.

 

2021  has been a year of resilience. It has certainly been a year of change and resilience  for me. In January I was growing my new business in The Netherlands and at the end of May I was joggling several speaking engagements with packing and moving  my family to Texas, Houston.

 

What I learned is that you need to expect the unexpected and  to stay focused on your Circle of Influence, day after day. We managed to settle in the new house  in  45 days and the kids adapted easily to the new school. My coaching practice transitioned to the new realities  and I got used to waking up really early in the morning. The hardest work was to make sure I keep my negative thoughts in check while waiting for things to fall in their place.

 

Throughout the move to a new country and a new social reality, the one thing that became clear to me is how lucky I am to share this new adventure with a husband that enjoys parenthood, changes and cultural differences as much as I do. When you can’t visit your family and old friends anymore being able to laugh and have fun together is a non-negotiable. That’s how the idea for my new book was born : Families as Teams (spoiler alert).

 At the end of the year, let’s not forget to raise a glass and thank the person who was our companion  throughout the hard-working year of  2021.

 

 Happy Holidays !

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Steliana Economu is an executive leadership coach specialised in positive intelligence. If you like this  article and you want to enjoy more of this type of resources follow  mothersasleaders.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do women and men define (fun) partnerships?

How do women and men define (fun) partnerships?

Women and men appreciate humour differently, we all intuitively know that, but what does it mean for doing business. What does it mean for building partnerships and preserving trust?

In my experience the topic of trust and loyalty comes up after several rounds of team coaching with gender diverse executive teams. Why? There is this expectations that when you grow-up you  are not allowed to mix fun with work. ‘In business we are not boys and girls, we are business professionals. ‘  That’s what our Inner critique would say. When you surrender to gender neutrality you loose your secret weapons, your super power, the strengths that made you the responsible grown-up that you are right now.

When you were six year old and playing in the school yard you were sometimes given the task to choose the team for your next play. What an honour, that was. But who would you choose? Did you ask for the school statistics on who was the fastest runner? No, you first looked at your group of friends and you choose some of them, because…you had fun with them. Then, you looked around and you chose some kids who could run or catch well. It was all a’ fast think’ type decision, full of biases, but …real.

We don’t have the luxury to choose our team like this anymore, but that innate desire to have fun and experience joy  with your team is still in us. Let’s not ignore it just because we are now doing virtual working.  The Sage part of your brain, the one who brings creativity and innovation is stimulated by positive emotions not by ‘must do’ commandments.

Why is humour important in building partnerships?

Well, imagine eating your favourite omelette without salt and pepper.

Beyond, written contractual terms, partnerships are no less than human interactions based on the trust that together you can achieve more than alone. However trust is quite subjective to the one who offers it, so how does someone knows how to trust that you are not going to ‘stab  him in the back’. Well, in middle ages you left the sword and knifes at their feet. Now you need to show vulnerability through your choice of humour. It is risky, they might not like it but that’s exactly the point. You are taking a risk to be vulnerable and that’s what creates trust, both with men and women.

‘It takes two to tango’ – Why partnerships? 

How many times have you struggled on your own with a  project when it would to partner? How many times have you done an extra chore in the house  when you knew well that it was your partner’s turn?

I must confess I was guilty of both and that’s what triggered me to write this.  You only need to watch two tango dancers to realise the beauty of partnership between a man and woman.  The complimentary traits that build harmony, power and beauty. That’s why, study after study show that diverse teams perform so much better than homogeneous teams.

What are the secret tips for successful partnerships at home and at work?

There are many business books on building partnerships and as a young Business graduate I went through all those trainings while in University. Still, the wisdom of ones who spent more than 10,000 hours on a skill is what we should be looking for. I interviewed a business expert on deal making and partnerships and this is what we came up with.

Five Key Ingredients

  1. SEEK TRANSPARENCY – What does this partnership mean to each of you? Are you the small fish or the big one?
  2. DON’ T ASSUME – How can you keep the lines of communication open all the time?
  3. MAKE SURE YOU BOTH HAVE SKIN IN THE GAME – What does she/has to loose if this fails? How about you?
  4. UNDERSTAND EACH OTHERS MOTIVATION – What drives you to succeed in this partnership? Is it different?
  5. DON’T CROSS THE LINE  – What are partner most important values? How do you make sure you don’t cross the line?

As I wrote this five ingredients down I couldn’t stop thinking about my own family and how do I partner with my husband or even with my 10 year daughter or 6 year old son on some projects. What I find is that with the kids is much easier to know when you crossed the line.

Unfortunately we adults tend to bottle the important emotions and that’s what makes partnership more cumbersome.

Turning the tables

Let’s take an important partnership you would want to improve now. How would you go about it?

  • What are the top 3 Factors impacting it ?
  • What are you Assuming about each factor?
  • What is the one thing you would do now to unlock it?

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About the author: Steliana Economu is an executive leadership coach specialised in positive intelligence. If like this  article and you want to enjoy more of this type of resources follow  mothersasleaders.com 

 

 

Wearing the same T-shirt doesn’t make you a team. But, what does?

Wearing the same T-shirt doesn’t make you a team. But, what does?

The Tokyo Olympics finally brought some positive news to report on. After a year dominated by COVID country statistics, we are now talking about countries winning medals. Humanity and what is good in people shines when we cheer for each other. 

 

In this picture, Jacquelyn Young, Stefanie Dolson, Kelsey Plum, and Allisha Gray of Team United States celebrate victory and winning the gold medal in the 3×3 Basketball competition on day five of the Olympic Games on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. What stood out for me, as I was reading about their victory was how their feminine leadership shined through in the humility and grace they showed as they accepted their prize. 

Plum led the early charge, scoring the team’s first five points in the final game and she also scored the most points for the America’s team in the tournament; her total tally was 55 points in nine games, and still this is her statement:

“I’m so proud of this team and myself too. We fought so hard to get here and it wasn’t always easy and we’re really happy with what we’ve done…’

Jacquelyn Young said: “I’m so happy to have been a part of this,” Gray,  dedicated the gold to her parents who “sacrificed so much” for her, supporting her dreams “all the way.” 

As a coach for business teams, I couldn’t help myself from drawing an analogy with the teams I have been part of in my corporate life or with the teams I had the honour of coaching. There is so much we can learn from sport teams, but ultimately the reason why everybody loves to watch sport teams is the emotions: joy, pride, happiness, tears, are all shared among players. This is what unifies them and this is what makes them perform in those last seconds when they need a win. It is not the pep talk of their team leader or their team coach that gets the adrenaline surging and it is not even the clarity of their common purpose.

 

In the past ten years of coaching leadership teams, I focused a lot on the importance of a shared team purpose. My sense is that ‘purpose’ is the most used word in the business slang nowadays. Too many hours have been spent on team workshops that eventually lead to a nice statement. And, if we learned anything from the 2020-2021 virtual business teams, is that people need human connection and emotions in order to sustain performance and team spirit on long term.  

The first team I ever experienced, it wasn’t a sport team or a school team. It was actually the multi-generational Economu family I grew-up in when living on a farm in Romania. My Grandma was the Matriarchal leader. We all had clear roles and tasks at the farm, even myself as a 7-year old girl I had to help with the animals. I got to play, but I also had duties. When we had good crops due to a good summer and lots of hard work, we all celebrated the win because we all contributed.

So what makes a real team, if not the T-shirt they wear?

For me it is a about a group of people with complimentary skills who share a common purpose and passion and because of that they are willing to do whatever tasks are needed to deliver and exceed on the expectations set upon themselves by their stakeholders and by their ambition. A real team shares emotions and players are comfortable with constructive conflict when if it serves the bigger team cause.

In a real team, players are humble, proud and grateful to be a part of a group, even when individually they scored the highest points. Just like Stephanie Dolson, of the USA 3×3 baseball team did.

If you were to compare your work team with a sports team or with a family team, what would you be missing? What can you learn?

And because it’s important to lead your team with empathy and high energy, even when you are not the formal leader, transformation starts with you.⁠

👍Check out our Mothers as Leaders offer for organizations to find out about our transformational programs for building positive intelligence and mental fitness.

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.