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

 

 

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.