Archive for Červenec, 2018

Silvia Lepiarczyk: One Woman, Thousand Opportunities

Imagine that you run your first business at the age of 18. At the age of 32, as a young blonde woman, you become CEO of Autohaus Verlag, the biggest publisher for the automotive industry in Germany. By the age of 40, you achieve the position of CEO for Central and Eastern Europe at Ringier publishing, being responsible for 96 magazines in seven countries, a dream position at the corporate level for many.  You remember the promise you made to yourself and to your friends and decide to leave the corporate world by the age of 40. After a sabbatical, you use this new beginning to follow your dreams and you return to university studies. In addition to running a consulting business, which might not be a surprising career trajectory, you pursue your passion and support new start up projects, in the emerging field which combines Artificial Intelligence and Alzheimer disease. She has chosen Prague as her hometown, however, she could rank herself to the millennial generation, as her businesses are connected to both Berlin and Vienna.

Meeting with Silvia Lepiarczyk was like meeting a kindred soul. It was one of those meetings that based on facts, you have known the person for less than an hour but based on feelings, you have known someone in another lifetime.

Despite the geographical distance, as she was born in “the West”, and I was from the “East”, we both experienced being exposed to leadership positions at quite a young age, in an industry not traditionally associated with women. We both gave up corporate careers to pursue our dreams and we both are passionate about new forms in learning and development. As a social cause, we both strongly care about Alzheimer disease and I was glad to connect Silvia to the Seňorina center, the leading care institution for Alzheimer in Prague.

Silvia started her introduction by saying that she was born in the last millennium which defines her to a great extent. Despite her interest in artificial intelligence, big data and technology, she was truly pleased to receive a hard copy of our magazine, as she claims she loves to touch and experience “the real stuff”, not the virtual ones. The second thing she mentioned, was the value of hard work and physical work, which she learned to appreciate during her childhood, being born in the industrial Essen area and her ancestors being coal miners.   

Source: Czech&Slovak Leaders

Silvia, your career seems to be proof that the German “dual education system”, combining apprenticeship and formal education is working. In your case, you got your first job in management at the age of 18 while studying a university degree in psychology.  

My father died when I was young. Luckily, I was able to receive some funding from the owners of the dancing school I attended. As a high school student, I tried to reciprocate, and I was giving dancing lessons. Suddenly, the owner of the school fell very sick and she asked me to take care of the place. Simultaneously, I managed to graduate from the high school and to enter the university to study psychology. However, being connected to the business, I was not interested in becoming a therapist, instead I was interested in applied psychology, particularly diagnostics and creating a suitable working environment. As to my first real job after the university, I became a headhunter for a prestigious company in Cologne and for two years I specialized in the areas of banking and science. I was 23 years old, and I found myself facing men two times older than me and asking them challenging questions while doing diagnostics or career advising.

Year 1989 marked the history. I was living the Velvet Revolution, Germany celebrated the fall of the Wall and on a personal level, that is when your career in publishing and media started.

I was 25 when I got the offer to join the Bertelsmann international media enterprise in Munich, joining the HR department and being responsible for its development. I truly loved the job and, at that time, Bertelsmann already had quite an elaborate system of educating and training young talents. I also had a great mentor who helped me a great deal. As the company was acquiring another publishing house in the USA, I was sent to New York to oversee the acquisition from the company culture point of view. You can imagine the clash of a small-town Germany culture of acquiring firm versus the New York style culture of the company to be acquired. So, I found myself living in New York at the age of 27 and, needless to say, I enjoyed it.

The following promotion led to the HR Director of Bertelsmann with the responsibility for professional magazines.

What was it like to be the HR Director under 30? I became the acting director of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the age of 27 and I remember how many times I was asked to take the minutes, to prepare a coffee or to wait for a “male director”.

At Bertelsmann, we were all quite young and we were given the responsibilities but also the trust and freedom. At first, I oversaw HR, but later I had to restructure the whole company and downsize the staff, including firing people, by no means an easy task in Germany. Apart from HR, I was also in charge of operations, overseeing the internal infrastructure as well as the construction of the new premises. In addition to HR disciplines, I was again challenged to get closer to business, to negotiate with third parties and so on. I proved my management skills and another acquisition came. I was asked whether I would like to be the CEO of this company.

Let me guess…Was it Autohaus Verlag? 32, blonde and in charge of car publishing magazines.

Luckily, my psychology background has helped me to deal with this challenge. I was responsible not only for the magazines, but also for a training academy and a printing company. I learned everything about traditional publishing from beginning to end, with some on-line content slowly emerging. Just to remind you, we are talking about 1994 with heavy Nokia communicators. As the publishing house was expanding, the company became international as well as the nature of my job, we had branches in most countries of the Western Europe, but all that travelling happened while enjoying my life style in the gorgeous town of Munich.

Now, I am expecting the shift that brought you “Eastward”.   

Some juicy stories are coming. My partner and I separated, my former boss also left, and he started to work for Ringier. I was in Munich alone, not enjoying being by myself anymore. I got the offer to come to Prague. I did not speak Czech, I was still rather young, and I knew it was going to be another big challenge. I had nine months leaving period from Bertelsmann, as they were not willing to let me go. This time, it played to my cards. The first position I was offered was the publisher of the magazines. During the nine months, the former CEO left and so eventually I became the CEO of Ringier, Czech Republic, with the responsibility for 1200 people, combined business of both magazines and newspapers (Týdeník televize, ABC and Blesk to name the most prominent), all this in a foreign country still having the former eastern bloc mentality. In 1997, people were still not leaving toilet paper in the company restrooms as it was stolen, most staff were wearing funny slippers and everyone was working from 6 am until 2 pm and then leaving sharply. I restructured the whole company and made many changes regarding the company culture. I remember constantly reminding most of the staff that the salary is not paid for one’s coming to the office but for getting the work done. I was working from 7 am until 10 pm every day. Slowly but surely, I gained the confidence of Czech people, as they saw my ability to make decisions, bring changes and get the results.  Nevertheless, I did not get the best publicity from our competitors, calling me “German cruel lady not having a pity on people”, which was not true. Most people who left did so with relevant packages at the time of almost zero unemployment and they thanked me.

I am proud that with the help of my team, we became the no. 1 on the market, Blesk circulation at that time was 700 000 copies per day. We sold Lidové Noviny. At the verge of the millennium, I also became responsible for Slovakia.

Then you got the promotion to the regional role in Zurich, Switzerland. In many cases, this is the decisive factor, as the nature of the work changes completely and not everyone enjoys the shift.

As I enjoyed living in Prague, I accepted the offer based on the condition that I will fly to Switzerland. But as to the nature of the job, in my country role, I was used to the freedom and ability to make decisions. In Switzerland, at headquarters, everybody was telling me what to do. The first day I was asked, are you the trainee coming from Slovakia? My reply was: No, I am your boss. Being a female manager in the Czech Republic even not speaking the language was much easier that being a female manager in Switzerland. After I had the job for nine months I was considering leaving, because I was not happy, another shift came. I was appointed the CEO of Ringier CEE. I was not sure about accepting the position, but my colleagues also supported me to get this role as they knew me, and they preferred to work with me than with someone coming from outside. I had the position for five years, sometimes being on the airplane three times per day. I was travelling not only to get the staff, the partners but also the competitors and last but not least, the politicians.

Being a journalist myself, I will not press you to reveal sources or details. But how was the relationship between you, representing the media and the politicians, often resisting them?

One politician stood out from the crowd and I admired him. Václav Havel.  As to the rest, I had no illusions, so I could not be disappointed and there were no pleasant surprises either. Unfortunately, I faced one of the most difficult personal and professional decisions, in an issue related to Václav Havel. The tabloid Blesk got the story of a scandal around Dagmar Havlová. To publish it or not to publish it? Well, for the type of the magazine, it was a good story and it was true. I gave permission to publish it, with a special edition on Sunday. Dagmar Havlová then invited me for a cup of tea, accusing me of being a horrible person. I tried to explain to her what I have done many times to others: it was not the press that created the problems, at least at that time, it was the improper behavior that got exposed and subsequently caused the problems.

It seems that you have seen it and you have lived it all, at least with regards to the publishing business. What made you to leave it?

At the age of 35, I made a promise with a group of friends to retire by the age of 40 to pursue our dreams. When the time was coming, I was 43 and I told the owner of Ringier that it was my dream. He tried to stop me, he offered so many incentives to keep me. I made a deal.  If the company would reach 25 % ROI, I would leave for a one-year sabbatical. I surpassed the figure and my boss kept the promise. In 2007, I went to Myanmar for one month. It is a beautiful country, I was alone with a local guide and as there was no phone connection, only land faxes between the hotels, I truly could disconnect. This was important not only for me but also for my team members, as they truly had to realize I left and they had new leadership.

After one-year sabbatical, they tried to lure me back to work, but I declined. I enjoyed slower travelling, being able to stay at one place for several weeks. I went to see my friends and I was so glad to be able to keep so many relationships. I also wanted to support social causes, so I joined the CARE supervisory board. During my second-year sabbatical, I started to invest in start-up companies, on-line businesses etc. I also met my current partner, the perfect match for me, as it was impossible for me to have a relationship while working for Ringier. I accompanied my partner to Vienna and we lived there for three years. I was working for CARE and travelling to Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Nepal, India and other places.

Silvia, your life story could easily become a book. However, I have the feeling that the next chapter brings it full circle.

My partner also quit his job and spent three months in Berlin. We became familiar with the start-up scenes, particularly with the artificial intelligence (AI). Now, I am interested in solutions that AI can provide for Alzheimer and dementia related diseases. I hope that dialogue toys and other IT solutions will be providing stimulus for the patients and at the same time relief to the families. I am looking forward to collaborating with interested institutions and companies. Finally, I can truly pursue my mission by bringing all my life experience as well as my expertise from university studies together. I am excited about it.

Published in: Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: 6 steps to improve your focus

Have you wondered how can you live a FOCUSED life with all the distractions we are having from technology to even our own thoughts? Focus is key in Education and Leadership. I have been researching this topic and got inspired especially by the book FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, father of emotional intelligence. I put together these 6 steps to improve your focus.

Unsplash.com, Romain Vignes

#1 Strengthen your selective attention by using more your top-down mind

We live in distracting times. The constant urge to respond to the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli in our environment leads us to a state of continuous partial attention in which we leap carelessly from one thing to another, from our phones to our email to Facebook and in doing so weaken our ability to select what we pay attention to.

However, it is possible for us to focus, even when we’re surrounded by activity and stimuli. What we need is strong selective attention. Choosing to pay attention to one thing rather than another involves a push-pull process between the bottom-up and top-down minds. The bottom-up mind, responsible for our automatic and routine mental activity, is very fast, driven by our emotions, and impulsive. In contrast, the top-down mind, in charge of planning, reflection and learning new skills, is slower and requires voluntary attention and self-control.

#2 Allow time for rest and mind-wandering

It might not always be valuable to have a narrow focus or a goal-oriented type of attention. Sometimes it can be more effective to maintain an open awareness or mind-wandering. This is because allowing our minds to wander provides fertile ground for serendipitous insights. It’s certainly a luxury to find a moment in the day when we’re alone and able to slow down and reflect. Yet such moments are extremely valuable, as they allow us to improve at tasks which depend on experiencing flashes of insight, like those which require quick, imaginative wordplay, or inventive and original thinking.

Like a muscle, focused attention requires rest. While it’s true that we have to exercise our focus to keep it “healthy,” tightly focused attention inevitably becomes fatigued after a while. It’s easy to notice when this happens: you’ll find yourself staring at the words on the page, unable to make sense of something that should be simple, or you’ll notice that your mind keeps slipping from the task at hand. When this happens, it’s a clear sign that you need to give your focus a break. The most effective way to restore your attention is to switch from top-down to bottom-up control. In other words, allow your mind to wander and to make whatever associations it makes. After a while, it will become clear that you’re ready to return to top-down mode, and you’ll do so feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

#3 Focus on improving your willpower – it’s one of the key factors in achieving “inner focus”

Accomplishing goals requires strong focus, motivation and determination – all qualities that constitute strong willpower. And the more challenging the goal, the more willpower we require. But self-control and willpower aren’t necessarily qualities you’re born with. They have to be developed throughout our childhood and even in adulthood. The most effective way to develop stronger willpower is to do what you love.

#4 Focus on building your empathy – it will help you navigate within any social context

In order to have fulfilling interactions with others, we need to be empathetic, and empathy takes two main forms: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is the kind that enables us to see the world through the eyes of others. It can help us to comprehend other people’s mental states and the ways in which they understand the world. However, while this empathy allows us to observe, for example, that someone is sad – say, if their loved one had died – it doesn’t allow us to feel what they feel. Emotional empathy, on the other hand, does enable us to feel what others are feeling. Moreover, this is actually a physical phenomenon, as we sense other people’s emotions within our own bodies.

#5 Create focused and clear visions to direct the attention of a collective, whether a team or an organization

When it comes to leading a successful organization, focus is crucial. The ability to move an organization’s focus to the right place at the right time depends on the leader’s level of self-awareness. One reason that focus is crucial to being an effective leader is that the more focused and clear a leader’s vision is, the more likely they are to convince others to believe in and work toward it. A great vision is central to any strong business plan, but bringing such a vision to reality requires a brilliant leader who is able to communicate it clearly to others and convince them it’s a worthwhile cause.

#6 Meditate as it will help you focus on one thing and keep track of your attention span

Attention is not an innate gift that you do or do not have. Rather, it’s a kind of mental muscle – one that you can strengthen and grow by exercise. One way to do this is to learn to be aware of when your mind starts to wander and correct this by refocusing your attention on a given target. Training awareness in this way is the essence of one-pointed focus meditation, which involves focusing completely on one thing, such as your breathing. As you do this, you’ll notice that after a while your mind will probably begin to wander. But that’s OK. The main thing is that you’re aware of the wandering and that you refocus your attention onto your breath and keep it there. When you inevitably lose focus again, simply repeat the process. As with weight training, the more repetitions you perform, the more powerful the muscle gets. The key to training your attention is being able to maintain an awareness of your own mental processes – like noticing when your mind starts to drift away from the object of focus. This is called meta-awareness. This kind of meditation can greatly enhance your ability to disengage your focus from one thing and shift it onto another.

BOOK REVIEW: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Have you wondered why is it so hard to build and maintain a great team? We deal with this a lot as part of our leadership programs and I found the framework of Patrick Lencioni very simple and effective. Given that teams are inherently dysfunctional, below are the 5 dysfunctions to watch our for any team leader and practical practical steps how to address them.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni

DYSFUNCTION #1 – ABSENCE OF TRUST

The first step towards trust is a team leader who is vulnerable and admits their own mistakes and weaknesses.

As most people know, trust and respect are the foundation of any relationship. But they’re also the basis of great teamwork. Why? For a team to perform well, members must trust one another. When this is the case, they will communicate in a healthy, open way even when discussing tough or touchy topics. This allows them to find the best solutions quickly. Without trust, important issues may be avoided and left undebated, which results in poor decisions. Put simply, team members need to willingly make themselves vulnerable to one another. This is not easy to do, as in today’s cut-throat world people learn to be competitive and protective of their own interests.But for trust to be built, everyone must see that there is no reason to be protective or careful in the team. This means team members must make a deliberate effort to quash their basic caution, and instead share their vulnerabilities and mistakes openly. This way everyone will quickly be able to see that their peers’ intentions toward them are good, and trust will develop.

At ATAIRU we like to use Talent Dynamics tool as a good way to start teams thinking about everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and also seeing where everyone can contribute the most value with greatest ease.

DYSFUNCTION #2 – FEAR OF CONFLICT

If people trust each other, they engage in constructive conflicts and make better decisions.

Most people think of conflict as an inherently negative thing, but constructive conflict is in fact important for any team to make the best possible decisions.This is because decision making benefits from having varied, often clashing perspectives. Open and free debate on the merits and faults of every idea results in a better outcome. So, in this sense, some conflict is beneficial, but it must be constructive in nature – meaning everyone should be focused on the topic at hand, rather than on their own agenda or intra-team politics. If a team lacks trust, this often means that they will want to avoid any and all conflict, so they shy away from discussing controversial topics. They hold back their opinions and honest concerns, preferring not to challenge one another, because they are trying to uphold some kind of pseudo-harmony within the team.

For example, when Kathryn first arrived at DecisionTech, she found that there was hardly any debate in the leadership team’s meetings. This is because they did not trust each other enough to discuss difficult yet vital topics.So if constructive conflict is crucial for making the best decisions, and trust is crucial for conflict, it becomes clear that a team must build trust if they’re to find the best possible solutions to any challenges.

Building trust enables conflict, because team members who trust each other will be comfortable even when engaging in a passionate and emotional debate over a tricky issue, because they know that nothing they say will be interpreted as destructive.

DYSFUNCTION #3 – LACK OF COMMITMENT

Everybody has to be committed to a decision, even if there is no consensus or certainty about its correctness.

Most people have, at some point in their lives, been unfortunate enough to sit in a meeting where decisions have been made, only for people to keep second-guessing the decisions so that nothing actually gets done.

One of the key traits of great teams is that they are able to make decisions and then stand by them. This is because they know that any decision is better than no decision at all, especially when it comes to important ones. They commit to the decisions they make, because they know that lack of commitment creates ambiguity. In the leadership team of a company, this results in misaligned goals and priorities, and these misalignments become even more extreme as they trickle down to employee level. In a great team, decisions are made so that everyone can buy into them. How can this be achieved?It is very difficult to find consensus in any team setting, as different perspectives and opinions will always prevail. Forcing a consensus in such a setting would mean finding a solution that pleases everyone, and this is rarely productive. Instead, great teams understand consensus to mean that everyone is committed and understands the greater goal, even if the decision made is not the one they voiced. To get there, great teams ensure everyone has a chance to express their opinion. This lets everyone feel that they have been heard, and often this is already enough. Most reasonable people do not insist on their opinion always prevailing, but are satisfied when their input has been considered and addressed. When everyone’s ideas are given genuine thought, the team is then more willing to rally around team decisions. This is why in great teams you’ll often find people committing fully to the group’s decisions, even if they had argued passionately against that very decision earlier.

DYSFUNCTION #4 – AVOIDANCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Great teams have peer-to-peer accountability, meaning everyone’s performance is transparent.

One of the most uncomfortable moments imaginable in any team occurs when you have to point out to a peer that he or she is performing below expectations or behaving inappropriately. This is awkward because most people feel like they are sticking their nose into someone else’s business, or artificially elevating themselves above their supposed peer.Unfortunately, if team members do not call each other out in such cases, it will make everyone feel less accountable, which in turn results in missed deadlines, mediocre results and poor team performance. The team leader is then burdened with being the sole source of discipline in the team, as there is no peer-to-peer accountability. In some teams, when members have developed good rapport, they are then reluctant to hold one another accountable, because they fear their valuable personal relationships will be jeopardized. Ironically, this reluctance can and will damage those personal relationships, because the team members will begin to resent each other for not living up to expectations and for slipping from the team’s performance standards. However, members of great teams do hold one another accountable and this actually improves their relationships, because they develop respect for each other for adhering to the same high standards. When there is trust in a team, the members who are pushed to perform better will understand that it is being done for the common good, and not take it personally. At the end of the day, peer pressure is by far the most efficient and effective means of maintaining high standards of performance. Individuals who fear letting down teammates they respect will naturally feel pressure to work hard and improve their performance. This is why peer-to-peer accountability is a key component in enhancing team performance

DYSFUNCTION #5 – INATTENTION TO RESULTS

Great teams spend a lot of time together, which results in them saving a lot of time.

Much as a rowing boat will go nowhere if every oarsman rows in a different direction, a team will go nowhere if they don’t agree on where they are going. So what can be done to resolve such ambiguity or indecision?

The key is for teams to meet regularly, as there are multiple benefits to this. Firstly, it helps members develop good rapport and trust, which already helps them resolve any issues quickly and effectively. Secondly, conflicts are easier to resolve face-to-face, and it is far easier to gather arguments and counterarguments from all team members in real time when they are all situated in the same space. Thirdly, in face-to-face meetings, team members have better insight into what each of them is doing and how their skills might be leveraged in other areas as well, so there is less risk of redundant work. When a team has developed good rapport, they are better positioned to work in sync. For example, overlapping work is avoided when each team member sees what the others are up to. Also, resources are allocated smartly, because team members immediately see where their skills and knowledge could be used to help each other. So in conclusion, regular meetings and touch points help great teams be coordinated and efficient, and this saves a lot of time, even if much time needs to be invested at first.

BOOK REVIEW: Are you clear about your WHY?

I believe that understanding your own why and ensuring your actions are consistent with it is a big part of long term happiness and fulfilment.
Given that Purpose is one of key modules of Atairu Authentic Leadership and we work with boards of companies to define purpose of their organizations I am always looking for interesting books on that topic. Here are some key thoughts from FIND YOUR WHY book by Simon Sinek which are confirmed by our experience of working with leaders around the world.

1. Knowing your WHY means having a clear purpose, and this makes you and your business more appealing.

Finding your WHY can be challenging, but once you have it in your life, you can wake up each morning with purpose and determination. Sinek discovered his WHY after he’d lost all passion for his work. After some soul-searching, he realized his WHY was to inspire others, and once he took this to heart, he began to see his life more clearly and with more optimism. I have had a very similar experience about 10 years ago which led me to define my purpose as reinventing education globally to activate uniqueness in children, leaders, teams and organizations.
This not only applies to people, but also to companies. A case in point is Apple, which has strong competitors offering cheaper products with more features. But Apple’s customers are loyal and inspired by their motto “Think Different,” which perfectly describes their WHY. Customers would rather give money to a business with a progressive identity than save a few bucks buying from a more generic company.

2. An outside perspective can help you uncover your WHY.

If you’ve gone over a dozen stories from your past and still can’t find your WHY, don’t panic. Sometimes it’s difficult to identify a common theme in the things that are important to us, and if this is the case, it might be time to bring in a fresh perspective. Another person who knows you well can be a valuable resource in identifying your WHY. This person doesn’t need to be someone you’re intimate with, just someone who’s curious and observant. It can help if the person you’re talking to isn’t overly familiar with your background and is someone who will ask thoughtful questions – and even take detailed notes.
Asking specific questions is very important to finding your WHY, and these questions often lead to vital details and intense feelings.

3. HOWs can help you in everyday decision-making.

Every now and again, we’re presented with a tough decision, whether it’s a project proposal, partnership or job offer. Having a keen understanding of your own HOWs is key to avoiding disasters and making the right choices that will allow you to flourish.

4. Once you discover your WHY, it’s important to share it.

Part of the journey to reaching a fulfilling life is uncovering your WHY and understanding your HOWs. But the hard work doesn’t end there; next comes the task of sharing it with the world.
Start by offering your WHY statement to those who ask, “What do you do?”. This is a common question in any social situation, and it’s an opportunity to start getting comfortable with expressing your mission in life. Try it with the person sitting next to you on a plane, a fellow guest at a party or a stranger in a waiting room. More importantly, sharing your WHY with the world will push you to commit to it and back up your wordswith actions. The more you give voice to your intentions, the more likely you’ll be to follow through with them.
As for your business, there are a number of reasons to constantly refer back to its mission statement. For starters, it will make it readily apparent when a product or service becomes outdated, or no longer relevant.
But it’s also useful in matters of human resources, such as knowing what to look for during the hiring process, or recognizing when an employee’s WHY isn’t in line with the company’s. Finally, you’ll be sure to find the most productive arrangements possible when you can match the WHYs of your staff with the roles that best suit them. So the more others are familiar with your WHY and the more familiar you are with the WHYs of others, the better off we’ll all be, both personally and professionally.
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