Silvia Gavorníková: Authentic leadership has changed my attitude to life

It is a pleasure and privilege to introduce you Mrs. Silvia Gavorníková, who is not only the Head of International Relations Department at Slovak Export Credit Agency EXIMBANKA SR (Export-Import Bank of the Slovak Republic) but also the Chairwoman of the OECD Working Party on Export Credits and Credit Guarantees. In addition, Mrs. Gavorníková finds time for self-development activities dedicated to authentic leadership and last but not least, her passion in horse-riding resulted in organising top-level equestrian events in Slovakia.

Silvia, can you share with our readers more about important milestones on your career journey that took you from Bratislava all the way to Paris?

I have been working in EXIMBANKA SR for 18 years. During this time I have managed to develop knowledge and understanding of the export credit environment and international regulations which are very complex and strict. When Slovakia joined OECD and EU we had to fully comply with these rules, what was sometimes a very challenging process.

On the other hand, this environment is very dynamic as some regulations are being continuously updated and new ones are being adopted. Just like any other international environment, export credits are also about advocating national interests. So I quickly understood that if I wanted to support our national interests, as a national delegate, I needed to speak out, yet our counterparts had to learn to listen to our opinions, i.e. opinions of small countries. To understand national interests correctly, it is very important to communicate effectively, either with my colleagues who are in touch with Slovak businesses or with exporters directly.

The journey took a while as I have been participating at the meeting of the Export Credit Group in Brussels, where only EU Member States are involved, since 2008. During this time I have gained experiences in international negotiating, learned how to support national positions, as mentioned above, national interests, and also our preferences. All international negotiations are based on personal contacts and if you are a respected negotiator, then you can seek support for becoming the Chair. I am very grateful to gain the possibility to run for the Chairman of the Group. I believe that I can be trusted by my colleagues to fulfil the task of the Chairman as an honest broker working to the benefit of the entire Group. Therefore, the EU Council Working Group endorsed me as an EU candidate for the position of the Chairman in OECD as well as a member of the OECD Export Credit Bureau in autumn 2014. I was elected into this position by all Members of the WP ECG during the OECD autumn plenary meeting in November 2014 and re-elected for 2016 in November 2015. On 1st of July 2016, the Slovak Republic took over the first ever Presidency of the Council of the European Union (SK PRES), so I have become also the Chairman of the EU Council Working Group for Export Credits for the 6 months of the Slovak Presidency. The main challenge for Slovakia as part of these important responsibilities and opportunities is to find the way among the Member States to compromise to be able achieve a consensus on difficult issues on the EU agenda and to best represent our country. In this regard we will be hosting a Presidency meeting for all ECG members (EU Member States) in Bratislava in October, so I will be very proud to also welcome my colleagues at the Informal Presidency Meeting in Bratislava, the town where I was born and raised.

Paris, OECD and the world of finances – the three elements evoke the verse “it is a man’s world”. Did you perceive it the same way? Did it feel like you were breaking a glass ceiling or was it more difficult to overcome some stereotypes due to the fact that you were coming from “the East”?

I would say that our Working Group is very well gender balanced thanks to the deep respect for professional qualities of each other and great work of my female colleagues. I definitely was not the first woman to chair the OECD meetings (which started in 1978) or EU; however, it is true that in our OECD working group I am the first representative coming from the former “East block” who was elected to the Export Credit Bureau. I have to admit it would not be feasible without the support of my colleagues from the European Union and other OECD members, and of course my Slovak supporters.

Once I have earned the trust of the group, I am trying to do my job properly and in the most professional way. My main task as the Chair is to move the negotiation process forward. To achieve this I have to listen to the delegations carefully and understand the background very well. One of the most important features of the Chair in such an international environment is being impartial, loyal to the Group and I believe that in this sense my origin is an advantage.

Our interview is for the Leaders magazine. How do you define yourself as a leader and your leadership style?

I heard once, that “leadership” cannot be taught like management, but can be learned and enhanced. I believe that authentic leadership has opened my eyes in the area of self-development and improved the quality of my life not only in my professional career. I became familiar with the Talent Dynamics Profile Test which I find quite useful, because it is based on natural talent and not on skills. My personal talent dynamic profile is “Supporter” and based on this result I realised why I had always needed to work with people and lead them to achieve the best outcome of their work. This has confirmed my role in which I always felt the best – activities relating to people, organising teams, motivating, communicating, people-focused leadership, learning through conversations and teams, communicating through one-to-one discussion. Together with my team we create a great team and our work is very well accepted within our institution as well as in international meetings. My favourite sentence corresponds with my profile: “It wasn’t just me, it was the team”.

You dedicate quite a lot of time to self-development. What are some key findings you can share and pass forward?

I got in touch with the authentic leadership programme through my great coach Eva Štefanková in spring 2015, with the main aim to prepare for the historically first ever Slovak Presidency in the EU Council.

What I value most out of this self-development approach is the attitude towards myself, ability to look at myself and starting to know myself. This goes hand in hand with the ability to understand my strengths and weaknesses and take all the knowledge to achieve the best performance in my work. I consider myself blessed because I like my work very much; if I should describe my job I would say a “dream job”, so to improve myself in self-development is very natural to me as I want to improve all the time.

Do you see enough leaders able to address the current complex issues, be it on the local, regional and European level? What are the biggest challenges they face?

An authentic leader is in my view a person who makes his/her decision naturally as a free human being with the full responsibility and best intention to achieve his/her goal. In my opinion, these days are very challenging because thanks to social media many “leaders” pop up and quickly disappear. I believe that to become a leader is a sustainable process of learning, listening, communicating and expressing oneself. I think one of the biggest challenges for every leader is to understand where their role is and know well available room for manoeuvre, which can be used effectively to achieve their goals.

Horse-riding is your passion but you do not do it merely to relax but also used this opportunity in the past to promote Slovakia abroad. Besides horse-riding, can you comment on your overall approach to work-life balance, how do you find time and where do you find energy?

I’ve always dreamt about riding horses, and since my parents didn’t like this idea I had to wait till I was 14 to find my way to start riding on my own. After a short adventure in racing stables I found a riding stable of show jumpers, with the No.1 Slovak rider at that time and I’ve been riding show jumpers/hunters ever since. I have competed on the national level and my favourite part is riding young horses at the time when you can teach them how to like to be ridden and influence their personality.

No matter how much I like my work, it is absolutely crucial to have balance in my life. My work includes a lot of traveling, which is time consuming and especially long negotiations could be exhausting, so I need to be focused and concentrate at all times. Horses are the generator of my energy, the moment I sit on a horse back all the problems disappear, the head clears up and I am able to rethink and re-evaluate all I have in my mind.

Looking 20 years ahead, what would you like to see?

I am grateful for all opportunities that I have got in my life and I believe that all this would not be possible without a great support of my family, my husband and my parents.

So even in 20 years from now I would like to be surrounded by people I love, can rely on and trust at the same time and I still would like to work in a position which would also be my hobby and passion.

Your final words…

Authentic leadership has changed my attitude to life, opened my eyes in many ways and made me realise how much my reaction can influence the outcomes which then have the major impact on my decisions. When I look back I understand my reactions in the past much better and I believe that for the future many more circumstances will lead to a different outcome, because of my current knowledge.

I would like to wish your readers successful decisions and satisfaction in their life, which brings all the joy and delight.

This article was published in Czech&Slovak Leaders Magazine.

Datum konani 4.10.2016

Linda Štucbartová

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