Equal Pay: What We Can Do to Eliminate Unfairness and Restore Hope at Work

Isn’t it a paradox? The biggest gender pay gap in the Czech Republic is recorded in the financial sector – 41% in 2017 according to the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ), as quoted by the initiative 22% to Equality. The financial sector is precisely the industry where one would expect women working with money to have a top level of financial awareness leading to no gender pay gap. So, what’s going on? Why is that not the case? And how comes that the Czech Republic is still lagging behind, with a 21.1% gender pay gap in 2017, on a shameful second place from the bottom in Europe?

 I was born in a small village in Transylvania, Romania eight years before the fall of communism. The way work was split in our family was that it got done by the one who got to it first. You get home and see the cow needs feeding? You feed it. The child is crying? You change it, feed it or comfort it. Food needs to be prepared for the evening? You start with preparations, even though you are five or six years old. Work in our family was an unquestionable contribution to the well-being of the entire group. This is why, upon my relocation to the Czech Republic, I had a huge shock when I hit an unexpected wall: the gender role segregation.

In the Czech Republic, more than anywhere else in the world where I have traveled or lived, work and gender-related roles are allocated along the lines: the man provides money and the woman cares / provides conditions for the man’s well-being, so he can continue providing for the entire family.

A nice trade-off and an almost biblical picture, one might say. This segregation sounds like a fairytale unless you are a woman who finds fulfillment in her work (which puts you in an awkward personal and societal position) or unless your man decides to leave and start providing for the family next door (the overall divorce rate in the Czech Republic was 44% in 2019, according to ČSÚ). This is where the fairytale ends and women in the Czech Republic start to become painfully aware of the level of co-dependency insidiously cultivated in the Czech system.

Let’s say it out loud: encouraging three to four years of maternity leave, a record worldwide, would not a problem in itself as long as anyone deciding differently would have a chance, too: equal access to affordable childcare under the age of three, flexible jobs, no societal shunning and, most importantly, equal salary upon return to work.

Having said that, we also need to admit that the gender pay gap in the Czech Republic is only partially generated by the structure of the Czech economy and the length of the maternity leave, and much more by the biases that we hold against women – men and women alike (a recent study quoted by BBC shows that 9 in 10 people hold biases against women). If we really want the situation to change, it is time that all of us took a solid look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we can do to influence things for the better.

Here are a few things that we can consider if we’d like to address the systemic challenge that is the gender pay gap in the Czech Republic.

  1. Tackle unconscious bias

Two years ago I was hired by a major financial institution (!!!) to conduct training on unconscious biases. A few days later, the training sponsor called me. “I have an unusual request. Could you please not use the word bias in your training?” Ahmmm… sure. Let’s call it habitual brain pattern leading to making faster decisions. This is all that biases are – a way used by our brains to take shortcuts and make faster decisions based on previous information and experience. We all have biases and we are no better or worse when we have them. We are worse though when we know we have biases, we know they limit others and we do nothing about it.  

  1. Develop more empathy

We are where we are today, in the Czech Republic, not because options aren’t there, but because we simply don’t take a moment to look at things from the other’s perspective. How does a single mother feel when she’s looked up for deciding to go back to work a few month after birth so she can put bread on the table? How does an accomplished female professional feel when she’s being looked up in the same situation, even though her return to work could lead to significant positive impact on the lives of the people she cares about – her family, her team and her organization? How does a single mother feel when she has no place to put her child under three and she can’t afford one or two babysitters because she’s not working on a managerial position? Why during a job interview is the woman in front of us asking for less than she deserves, even though she’s obviously qualified for the job? Does she even know that she deserves more? How does a woman feel when, after decades spent at work, her pension is almost 20% lower than that of a man, placing her at the edge of poverty and in an undignified position of co-dependency towards children? Developing more cognitive and emotional empathy towards women is a good and essential first step; however, it is not enough. The second step is our capacity to act upon empathy and develop compassion, which is empathy put to work. A mindful, compassionate approach when deciding compensation in our organizations is a vital type of intervention that can have a massive impact on reducing the gender pay gap and inequalities in our organizations.

  1. Invest more in experiential, self-confidence and negotiations training

I do personal branding, which is a lovely new discipline. Even though I have no problem to transfer the nuts and bolts of developing a solid personal brand to women from teenagers to 65+ women looking for a new purpose for their lives, the bottom line remains the same: women ask themselves ceaselessly whether they should go for it. I constantly hear: Should I do it? Do I dare to go out there, in front of the many people, and show my soul in its entire vulnerability? When a woman decides to go for it, she becomes unstoppable. But the hurdle behind women’s conscious communications, personal branding and full empowerment is, still, emotional. It lies in the capacity to make a conscious decision that standing up for one’s own worth is a meaningful act leading to personal empowerment, gains for those we care about and inspiration for generations of women to come after us. So, when companies decide to invest more into experiential training leading to developing women’s healthy self-confidence (emotional intelligence, personal branding, presentation skills, assertiveness, negotiation skills, difficult conversations, conflict and communications, voice management, media relations and so on), this is not a waste of time. It is an actual investment into equality and sustainability for your organization. For it is only through healthy self-confidence that the amazing skills of women can be unleashed and used at full potential for the benefit of themselves, their teams, your organizations and our society overall.

There is still so much that we can all do to reduce inequalities in the Czech Republic. And we can do it. Every year, for the last eleven years, an international conference in Prague tackles precisely these matters – Equal Pay Day. With tens of speakers and hundreds of participants, it is a well of information and inspiration for people striving to reduce (not only gender) inequality at work. Moreover, Equal Pay Day’s second day is dedicated to mentoring and women empowerment. Sixty experienced mentors come together voluntarily, sharing their experience and recommendations with hundreds of participants. This is an uplifting gathering bringing hope to those who need it the most – to women and men who, for whatever reason, feel the need to take their lives in their own hands. It may be for you or it may be for someone you know. Please send it forward.

I am looking forward to seeing you at Equal Pay Day, in the company of leaders who are also committed to reducing inequality in the Czech Republic in all its forms and shapes. 

Are You Living in a Bubble? Perception Management for Expat Leaders in Central and Eastern Europe

When I am working on executive personal branding assignments with foreign leaders in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania, one of the greatest challenges we are often facing is the misalignment between the leader’s perception of self and the employees’ perception of the leader’s personality and executive style.

Expat managers land very often in Central and Eastern Europe after proving their skills on mandates executed in Western Europe, Asia or the United States. As such, they are used to a certain level of professional communications, emotional maturity, dialogue, transparency and conflict management that might not always be aligned with the reality and mentalities still active in Central Eastern Europe. Let’s not forget that, even though we are more than 30 years after the fall of communism in CEE, the systemic trauma enforced on those nations for more than half a century has deeply impacted the way people act and react at work, communicate with each other and position themselves towards leadership. Unless leaders are wise enough to spot these insidious emotional undercurrents and learn to navigate them, the gap between the leader’s perception of self and the employees’ perception of the leader’s personality and performance widens, with often dramatic consequences for the organization and the leader himself.

This is one of the reasons why I invite my executive clients to live in a state of permanent perception double-check. As a leader, you need to be alert to how the way people perceive you influences their engagement with the proposals you bring forward, the level of resistance to change you will face and, ultimately, the success of your leadership in these countries.

How can leaders engage in this kind of perception double-check? Here are a few pragmatic ideas that could prove useful for your work and future as well.

1.    Make a list of the TOP 10 qualities that you attach to your name

These qualities should reflect how you perceive yourself right now, at this moment in time, as an overall personality and in relation to your work, team and organization. Such qualities could include, for example, attributes like: generous, present, driven, energetic, abrupt, kind, conflict-avoiding, caring etc.

2.    Engage in your own private 360°

Choose 8 to 10 people across a wide range of roles in your company (friends and foes, positioned near and further away from you in the organization). Gently ask them to send you via email, SMS or other remote tools the first 10 attributes that come to their mind when thinking about you / saying your name. Encourage them to shoot from the hip (to write the first things that come to their mind without overthinking it) and to avoid self-censorship (to write down challenging qualities as well, not only positive ones).

3.    Compare and evaluate 

Collect the feedback received. Take a good, hard look at the level of alignment between your perception of self and the perception of your stakeholders. On a scale of 1, where the misalignment is massive / almost complete, to 10, where the alignment is perfect, where do you stand? Why? What is missing so you get closer to 10? Which attributes that your stakeholders associate with you surprised you the most? Which ones burned a bit and perhaps made you to stop and take a deep breath?

4.    Take action: reflect on what you can do to restore alignment

Go back to those spots on your comparison analysis where the misalignment is the most obvious. Why do you think this is the case? Reflect carefully, on your own or with your coach, on everything that you can do to close the gap. What are the first things you will engage in and by when? How do you know you are getting closer to narrowing your perception gap?

In my future posts I will continue writing and providing you with actionable advice on how to make your name glow in the dark with value and trustworthiness. In a time of polarization, global and local challenges and tremendous transformation, we need more emotionally mature, communication savvy inspiring leaders. Stay tuned, follow my blog on LinkedIn and let me know what you think. I am looking forward to your thoughts, inputs and reactions that you can also send me directly via email: cm@mediaed.cz.

This blog post was first published on my LinkedIn Profile Account. 

Humanity 2.0: The Entrepreneurial Career and Our Journey Into the Future

The end of April this year marks a milestone in my life. This is the day when, ten years ago, Czech Business Weekly (CBW), the English language economic magazine were I worked as a reporter, then as the chief reporter and deputy editor-in-chief was closed, throwing our lives into disarray. A bunch of English language journalists laid off on a foreign market in the midst of the toughest economic crisis of the last half a century – what career journeys could open ahead of us? We couldn’t answer that question at that time. Ten years later however, life has a different flavor and a different perspective.        

 If someone had told me that day, when I was standing on the sidewalk looking at our offices for the last time, that ten years later I would have a thriving career in people development I would have told them they were kidding. I would also have waved them off had they told me that in 2018 I would have the honor to publish the first book on personal communications ever written in Czech by a non-native speaker - You, the Brand – Personal Branding for Career Growth, or for organizing the first digital conference in the Czech Republic, the Personal Branding Summit 2019, all of that on my own, without the backing of money or loving support of a life partner or by the impactful glamour of having worked in the past for a global company.

No. Ten years ago, life looked bleak. With losing our job many of us also lost our professional identity. To be honest, it’s pretty scary to have your sense of professional identity stripped away from you in one week and to have to deal with the consequences of such a cataclysmic event on your career. But life moves on, as we all, the former CBW team, had to learn on our own.

The Blessing in Disguise

What I wish someone had told me those ten years ago, as I was standing on that sidewalk, was quite different. As it shows, getting laid off from CBW was, in fact, a blessing in disguise that ended up propelling many of us on an entrepreneurial journey.

Stripped of what we knew we were left with no option but to do the best with what we had left. We became more resourceful. I decided to ask my tae-bo trainer to lend me 200 000 CZK, the price of creating a limited liability company in 2010 in Prague. We started learning new things. I joined a course to become a trainer of personal development. There I discovered the importance of emotional intelligence and the Enneagram, a complex and dynamic system of personal development which opened a whole new world for my relationships and work. I gradually learned how to mentor and coach. To finance my becoming I started taking companies on a retainer to execute media relations and integrated communications strategies for them. Now I mentor people on how to do that for their companies. In 2011 I was already conducting my first complex media communications development program in Czech. Soon after I discovered the power of systemic intelligence, which sky-rocketed my understanding of organizations and team work. My service portfolio was starting to shape up: advisory, training, coaching and mentoring on strategic communications, emotional intelligence and leadership. Through challenges, struggle and anxiety balanced by the joy of new client wins and relentless hope the pieces of the puzzle were finally coming together. It was only two years ago, in 2018, when I felt an inner shift. After eight years I was finally feeling that I had landed in my new profession: people development. And boy, does it feel good to have your own life in your own hands again after such a long, long time.

Nothing Can Prepare Us for Transformation

Looking back to what happened when CBW was closed I realize that nothing that could have prepared us for transformation. Life happens; it comes and it kicks us in the gut, stripping away what we hold most dear: our health, relationships or our career. And we need to deal with it. What we are also stripped away of are our certainties: that we will be forever held by the gentle arms of an inclusive company or by the capacity of a state to pay our pensions. That’s an illusion. The sooner that we learn to accept that, the sooner we can start stirring our life boat in the direction of something more meaningful – discovering, cultivating and unleashing our full human potential.

Your Own Unpredictable Journey into the Future

More and more leaders with whom I work on personal branding and people development assignments are currently noticing tectonic shifts in their careers and companies. These shifts are triggered by their company transformation processes or by personal burnout. As companies continue to redefine their mission, implement more digital and data-driven strategies and bet more and more or robots and artificial intelligence, our very definition of career management is transforming. In the 20th century our careers used to be linear: you join a company, develop your expertise and grow into new roles until you retire. End of the story. The career lifespan was anywhere between 25 and 40 years. Today we are considering careers with lifespans beyond 52 years. The jobs of the future, those that we need to fill in 10 to 15 years from now haven’t been even defined yet. On top of that we are also facing massive challenges in terms of declining physical and mental health across the board. This, but not only, is what makes more and more people to leave their companies to take longer and longer sabbaticals to recover, regenerate and redefine their life purpose. When they come back, they are different for they have felt the taste of empowerment. They have no hesitation to push back and say no to their managers. They understand the value of networking, strategic communications and personal branding. And they are ready to act – at the right time, for the right reason and in line with their life mission.

That’s why in the future companies with no sense of purpose will get more and more push-back from their employees. Leaders all over the world are currently in a process of redefining their approach form managing resources, processes and people to managing humanity and to leading with purpose in increasingly complex stakeholder systems. We are slowly moving into the era of Humanity 2.0 where the only certainty that we have is our capacity to stay humans: to discover those gold nuggets in our brain that we don’t know they exist, to boost our curiosity, creativity and to become more empathetic, considerate, kind and all-embracing. As we are more and more on the Planet, it becomes clear that the only sustainable way forward into the future is to learn to serve each other, as opposed to pillaging our resources and each other. And the people able to do that? Well, they are the same people whom life kicked in the guts, for they are those who know how to operate when all you’ve got left is your humanity. And this capacity, paradoxically, is our key into a better future.

So when the invitation is there for you on the table to jump into the unknown, just go for it. It will hurt, I am sure. Yet through pain we grow. Who knows, perhaps what we are experiencing today is nothing but the labor pain of a new form of humanity that is calling to all of us. In this light our whole becoming turns into a journey of personal discovery, individual and community empowerment. Just open up and feel free to embrace it – for your own good and for the good of us all.

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.

30 Books that Made My Year in 2019

I am finally back from my year-end month off - a great time to sit down, recap the good and not so good things that happened last year and set the vision, goals and the tone for the year to come.

In 2019 my reading capacity was significantly influenced by organizing the Personal Branding Summit 2019, the first fully digital conference in the Czech Republic focused on strategic personal communications and personal branding. Its conception, preparation and follow-up took more than 750 hours of my time; when I wasn't working at it I was serving existing and future customers and catching up on sleep. However, with my new policy of December and July off, at the end of the year I was finally able to sate my reading appetite. Therefore, here are the books that enriched me and opened my mind, heart and perspective in 2019.

  1. Banaji, Mahzarin, Greenwald, Anthony – The Blind Spot. Hidden Biases of Good People
  2. Holiday, Ryan – The Obstacle is the Way. The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity into Advantage
  3. Goldsmith, Marshall – Triggers. Creating Behavior that Lasts, Becoming the Person You Want to Be
  4. David, Susan – Emotional Agility. Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life
  5. Iyer, Pico – The Art of Stillness. Adventures in Going Nowhere
  6. Pink, Daniel – Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  7. Ariely, Dan – Payoff. The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivation
  8. Kraemer, Henry – From Values to Action. The Four Principles of Values – Based Leadership
  9. Newport, Cal - So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
  10. Schawbel, Dan – Back to Human. How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation
  11. Purkiss, John - Brand You. Turn Your Unique Talents Into a Winning Formula
  12. Clark, Dorie - Reinventing You. Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future 
  13. Berger, Jonah – Contagious. How to Build Word of Mouth In the Digital Age
  14. Radecki, Dan – Psychological Safety. The Key to Happy, High-Performing People and Teams
  15. Drucker, Peter – Managing Oneself
  16. Zak, Paul J. – The Moral Molecule. How Trust Works
  17. Holiday, Ryan – Stillness Is the Key
  18. Chamberlain, Claire – Self-Care. How to Live Mindfully and Look after Yourself
  19. Goleman, Daniel – Organizational Awareness. A Primer
  20. Cori, Jasmin Lee – Healing From Trauma. A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life
  21. Bettinger Dicken, Swerdloss, Natasha – Coming Home. Uncovering the Foundations of Psychological Well-being
  22. Jiwa, Bernadette – The Right Story. A Brief Guide to Changing the World
  23. Hyatt, Michael – Your Best Year Ever. A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals
  24. Jarvis, Paul – Company of One. Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing in Business
  25. Jiwa, Bernadette – Marketing – A Love Story. How to Matter to Your Customers
  26. Passiak, David – Empower. How to Co-Create the Future
  27. Goleman, David, Davidson, Richard – Altered Traits. Science Reveals How Meditation Can Change Your Mind, Brain, and Body
  28. Jiwa, Bernadette – Meaningful. The Story of Ideas that Fly
  29. Segall, Ken – Think Simple. How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity
  30. Zak, Paul – Trust Factor. The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies

Obviously, some books are more meaningful and impactful than others. Therefore, here is my TOP5 that I would recommend with an open heart to any leader interested in self-development or the developement of their teams and organizations:

  1. Zak, Paul J. – The Moral Molecule. How Trust Works
  2. Berger, Jonah – Contagious. How to Build Word of Mouth In the Digital Age
  3. Schawbel, Dan – Back to Human. How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation
  4. Goleman, David, Davidson, Richard – Altered Traits. Science Reveals How Meditation Can Change Your Mind, Brain, and Body
  5. Kraemer, Henry – From Values to Action. The Four Principles of Values – Based Leadership

These books are so packed with scientific insights and real-life experience that they uplifted my spirit. They also inspired me to upgrade some of my training content and come up with new products. That for me is meaningful reading - when you feel that the author sits next door and you can draw anything you need from their experience and wisdom that they so generously put at your disposal.

My TOP5 doesn't do justice to the many other great books on the list above. Fabulous and inspiring reading were also Ryan Holiday's, Susan David, Dorie Clark and Bernadette Jiwa's books. In fact, as it always happens, each book touches us in a very different and personal way. In 2019 I was touched by the wisdom shared on this list. What 2020 has in the pipeline for us? I guess we will know and share this next year by this time. Till then joyful reading and all the best for 2020!

This blog post was first published on my LinkedIn Profile Account. 

Personal Branding Summit 2019 – On Pioneering, Co-Creation and Leadership

Let me tell you a story of madness, of a dream and of a bunch of people who made it possible. Let me embark you on a journey that took less than a year, but it felt like a lifetime. Let me tell you a story of pioneering, of fabulous people who are, ultimately and everywhere, at the heart of everything  - and of leadership, personal and systemic alike. Let me tell you the story of an endeavor that changed my life this year.  

Earlier this year in January I was catching my breath. A month before, in December, I had just published my first book You, the Brand – Personal Branding for Career Growth, in Czech, and the reverberations of this step were still hitting me while shaping my focus and my priorities for this year. As I was listening to the market, I was already dreaming of the next logical step. Then it stroke me: what if I tried to organize the first ever online conference in the Czech Republic dedicated to strategic communications and personal branding?

 I admit, I am not the first to have come up with the idea of an online summit. In the United States Jessica Dibb has been organizing the Enneagram Global Summit for a few years already. In the Netherlands Jennifer Campbell had just started this January the Systemic Leadership online summit. These two ladies were my main sources of inspiration and I am grateful to be a part of their communities. Yet, in the conditions of the Czech market this felt like a crazy idea. But what have I got to lose, I asked myself? So I started to talk about the possible new project with my customers and others ready to listen.

People’s reactions warmed my heart. They saw the potential in my idea and encouraged me to take the next steps. And so I did.

People first

The first step I took was to map my resources and assemble a solid team. I knew that, if I wanted to succeed with this project, I needed to surround myself with brilliance. From the graphic designer Pavla Rathouská, who has been responsible for my visuals for years, to Oskar Čorič, my astute web designer and to the unique Ančí Chytilová, whose soothing voice and approach brings up the best in people in front of the camera, the team started to take contours. We booked the Summit logo and jingle; we met for the first time together on June the 4th. We gave ourselves a cutthroat deadline: the conference would go online on Sunday, October the 6th, at 18.00. And then we went to work.

In the ecosystem: navigating stakeholder complexity

In the next step we drafted the raw content of the Summit. We invited 30 speakers to share their thoughts on communications in three different streams: personal branding for career growth, career transition and success in entrepreneurship. Some of the most impactful names on the Czech market (their full overview is available on our website www.personalbrandingsummit.cz) agreed to be interviewed for the Summit. We then spent the whole summer preparing and conducting the interviews. At the end of August we moved into post-production. We created 30 video teasers available freely on YouTube, 30 short interview versions available to the people registered online in the Personal Branding Summit 2019 community free of charge and - mainly - 30 full versions of the interviews. For our paid users we’ve also created a wide range of bonuses and benefits such as downloading the interview audio recordings and PDF, 9 bonus videos and 4 infographics helping people looking to refresh their personal communications, and an e-book – In the Presence of Greatness – also available for download.

When I took a step back in September to review our stakeholders, I realized we were operating on at least 9 fronts embracing more than 500 people: me and my team; our guest speakers (30 people); their own VIP guests invited to the conference (30 people); our project partners, including ČSOB and its newly opened Campus, who graciously put their space at our disposal for video shooting; various associations and media partners; our ambassadors (15 people) and – last but obviously not least – our customers with whom we communicated nonstop on all possible channels included in a hefty integrated communications model, and who had three different profiles (career growth within companies, career transition and entrepreneurial success). If I had ever wanted to feel how complexity looks like, well – this was my chance. And I lived it at full.

Technology and human touch

Another thing that made this project so thrilling was its mixed technological and human potential. As the Summit took place online, people could access its content from everywhere in the world; the only precondition was to speak Czech and have access to Wi-Fi. Participants also didn’t have to be afraid about missing on anything – all the Summit content is available even after the conference end, so people can get back to it anytime they want. While the technological advantages of the conference were clear, we were also painstakingly aware of a potential backlash. In the Czech Republic only 4% of people work remotely, compared to 13% for example in the Netherlands. While the digital experience is powerful, it can never fully replace the thrill of face-to-face networking, good food and the like. But this was never out intention. What we wanted to achieve was to create an alternative, complementary experience allowing people to access valuable content online. That’s why we counterbalanced this potential technological dryness with communications as intimate as possible. We created a closed group on Facebook where people could ask their questions live and we were personally available in real time for all customer enquiries. We did everything to bring the best of technology and human touch together.

On co-creation and leadership

Las but not least, the thing that touched my heart the most throughout this experience was the atmosphere of co-creation in our team. We all pulled together and we made it by the deadline with outstanding results. If you imagine collaboration like a line of people holding hands, looking and moving in the same direction, co-creation is something much bigger. It is the equivalent of standing in a circle, acutely aware of your own role and the roles, place and qualities of the others, and of pouring your very best into the middle of the circle while watching in awe how something new emerges miraculously from the energies of everyone involved. For me this was perhaps the most marvelous experience and one of the greatest gifts of this pioneering endeavor: to discover the miracle that we can create when we come together as one, connected by a vision that what we do makes sense and serves ourselves and our entire ecosystem.

By the time you are reading these lines the Personal Branding Summit 2019 is probably over. Yet, this project that seemed like a mad idea earlier this year is still out there, open to be discovered and explored. An online space for insights, information and inspiration, it stretched my boundaries and it also brought me a deep sense of trust in the possibilities of the future. For this is the reward of pioneering and leadership: to dare, to stretch, to bring resources together and to create endless sources of value for the many people. With this at heart I can already say: what a marvelous year!

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.


Career Capital – Loss or Transformation?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if, from a day to another you couldn’t practice what you do today? How would you pay your bills? How would you handle your family, economic and social commitments? How about your sense of self-worth – how would it be impacted by a potential loss of career capital? 

One of my favorite questions that I ask wherever I go to speak about personal branding is: What would be left of you if suddenly someone took away your business card? Many people are shaken by this simple thought. That’s because we rarely take the time to reflect at who we really are behind the roles that we are currently playing at work. People start addressing such issues only in times of personal emergency: company restructuring, lost opportunity for promotion or salary upgrade, relocation and need to find a job on a new market, personal sickness or need to care for a beloved person etc.

This is however too late: not tackling one’s career capital management proactively means lost time, money, opportunities and, sometimes, relations – all in all, a lot of unnecessary anxiety for you and those close to you. On the other hand taking proactive charge of your career capital can not only prevent loss, but also empower you to lead a life that is more in line with your own goals, dreams and desires. In fact managing our career capital is prone to become the nr. 1 professional skill of the future. We just need to understand what we’re talking about, then take the first steps in this direction.

What is career capital?

Our career capital is made of everything that happened to us since we started being active outside our families, during school and on the labor market. It includes:

  1. Our education. A degree from a fancy college provides you with powerful referrals, opportunities and a solid network of alumni. However, don’t worry too much if you don’t have an Ivy League degree – just reflect on how your educational background enriches you and be able to communicate that message with the world.
  2. Our network. We start building our contacts early during our school years. In fact some of the most successful businesses have been created by high school or college buddies who leveraged mutual compatibility and the trust built along the years to bring new ideas to life. As we advance in our careers so should our network. Be proactive about expanding your network and keeping it vibrant and alive. It will always serve you well on your journey.
  3. Our experience. Every project, every new assignment, every new client is stretching our understanding of our profession and the world. If you look at your work as if it were an endless reservoir of learning opportunities, you start to see the gold nuggets of career capital even in the most challenging of your professional experiences.
  4. Our competencies and skills. At the end of the day when we leave a company this is what we sell to our next employer or business customers: what we know and how exactly we create value for them. Make sure you have an up-to-date list of your current skills. Also don’t hesitate to look into the future to see what skills your might need a few years down to road to be able to steer your career in the right direction.
  5. Our reputation and personal brand. The more you invest in your personal communications to build a premium reputation, the easier it gets for you to navigate whatever challenges life might throw at you on your career journey.

There are other aspects of career capital that would be worth mentioning such as our family background (being born in a well-off family does have its perks) or our language (how amazing it is today to be born an English native speaker?!). Some of these career capital aspects are more valuable than others. However, in order to manage our career capital skillfully we need to focus on those aspects that are more under our control and thus lead to more personal empowerment.

From loss to transformation

Yes, you may ask – all this is clear, but why should we care about our career capital in the first place? The Czech economy is doing great, salaries are rising, career opportunities are by no means in short supply on the market these days. As lovely as that may be, managing the perception of our name and career capital is important because it is precisely during good times that we should use the opportunity to invest in ourselves and thus bulletproof our careers for potential downturns. If life taught me anything, it is precisely this mindset.

Looking back at my own journey I remember distinctively two moments when I felt that I lost my entire career capital. One was when I decided to leave Romania immediately after finishing my studies in journalism and move to Prague. Journalism, I thought, was something that you can do masterfully only in your mother tongue. So at the beginning I struggled. I got a part-time job in a Czech consultancy that required French and English-speaking skills. At the same time I was teaching private lessons of French and English to make ends meet. I was in this company for almost a year when it started to crack and it became clear that I would need to look for another job. It took me huge courage and an immense leap of faith to put together a CV and a few articles and send them around to the three major English language publications: the Prague Monitor, the Prague Post and the Czech Business Weekly. Fortunately it was CBW that decided to give me a chance. The best thing that ever happened to me uplifted my career from a freelance position to becoming the deputy editor-in-chief right before the magazine was suddenly closed in April 2010. This was my second major moment of career capital loss, as it became crystal clear that I would need to reinvent myself in order to avoid such systemic shocks in the future. Even though I made the right decision – deciding to start training leaders and future leaders in media and crisis communications – it took me nine long years to become a fully-fledged people developer with the skills, experience and career capital that now allow me to stand in my full power and embrace my new professional identity.

Your career journey doesn’t need to be so dramatic. However, one thing is certain: you will face moments at the crossroad when you won’t know which path to take. Reinventing ourselves professionally twice or even several times during a lifetime is becoming the new normal in career management. Handle your career capital – your education, network, skill development and personal branding well and you can turn any surprise life throws at you into an opportunity. Don’t handle it and each surprise can turn into potential losses. The choice is ours and there is no better time to start reflecting on our career capital management than today. 

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.


Holding the Mirror and Holding the Back

Since 2010, when I started my communications business in the Czech Republic, I became aware of how vital it is that our names are connected with sound, positive values. In my case it was integrity, freedom and partnership that were leading the way, taking me away from the media landscape troubled by crisis into a growing people development practice.  

 Little by little I realized that my clients, heads of small and large companies alike, were facing a similar challenge. Regardless of their intention - if they wanted to achieve something within the company, drive an acquisition, change careers or launch their own business – even the greatest leaders were all of a sudden at a loss. When asked why they personally wanted to communicate in a certain way, what was driving them, they often had no answer. It was much easier to hang on to the company direction, vision and values than to turn the mirror inside and to allow their inner voice to take the lead in communications.

Allowing the Soul to Speak

If we were to look at the Eisenhower’s principle of prioritization, with tasks split along two axes – their urgency on the horizontal and their importance on the vertical – we would realize that personal branding comes in the first upper left box – important, but not urgent. It’s like that solid medical check that you’ve been postponing for ages for fear of what you might find or have to change once you go through it. The appeal of important and urgent tasks is so much bigger – at best we can point at the urgency of the matter to find an excuse about why we spent all our time and energy on immediate assignments. Yet that is a brilliant example of short term thinking. If you really want to think long term – and building a career and personal brand is quite a long term endeavor – you need to be able to step away from the lure of the immediate and into the realm of the important, the essential, the vital, which might be a bit bitter and messy at the beginning, but way healthier long term.

This is why, starting with our second session of personal branding I start stretching people’s focus with long term questions. “What’s really important to you? What do you want to leave behind? If you were to be hit by a car tomorrow, who would miss you? To what extent do you feel you fulfilled your mission on this Earth?” And so on.

You can imagine that this is the point when clients start to “fall in love” with me. Should they have not paid their full personal branding package in advance, they would be running through the door and never come back. That’s why I call this moment the breaking point. In personal branding I call my mission holding the mirror and holding the back. This is literally what I do: I hold people’s back long enough for them to be able to start looking into a personal mirror that is not fogged by outside factors like family, company or society expectations. Slowly, the dreams of youth – and the paint attached to losing contact with them – come forward. Slowly, allowed and held, the soul breaks through immediate impulses, emotions and ideas and starts to speak. This is the greatest moment and the biggest reward of my profession: that moment when the reconnection to self occurs and my clients come up with realizations beyond their wildest dreams. This is the reward for coping with the process and with the messy feelings around it: finding one’s voice and allowing it to speak freely while taking responsibility for cherishing and nurturing it for the rest of one’s life.

The Facets of the Personal Diamond  

Imagine your personal brand as a multifaceted diamond shining in all its beauty on a precious purple bed. This diamond has several facets that are not all visible at the same time - it is not even necessary to show all of them to everyone at any given moment. What is vital however is to know what your personal diamond’s facets are and to become aware of how well polished they are in case you might need to show them to someone and allow them to power your communication.

So, what are the facets of your personal diamond? They are everything that is basically You:

All these gifts are already in your coffer, building together the unique DNA thread of who your are. These are the edges and facets of your personal diamond that might be calling for your attention. Again, they don’t have to or shouldn’t even have to be all visible at the same time. But it would be a good place to start to realize that you have them and that they are your real assets when building your career and personal communications strategy.

If you find yourself at a crossroad, take a break. Give yourself a couple of days off for self-reflection and go back to those nasty questions I mentioned above. What do you really want to leave behind? What is there that is really important to you? Who would miss you if you were gone? What is your mission and your message for this world? And, mainly, to what extent do you live your mission in your everyday life and speak of it in your everyday communications?

 This can be a tough place and you don’t have to dive into these muddy waters of the soul alone. Yet it is only alone that you can dive deep enough to recover your diamond from the depths, bring it up and start polishing it, one facet at a time. From what I’ve experienced so far, one day you will be amazed by the light that starts to emerge from the inside out and to guide you mercilessly on your journey. And that’s the true reward: for you, for coping with the process of bringing yourself forward in all your glory, and for me for holding the mirror and holding the back.    

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.

From Personal Branding to Personal Leadership

This year the Czech Republic celebrated 100 years of its existence. As such, it was a time to remember the great deeds – and names - of the past. Numerous people I’ve been talking to agree that today Czechs should be much prouder of their achievements, much more visible and more present on the local and world scene. Why therefore, for a country with a solid history and many a reason to be proud, there is something holding the Czechs back when it comes to showing up and taking their right place in the world?    

Tough decisions

I dare asking this question because I am confronted with it daily in my personal branding training and coaching practice. That’s why the recent story of one of my clients stuck with me. This gentleman – let’s call him Mirek - build his IT company from the scratch starting in the early ‘90s. The company, obviously, carried his name. A few years ago Mirek decided to expand the company through acquisitions of smaller, complementary IT businesses. Yet he hit a roadblock. For some reasons discussions weren’t moving forward and it was quite hard to put the finger on the real reason why negotiations were staling. Soon Mirek realized that there could be some hidden dynamics in the background that could be connected with the name of his company – actually, with his name. By moving into buying other, smaller IT companies also named after their founders, business got all of a sudden more personal. The sellers were experiencing a subtle sense of loss similar to when we step into a marriage that requires that we change who we are, including our own name. As entrepreneurs committed to building businesses as a lasting legacy, the merger was a pill too hard to swallow for many potential sellers. So, in order to secure his own legacy moving forward, Mirek set for a bold move. He listened to his advisors and decided to change the name of his company into something more generic. Miraculously, the merger bottlenecks started to disappear. Five years later Mirek’s company has expanded successfully not only in the Czech Republic, but on a few markets in Central and Southern Europe as well. As for Mirek, he learnt to accept that, in today’s world, we need to be able to play the rules of the game. “Even though I know it, it was still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he says.

Why we need fatherly figures   

In today’s business landscape we need to accept that companies are not so much about the name of their founders or about the original intention of changing the world with a business idea anymore, but about cold, hard cash, capital and profits. Maybe that’s also why it is so hard for employees to connect with the missions of their companies. As long as these missions remain a piece of statement on a wall, people cannot project their own journey, their dreams and ideals onto something or someone concrete. Having someone to look up to is not only a matter of personal leadership. It’s a vital ingredient in maturing as a human being. As we become more empowered, we paradoxically look for more mentors. We acknowledge that we need them and we embrace their presence. Our mentors become our personal Virgil, like the great Roman poet in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who can be there for us, in reality or in our projections, in order to help us figure out our own answers to the many challenges that today’s world is throwing our way. Our mentors can, yet they don’t have to be fatherly or motherly figures. What we need, in fact, is the hope they bring us through the simple fact that they went through our challenges and survived. Seeing them coming out of a life challenge empowered and transformed – better human beings - brings us hope as well. That’s why mentors are so important. And that’s why we need more of them in our world today.

A Personal Branding Responsibility    

Yet, for us to achieve our own potential and sense of glory mentors are not enough. We also need to admit that each of us are in a leadership position. If we are to influence and inspire our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our team or our own managers, we can do things that can reflect more of who we are and thus trigger a positive change around us. This requires a shift in our mindset. We need to understand that we already are personal brands. From the day we were born and got a name, we were personal brands. From the first moment we interact with someone new we are already building our reputation. Developing more self-awareness around the way we impact the others and the world is not easy though, as it opens the Pandora’s box of personal responsibility. But that’s exactly what we need more of today. We simply need more people who are able and willing to take personal responsibility for their lives and thus to inspire more of the others to do the same. In a climate of fear and discord sewn by shrewd politicians moved by personal, egocentric agendas, we need to be able to create a counter-pole of inspiration, connection and hope through our own actions.

Simple Personal Branding Steps for a Better Future     

If you wonder how you can practically do that, here are a few thoughts:

  1. Increase your self-reflection. Be aware – someone would say mindful – of your own appearance, body language, your voice qualities and your overall impact on others.
  2. Ask for feedback. If you don’t know how your presence influences people and the world around you, just ask. Find the courage to expose yourself to others’ points of view. Remember that all feedback is an opinion, not a cold fact. Allow yourself to be seen and transformed in the light of others’ reflections of who you are.
  3. There is no real personal branding without empathy. How can you make a positive impact through a presentation, an article, a media interview or simply facilitating a meeting unless you genuinely care about the needs of your audience?
  4. Dare to experiment with new things and new approaches not only in communications. If you are not on a communications platform, join it and see what it does to you. If you are – maybe a bit too much – on a social medium, maybe you can take a break and see how you could pour more meaning into your communications as opposed to more quantity. If you are silent around new people, change your approach. Be bold, be curious. Ask questions. Allow the tremendous transformation happening today to touch not only your communications and personal brand, but also your soul.

As you see, the bottom line of personal branding is not just some hullabaloo last-minute strategy on how to be more present on LinkedIn. It can be that, but it’s so much more. Personal branding is our capacity to consciously touch the minds, hearts and spirits of everyone around us with every physical or virtual interaction. Thus we leave behind meaning and a lasting legacy. And that is so much more than personal branding. It is personal leadership at its best – precisely what we need more of so we can be proud of our history, but also of our future.   

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission. 

When a Teacher Moves to Heaven

It was early on in 2009. I had just been promoted to chief reporter with Czech Business Weeklybeing catapulted over night from a regular reporter who loved her job to full magazine content manager and team leader in a group made mostly of women among whom I was the youngest. Saying that I was a bit out of my depth would be an understatement. That’s why when the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) in Prague sent me an invitation to join a workshop on women and leadership, followed by an interview with the trainer, Elisabet Rodriguez Dennehy, I was more than eager to take BCC on its offer.

Little did I know then where this apparently innocent interview would lead us in the future. With personal power, humor and grace, Elisabet mentioned the challenges that women faced in leadership.

I was stunned: how comes I had never come across these ideas before? How comes I’d never learnt about these challenges before, in school or otherwise? As it happens, my astonishment was not unique. As most women, as long as I stayed in my comfort zone, aka my comfortable expert position, I felt that all was good with the world. On top of that, being a journalist is somehow a bulletproof vest against bias. I mean, it’s not like there are no biases against journalists – it's just that people are simply more careful about projecting their biases out loud on journalists. At the end of the day, you never know when you might need that particular journalist in your corner.

Elisabet left no room for doubt: the road to Calvary in career management for women usually starts with a successful promotion. As recently emphasized in an article by the Harvard Business Review, the degree of job satisfaction falls by half with women following a successful promotion, as opposed to doubling in men.

Why? It’s actually quite simple. Gender bias is not so much present when occupying an expert position in a democratic country on a mature labor market. No level of democracy however protects women from bias when it comes to leading teams and organisations. As simple as that, we are not yet used to associating women in leadership with qualities such as safety, courage, daring and power which are, traditionally, qualities attributed to men. As most of our personal, corporate and societal biases are unconscious, most women are not aware of them until they land their fortunate promotion. And are they, women, in for a surprise as soon as they raise their first glass of champagne to celebrate their new achievement.

Lifting women to glory

This is where Elisabet would come into the picture. A woman who dedicated her life to lifting other women to glory, Elisabet came to the Czech Republic repeatedly in 2006 – 2015, mainly through the executive program of the University of Pittsburgh in Prague and through her collaboration in the field of women development programs with major corporate names in the Czech Republic.

Elisabet repeatedly shared her message of daring, hope and self-confidence for outstanding women. In 2014 I had the honor to assist her when she launched her book Can you afford to ignore me? on women, equality and leadership.

After the closure of executive MBA program of the KATZ Graduate School of Business with the University of Pittsburgh in Prague, Elisabet’s trips to the Czech capital that she so loved became more sporadic. We saw each other over a cup of coffee in 2015. We kept in touch via Skype though; we were simply waiting for a new opportunity for life to bring us together again, to do some more good work for our fellow sisters in Prague and elsewhere, wherever life would take us.

That’s why my heart skipped a beat on Friday, November 2nd, when I learned that Elisabet passed away. She leaves behind a family and a community of friends and fellow associates in tears. Till last moment Elisabet put her life energy to the service of uplifting others. Her last newsletter, Extraordinary, best captures her spirit.

“Remarkable, stunning, amazing!

This word is about action, breaking the norm, and thinking big. It was one of my grandfather's favorite words. He taught me that this is the word that can push you to take another step, take a risk, and never to settle for average.

This week, I pass this sentiment to all of you. Look around and challenge things as they are. Look for sensational and incredible outcomes, moments, and interactions. Brush off things as usual and bring on a supercharged spirit that shows possibility and an unending quest for more!

Have a great week!

Elisabet Rodriguez & Associates”

Dear Elisabet, I am looking around and there is an enormous empty place you leave behind. What I can do, as your student, is to pick up on your message. To challenge things as they are. To keep on looking for sensational and incredible outcomes, moments and interactions. To honor the unending quest for more, which brings us closer to our human potential. To honor the woman whom you were, the many hearts that you touched and the legacy you left behind. To pick up on your thoughts and t honor you as my role model every time I enter a training room to bring your message of dignity, courage and hope to other fellow women. You will not be forgotten.

IOCTI 2018 - An Experience Beyond Words

How to put in words an experience that cannot be contained by words? How to bring in a few lines an experience of humanity that stands with one leg in the future, making room for insights that bring up awe and raw fear at the same time?

This was IOCTI for me this this year. But let me start it from the start.

IOCTI - or the International Organizational Constellations Training Intensive - was created in 2004 by Jan Jacob Stam, a Dutch pioneer in the field of exploring and applying systemic dynamics in organizations and the founder of the Bert Hellinger Institute The Netherlands. As Jan Jacob admits, the initial impulse was “quite political.” “Before 2004 we would meet a lot and exchange experiences in Germany. With IOCTI I wanted to explore if there was room for the international community to also meet in other places,” he says. The first two IOCTI editions took place in the Netherlands. Then, they moved to Mexico (twice), Spain, Uruguay (twice) and, ultimately, Slovenia, where we gathered last week from Oct. 6th and Oct. 14th. With the ninth edition IOCTI is going back home – the next gathering, planned for October 2020, will take place in the Netherlands.

In short, IOCTI brings together the best in the field of systemic dynamics in organizations worldwide. I intentionally don’t write systemic dynamics in business because organizations mean so much more. From cases applied to whole state institutions – the Latvian Police – to cases that bring together farmers, schools, hospitals, communities, non-governmental organizations and their stakeholders, IOCTI is a continuous, multi-faceted and multilayered exploration. This word, exploration, probably describes the best the mindset of the people present at the IOCTI gathering.

Systemic earthquakes and other fireworks

Now, for those of you who know me, you know how much I love my clarity, structure and advance planning. Well, to someone like me, IOCTI is a systemic earthquake. In a way I was already connected to this “I don’t know” energy well before the event started – till last moment I somehow couldn’t decide whether I should attend it or not. The balance was tipped when I received the possibility to run a small evening workshop which I felt would be particularly useful for the systemic community – Personal Branding for Systemic Facilitators. At that moment I knew I needed to be there.

Then came transport. From Prague to Ljubljana there are no direct flights. In the end I settled for a bus ride, which I booked literally a bit before departure.

Then came Natasa.

Natasa Cebulji, the wonderful, tall, blond, energetic founder of the Slovenian Institute for Systemic Constellations who organized IOCTI 2018 together with her team. She was kind enough to pick me up at the bus station and take me on a ride to our hotel in Bled. On our way we started speaking about our work. And she came with the suggestion that, if I want, I could have a workshop on Wednesday morning on one of my relevant systemic projects.

Long story short, I jumped. I took the hand Life offered me and I jumped. And boy, what a ride that was!

Highlights, insights and pearls upon departure

Here are some of the main highlights of a week walked in ups and downs, fear and grace, not knowing (information) and knowing (that I was loved and held no matter what).

Insights brought by a workshop on systemic explorations in the role of technology and artificial intelligence in our society:

I return home sated, confronted, sad and hopeful. My head cannot contain yet the potential of all of our explorations. My body is tired and weak, expanding when my other containers contract. My heart… Maybe this is the main insight I take away from Bled. If I want to work from the heart (and I cannot do it otherwise anymore), I need to embrace my fear – that raw fear that brings shivers into your hands when you feel the approaching presence of Grace. And yet, the only good thing one can do is to stand up, take off your shoes and other unnecessary property, chin up, open up and do this work. Just do this work. The system will take care of the rest.

Thanks, IOCTI! Thanks, Natasa and your team for creating the space for these miracles to happen. Thanks, Jan Jacob and all other teachers, with us or sending us love from home. Thanks Bled and Slovenia for reminding me how it feels being alive – really alive. Thanks, friends and soul fellows. Till we meet again… till we meet again...

3 Bled