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Prejudice and Discrimination: An Alarming Truth

The story of George Floyd comes as a painful reminder: we haven’t even tackled racial tolerance, when we should have tackled so much more already. Besides color, there are many other forms of discrimination that thrive like a fungus in the damp darkness of our indifference. Physical appearance, age, gender, professional status, sexual orientation, religious choices, skills and conformity to group norms – are among the most common forms of discrimination, part of our daily routine.

Prejudice and discrimination are so deeply ingrained that we are unaware of how often we treat unfairly our fellow humans. In turn, we are also quite often the recipients of unjust treatment. We take it as a normal fact of life or, sadly, we believe we actually deserve it. At times we do fight back but, alone on the battlefield, we are defeated. George Floyd lives in each of us. Yet in each of us there’s also a police officer placing a knee on the other’s neck.

We have normalized prejudice both through our silence and through our voices. We have lowered the bar when it comes to human dignity and embraced double standards: shouting we’re helpless while keeping our knee on our brother’s neck. We turn a blind eye to the bullies who fill our offices yet we promote a culture of openness and feedback. We are inert when a woman is offended or belittled yet we advocate for women empowerment.

Our words and actions are incongruent. We are oblivious of the subtle nuances of moral soundness, equality and equity. We fail to stand up when we witness injustice; we fail to set boundaries; we fail to respect others’ boundaries. Our inner compass is broken – fairness, tolerance and respect for others’ differences are overhyped in our vision & mission statements, yet devoid of essence.

To ALL of us who, in one way or another, have become complicit in prejudice and discrimination – it’s time to STOP IT! It’s been ENOUGH.

To the new colleague who quickly scans you and mistakes your youth for incompetence, concluding she needs no training from you; she was a senior executive by the time you were born!

To the recruiters who ask “when do you plan to have children?”.

To the employees who roll their eyes when they hear their new colleague is part of the LGBTQ community. “OMG, they hired a freak?!

To the doctors who dismiss women’s symptoms as “emotional” putting their health at risk through a delayed diagnosis.

To the friend who is disappointed when she hears you work as a waiter. “You are smart, you could be so much more!”.

To the men who toot their horn when they see a blonde driving, assuming right away she is unskilled. She must be – she’s blonde!

To the distant relatives who ask how much you earn so they can assign you a rich or poor label in an informed way. “Thank goodness my son earns more!”.

To the peers who scan you with disapproval when they see no engagement ring on your finger. “How come you are 30 and not married?”.

To the colleagues who always have a mischievous comment about the food you eat, the clothes you wear or the music you like. “Oh, that’s gross, how can you eat that?!“.

To the girls who “LIKE” the Facebook videos that portray women as pimps, yet feel offended the next day when their co-worker treats them accordingly. “We are not all the same!”

To the women who accept a toxic behavior from their partners, shrinking themselves voluntarily so that their abusers can easily step on their dignity.

To the men who conclude “you are such a girl” when you fail to distinguish between concrete and cement.

To the fathers who label their sons as pussies if they cry. “Real men don’t cry!”.

To the men who make fun of “fat” women, without knowing they struggle with thyroid imbalances. “Stop eating from KFC, hon!”

To the preachers who, instead of uniting us, segregate communities by dividing people into “children of God” and “children of the world”.

To the parents whose lack of affection turn their kids into people-pleasers unable to stand up for themselves, thus not giving them an equal opportunity to succeed in life.  

To the media who reports that the “old man” had just celebrated his 55 anniversary when the assault happened.

To the politicians who constantly treat us as if our intelligence was comparable to that of a fly.

STOP IT! It’s been ENOUGH.

**Image via Claudio Schwarz, Unsplash

Gift Anxiety: 8 Scenarios to Overcome This Holiday Season

Gift giving and receiving can often be a source of anxiety, a subtle yet powerful indicator that we need to heal some parts of ourselves. While gifting should come from a sense of expansion, sometimes it’s rooted in a sense of scarcity (I am not enough), a need for acceptance (I want to be seen) or a constraint (I should do it). At times, these feelings are a trauma response, pointing to people pleasing tendencies, a fragile sense of worth and a disconnection from the self. Let’s explore some of the most common scenarios, their underlying meaning and what can we do to reframe our perspective and take delight in giving and receiving this Christmas.

1.You dread gift-giving because you are afraid the other person will feel compelled to reciprocate.

You presume the other person is unable to joyfully accept the gift, and they will see it as an incurred cost (chances are you are attributing your own perception to others). Yet other people’s response is not your response-ability. Plus, you can always communicate your aim, emphasizing your delight in being able to surprise them rather than any expectation to receive something back: “I saw this and immediately thought you would love it – so I was happy I could get it for you!”.

2. You search the Internet for the price of the gift you received and compare it with the one you offered.  

You hold a hard-wired belief that validation comes from outside. If you deem the gift you received as cheap – it either says something about you (e.g. you don’t matter) or about the other person (e.g. they are disrespectful or stingy). If it’s too expensive, it means there may be a hidden agenda, an expectation to reciprocate or simply a display of opulence from the other person. Compassionately question your urge to place a price tag on the gift and give yourself permission to take delight in the gift itself without linking it to your personal value.

You may also want to know how the gift you received compares to the one you gave them. If the gift you offered was cheaper, you’ll feel guilty, ashamed and afraid you’ll fall off their pedestal. But gift offering is neither barter, nor an opportunity to control others’ perception of you. Focus on the intention behind the gift and on its non-monetary value. Acknowledge the discomfort within and its message: when you feel your gift is not enough, it’s never about the gift – it’s about you.

3. You tell the other person that if they don’t use your gift, they can give it back to you.

This implies the fact that you need this gift more or that you’ve invested so much and now you can’t even fathom they’ll misuse or waste it. You may be doing this from a hyphened sense of sustainability – you wouldn’t want it to go to waste! Or you might find it hard to let go of control. Either way, gifting means giving up not only a specific item but also the right to raise any expectation around it. Unless you do so, it’s called lending.

4. You are frustrated thinking you must spend a lot of money for a gift.

Nobody forces you to give more than you can afford. Yet you overspend because you try hard to live up to the expectations you think others have of you. By doing so, you pile up bitterness as if your own choice was forcefully imposed by others.

There may have been a time when you had to filter your own actions through the lens of an invalidating adult. Hence, you developed a set of “shoulds”, learning to habitually act against your own beliefs, needs and desires. Gently remind yourself that you are now in charge, not your inner critic. It will take a while to calibrate your compass – you may often think “I don’t want to buy any gift at all”. That’s okay. Once you convince yourself that you are in control and that you are able to face the consequences of your decisions, you’ll naturally move towards generosity. Remember – you can’t offer to others if you don’t offer to yourself first.

5. You want to keep for yourself the gifts you bought for others.

This usually happens because you tend to be more generous with others than with yourself – you buy items which you don’t normally buy for yourself. That bio face cream? Perfect for a gift, while you are using a regular one. You may say: “I can’t afford to buy that”. You can, otherwise you wouldn’t buy it for somebody else. Instead of paying more than you can afford for a gift, find something more reasonable and buy two items – one for you as well. Think for a moment: what message do you convey to that part of you who longs for that gift as well? That it doesn’t matter, that its needs come second and should settle for less. Yet I bet you often ask that same part of you to help you set healthy boundaries and get frustrated when it fails to do so. Do you still wonder why?

6. You over-gift yet deep inside you keep track of the fact they never reciprocate.

You believe that gifting is a way to secure approval and connection. You offer gifts because you want to be seen. You may think you are generous for over-gifting but as long as this is only a silent overdraft facility offered to the receiver, then you’re not. So, redefine what gifting means to you. Why do you offer gifts? If the answer is to receive something in return, that is not a gift. It’s swapping. And even if the gift was reciprocated, are you really comfortable with knowing you received it just because the other person had to do it? What you’re really after is connection and validation; instead of getting them on loan from somebody else, why don’t you access them from within? It’s like begging for money, when you are the Federal Reserve.

7. You are stuck on what gift to pick. For every idea, your inner critic responds with an argument.

Either you don’t know the person enough or you know them too well. Assuming it’s the latter, chances are the recipient is very critical, and you have internalized their voice. They always have a comment about everything – the choices you make, the ingredient in that hand cream or that awful perfume they received last Christmas. Reconsider how you feel in this relationship. Most probably you’re not only afraid to buy something they won’t like, but you’re also afraid to show up fully around them – you feel judged or are walking on eggshells. Remember you deserve to be surrounded by people who lift you up and embrace your authenticity – so instead of worrying about their likes and dislikes, gift yourself some kindness and a new perspective. And you can get them a voucher if you insist.

8. You are uncomfortable to receive gifts because you feel “it’s too much” or you haven’t bought them anything yet.

You find it hard to accept not just gifts, but also compassion, kindness and love from others. You believe that since you don’t deserve them (e.g. you’re not good enough), the only reason why they would act this way is because they expect something in return. You are uncomfortable to know you are “in debt” so you’d rather not accept the gift. Opening yourself to the possibility that you may be valued for who you are and not for what you can do in return is not easy but it’s worth trying. Gracefully accept the gift (if there are no ethical breaches e.g. in a work context) and realize that you are not “trapped” nor “in debt”. Were you asked for something in return? If the answer is “no”, then you are free. Only you can put your mind in prison and only you can break free from it.

Conclusion

If you’ve resonated with any of the points above, it’s okay. This holiday season, take a moment to reconsider what gift giving and receiving means to you. Ground yourself in wholeness. Gift from an outpour of affection, comradery, and kindness. Gift from the spillover of the same generosity you offer to yourself. Gift from the joy of seeing others’ smile and of making them feel celebrated. Gift without expectations. Gift without anchoring your self-worth in the sparkly wrap. Gift with the healthy part of you, not with your inner critic, people-pleaser, perfectionist or controlling side. Gift with curiosity towards your own healing. And remember, the best gift you can give to somebody is your presence and your genuine feelings towards them.

This Christmas, start small. Give a smile. Receive a compliment. And be patient with yourself along the way.

The Truth Will Set You Free – Be You

You’re trying hard to move forward while carrying preconceptions, others’ expectations, the burden of perfectionism, the fear of failure and ridicule, self-doubt and the shame of being perceived as too much or not enough. You just want to be seen, heard, accepted and understood. You want to ensure that an error or a clumsy gesture won’t make you less lovable. Hence, you invest a lot of energy in upholding the image of someone who has it all figured out. But the truth is that no one does…

So, let this truth set you free and be you. Only then you will feel life is flowing for you. Only then you will feel lovable and fully embraced by those who matter. Especially by you.

Life is like a gust of wind. It’s a pity to waste it living it on a flat tire. So, go out there and be you. Live with the unshakable belief that you are worthy. Don’t empower others – parents, peers or partners – to hinder your spark. Don’t try to please; take courage and let yourself be seen. Take pride in who you are, while acknowledging you still have to grow. Take pride in your progress.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than the smiles you smiled, the tears you cried, the souls you touched, the moments you lived authentically expressing yourself openheartedly and full of love. And there is no love in pretending. There is no authenticity in fawning. There is no smile in reproval. There is no wisdom in being somebody you’re not. There is no celebration in living life’s “shoulds”.

Instead, turn your “woulds” into reality and honor yourself; with the energy and enthusiasm of a two-year old, yet with the boldness of the ageless soul who has finally understood why you’re here: to be unapologetically you.

Meeting Overload: A Warning Sign of Corporate Dysfunction

On average, we spend over 50% of our time in meetings, making the Zoom fatigue more real than ever. Lately, I hear the same complaint over and over in coaching sessions: “I have back-to-back calls with no time to collect my thoughts in-between. As a result, I work overtime to complete my tasks. I am overwhelmed and with no energy after work.”

Excessive meetings have become the exponent of a flawed culture, a corporate addiction leaving us with no mental space for strategic thinking, innovation and creativity. While meetings are key to a collaborative organizational culture, meeting overload is highly detrimental to both our business and mental health. More precisely:

  • Meetings distract us from strategy; they provide us with a premature sense of achievement and prompt us to measure the wrong things – the number of calls per day! In contrast, strategic thinking can feel daunting and harder to quantify, especially since – at the end of the day – great ideas are always scarcer than the number of meetings!
  • Meetings shorten our attention span; back-to-back meetings have the same effect on the human brain as mindless scrolling: we jump from one topic to the next in minutes, losing our ability to sustain focus over prolonged periods. This explains why even when we do have a no-meeting day, we find it so hard to focus on a task.
  • Meetings impact our sense of connection; unfortunately, besides meetings, one must work as well: reply to an email; prepare a report; design a deck etc. Hence, there’s no secret that most employees multitask while attending calls. No wonder more and more people feel unheard, unseen and misunderstood. That’s because they really are!
  • Meetings leave us exhausted and disengaged; spending more than 50% of our time in meetings (often scattered throughout the day) will not only make us more unproductive in the long run but leaves us with no energy for after-work activities. As employees feel less in control of their calendar, engagement drops and quiet quitting is on the rise.  
  • Meetings intensify conflict; a meeting has more potential to trigger negative emotions as compared to an email. The tone of voice, the mid-sentence interruptions, the coworker who repeatedly asks the same question, the rush to get to a conclusion before time runs out – these can fuel misunderstandings and ‘fight or flight’ reactions.
  • Meetings provide a false sense of progress; no time to work on that report? Set a call to keep the ball rolling! More progress? No. Just more empathy – “we are all busy” in a culture where the “do not disturb” status is frowned upon, unproductive busyness is a badge of honor and problem-solving means just another invite.

Research concluded that removing 60% of meetings increased cooperation by 55% and productivity by 73%, considerably improving communication effectiveness, engagement and employee wellbeing. Hence, cutting back on meetings is a must. But so is understanding why there are so many meetings in the first place.

We tend to place responsibility on the employee: prioritize better, decline unimportant calls, book focus time. While self-leadership and personal boundaries are essential, it’s hard to break bad habits in a system designed to reinforce them. In addition, focusing on the individual alone is like trying to solve world hunger by cooking a bowl of pasta.

Most often, an excess of meetings is a symptom pointing to a deeper organizational issue that requires shared responsibility and leadership attention e.g., conflicting priorities, unclear roles, superfluous or missing processes, micromanagement, untrained staff in key roles, scaling too quickly etc. As Peter Drucker puts it, “meetings are by definition a concession to a deficient organization. For one either meets or one works”.

I often advise leaders to spend a whole day attending meetings at different levels in their organization. It will provide them with more insights than any KPIs report on the type of dysfunctions within their companies. After all, meetings are a micro-representation of the larger organizational culture, showing the power dynamics, the company’s ability to align, plan and execute strategy, and its ability to foster inclusion and engagement.

How many meetings do you have in your organization?

3 Hard Truths Every Leader Should Know

As leaders, sometimes we need to make tough decisions, say “no” to a brilliant idea or pioneer a new business approach. While these are all essential skills, the heart of leadership lies in how we interact with others, how we present change and how we trade ideas with decisiveness, tact and humility. Sounds easy? Not at all. The truth is that many leaders struggle to communicate in a way that makes people feel heard, valued and inspired to follow their lead and rally around a shared vision. Here are three basic truths leaders ignore when asserting their ideas, resulting in low team morale and poor engagement.

1. By not listening, you’re not getting people on board quicker – you’re pushing them on board.

In their attempt to get buy-in as quickly as possible, some leaders will bulldoze through their peers’ arguments, without fully acknowledging them and at times – even without hearing them out. In other words, it’s like insisting I must buy your sneakers, while totally ignoring my brand-new Nikes! Similarly, interrupting others every two words will convey the message every leader should avoid sending: “I don’t care what you think” or “I’ll anyway disagree no matter what you say”.

People are attached to their ideas. Convincing somebody to give them up only by listening to your arguments will not work, unless you give them an opportunity to present theirs as well. By making them feel heard and understood, you are getting their “elephant” (emotional brain) out of the way. Hence, you will be able to access their rational mind and have a more productive discussion. Plus, you may conclude their arguments do make sense!  As Adam Grant puts it, “we learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions”.

2. When saying “no” is your default response, it’s time to rethink your approach.   

If you often lead relying on your veto power, then you need to engage in some self-reflection: either the team you built around you is not the right organisational fit (culture-wise, performance-wise etc.); or your leadership style is not the right fit for the team. As a leader, your priority is to serve the good cause to the best of your abilities, even with the price of your likeability. Yet this cannot justify the fact that you consistently go against the flow. If you often find yourself saying “no” when hearing other ideas, it’s time to pause and think again.

Having this awareness also helps you get buy-in more effectively. Sometimes, when saying “I don’t like the idea”, you convey the subtle message that the acceptance criteria are very subjective. An idea is basically similar to an ice cream. If I happen to bring you a flavour you don’t like, then I’m just unlucky. Instead, leaders can respond with curiosity – “I’d like to better understand why you propose this”; or back up their “no” by explaining the business goals and providing more clarity on their expectations and decision-making process.

3. Getting too emotionally attached to an idea will only hinder your business.

A trauma-informed approach is essential in understanding that sometimes, rejecting an idea is perceived as rejecting the human behind it. Having your ideas challenged can often be anxiety-inducing. So, it’s easy to lose sight of the organisation’s needs and leverage your formal power as a personal shield in proving how right you are. Hence, you are not open to reconsider an idea or digest any arguments against it. You made up your mind and there’s no turning back. The business itself becomes an arena where egos collide rather than a cause to be served.

Sometimes people believe that their diplomas or property valuation have a say in who they are. Similarly, as a leader, you may often believe your ideas encapsulate your identity and tend to take things personally. The solution? Ground yourself in wholeness, a strong sense of self, personal values and a clear mission. Finally, employ a healthy dose of detachment – your ideas are not you. The good news is that with patience, self-compassion and awareness change is possible and new mindsets can be forged.

Dear Leaders: Each One of Us Matters

Our LinkedIn feed, newsletters and strategy meetings are oversaturated with targets: increase employee engagement by X%, improve retention rate by Y%, advance DEI efforts and women representation by Z%. We understand that the Great Reshuffle calls for resolute action and that we can’t improve what we don’t measure. In a data-driven world, numbers matter. We also understand the complexities you face in leading global companies, shaped by a remote workforce, during these turbulent times.

Yet the truth is that we’re experiencing a crisis of trust and authentic leadership. The last thing we need is hearing another data-heavy presentation reminding us we’re just another FTE in the companies’ statistics. We can’t solve this crisis using the same thinking that got us here. Trust is built on logic and competence. But it’s also built on empathy and kindness. People want to be seen, heard, included, mentored, guided – each and every one. One by one. Not in bulk. Off-the-shelf leadership is not the answer.

Hence, before you share your engagement/retention/DEI targets, please ensure the full leadership structure is on board and able to deliver. Before you approach your coworkers as employees, approach them as humans. Before you check-in with us, check-in with yourself – what’s your purpose and what’s the legacy you work towards? People can distinguish between a leader who just follows the script (even if with the best intentions) and one who really cares. And people will trust you if they know their own success is at the top of your agenda.

True leadership is not easy; it seems that we now expect from leaders what a whole ‘village’ used to offer – guidance, mentoring, empowerment, compassion, support for a healthy work-life balance etc. But there’s no way around it. The leader of the future is a humanistic one and leads with wisdom, empathy, kindness and compassion. The leadership of the future is about reconnecting with one human at a time, daring to be seen and daring to see each individual as a masterpiece in progress – worthy of your time and support.

So next time you reflect on leading others and setting your target, put a face on it. How engaged is Jane? How included does John feel? When it’s the last time you discussed with Kate about her career growth?

How to Future-Proof your Business: Effort over Results

While phrases like “results-oriented” remain a common buzzword in job ads, the latest leadership thinking challenges organisations to shift focus on effort instead. Results are undoubtedly the cornerstone of a successful business, yet they are always preceded by sustained effort and continuous learning. By rewarding effort, organisations stand a better chance of achieving great results consistently in the long run. In other words, effort is a long-term investment which can render exponential returns.

Growth and innovation require tolerance for trial and error. They also require a supportive organisational culture where people leverage teamwork, collaboration and internal networks to achieve far more than any individual working alone. Yet a culture where results are valued over effort can promote unhealthy rivalries where the gluers are often overlooked. Contrarily, focusing on effort fosters not only a healthy workplace ecosystem but also a learning environment where people feel safe to make mistakes, without fearing these will cost them a good end-of-year rating.

Zooming in on an individual/team level, valuing effort over results sounds simpler than it is. Results are easy to quantify, effort not so much. Measuring effort means measuring the individuals’ journey towards becoming their best version and the soundness of your team dynamics. While results are objective, efforts require all leaders (not just L&D) to pay closer attention; to take the pulse of their teams; to acknowledge their willingness to pick up tasks outside their comfort zone; to factor-in the role of the context or of risks beyond their control; to value their eagerness to excel, ask hard questions and propel the organisation forward.

However, in many organisations leaders are either too busy to notice effort or they approach it from a negative standpoint. The more effort is invested by the individual/team, the more engagement is required from the leader as well. And let’s face it: many leaders want to be “bothered” only with results, not with “excuses”, “nagging” questions, experiments or issue escalations. Effort with results matters. Effort without results disturbs. But that’s not all. When it comes to diversity & inclusion, the effort versus results topic reflects a double standard.

Unconscious gender bias surfaces here as well: Men are more likely to be rewarded for effort, women for results. While women need to prove they tried, men are given credit for it. If results fail to materialise, the bad luck of the circumstance is more easily acknowledged for men. Furthermore, women are more prone to be penalised for effort as it’s often perceived as fuss. There’s an implicit expectation that women should deliver results without showing too much blood, sweat and tears. While one cannot generalise of course, asking for help and escalating risks can often be perceived as a weakness; the reverse is true: women who stop needing answers are perceived as more capable. Yet in both instances their efforts are undermined.

Valuing effort over results is a must on every leader’s agenda interested to future-proof their organisation. Rewarding effort means investing in the company’s ability to pivot, learn from its mistakes, innovate and achieve sustainable growth. It also improves collaboration, allowing employees to maximise their skill & will in ways that can catalyse collective success rather than individual results. Also, acknowledging the role of unconscious bias in underpinning effort and fostering an inclusive culture will cement the foundation of a thriving organisation.

Finally, it’s important for leaders to switch focus from the outcomes to the process, encouraging each individual to become their very best. As Hubert Joly – former CEO of Best Buy – puts it in his bestselling book The Heart of Business, it’s like playing tennis: “if you obsess about winning the point or the game, you are more likely to miss because you get tense. Your best game typically happens when you relax and focus on the ball. Loving the process and striving to do our best keeps us motivated and even more skilled over the long haul, which leads to irrational and lasting performance”.

5 Steps From Surviving to Thriving

You overcame challenges. You lost dreams, hopes and loved ones. Yet you survived. You paid with blood, sweat and tears to be where you are today and now you’d rather stay dormant. Because you only know two states: when you have no choice, you fight to survive; when you do have a choice, you become passive. In other words, you waste the life you fought for. Because you don’t know how to spend it wisely. You don’t know how to be happy.  

You probably heard that about 70% of the people who win the lottery go bankrupt within a few years – having money is unfamiliar; they don’t have a spending plan, are overwhelmed or simply have an “easy come, easy go” mentality. But the reverse – “hard come, easy go” – is also true: when you’ve been fighting to survive for so long and you finally get to experience peace, you are overwhelmed. No wonder you go idle after all that you’ve been through; like a caterpillar too tired to become a butterfly.  

Shifting from merely existing to thriving is not easy, but it’s worth it. Do you remember when you were deep in the storm and didn’t know how to fight? Yet adversity forced you to level up. Adversity pushes. But happiness invites. Happiness doesn’t threaten your survival; it threatens your habit to fight for survival. And that is unfamiliar, confusing. You’d rather fight a demon you know than embrace an angel you don’t trust. But how can you start to trust? How can you actively engage in bringing yourself into blossom?

This journey takes time and change doesn’t happen overnight, so patience is key. Like with any other skill, you will need a lot of practice until you get better at it; but it’s worth it. You deserve to enjoy the return on your investment. You fought hard to survive. Now reclaim your right to be happy. While there is no universal recipe, here are a few points to help you make the shift from surviving to thriving:

1. Process your fights. Give them a meaning. You made it this far for a reason. What’s the story you tell yourself? Are you aware of all the strength inside? Do you see yourself as a victim or as a warrior? Give yourself time to mourn the amazing things you deserved but didn’t get to experience. Find the thread that connects your struggles to your gift and acknowledge how they’ve equipped you to make a difference in this world.

2. Observe your coping mechanisms with curiosity – these patterns are the legacy of your fights. What behaviours helped you come out the other end? What are your dominant thoughts? Are you afraid of getting used to joy and then being robbed of it? Do you find it hard to trust others? Do you think you don’t deserve to be happy? How often do you feel this way? In which context do you experience these thoughts?

3. Interrupt the patterns that no longer serve you, with patience and compassion. At first, you will feel uneasy every time you do so – should you listen to your gut or not? You will often slip back into the old habits but that’s okay. With every attempt to override your default reactions, you learn to trust the process. You could also benefit from the support of a coach or therapist along the way, to distil your feelings and recalibrate your inner compass.

4. Leverage your unique strengths. Thriving and happiness also involve fighting to some degree; but this is a challenge you embrace and enjoy. It implies grit, hard work, falling and getting back up – these are skills you master already. Yet instead of using them as a prerequisite to survival, you use them to maximise your life. Think of it this way: Fighting got you fit. But being fit will also help you be a good dancer.

5. Ensure your blooming is seen and shared. Not on social media; in real life. Connection will help your growth pass the test of time. Imagine how different time would be in the absence of life that measures it; how different a piano would sound in the absence of the ear that rejoices in it; how different turquoise would look like in the absence of the eye that marvels it. Blooming is also more meaningful when witnessed by a loving heart who roots for you.

Take heart. You made it to the shore already. Rest for as long as you need. But keep going. Some amazing views are waiting to delight you as you climb to the fullness of your life.

Breaking the Bias as a Leader

This year’s IWD campaign theme is #BreakTheBias. But what does breaking the bias even mean? For me, it’s a journey of awareness, leadership and self-empowerment. 

I #BreaktheBias every time I question my hard-wired default beliefs, acknowledging the role I may play in reinforcing bias. For instance, instead of disapproving an assertive remark thinking “I could never say that”, I intentionally flip the script: “I can learn from it”. I realise many of us expect validation from outside, especially from leaders. Hence, it’s even more important for us – leaders – to self-educate and navigate our own biases. In this open feedback culture, it’s so easy to pass them on to others! Yet it’s in our power to set ourselves and each other free from stereotypes, gender modesty norms and glass ceilings.

I #BreaktheBias every time I turn an encounter with bias in an opportunity to lead change – as a DEI advocate or as a leader who fosters and promotes other women leaders, levelling the playing field. It’s easy for me to see others’ lack of self-confidence because it mirrors my own. But this gift enables me to be the coach I once needed, amplifying somebody’s confidence and not their self-doubt; celebrating their courage to show-up; and making my teammates feel safe when giving me the big news, because they know there’s no “penalty” once they get back from mat leave.

Most often bias is internalized as a self-limiting belief; a deeply rooted fear of being perceived “too” (bossy, emotional etc.) or “less” (competent, decisive etc.). Hence, #BreakingtheBias can also mean changing our own narrative; feeling enough; acknowledging others’ strengths without downplaying our own. We don’t need to be people-pleasers to fit in. We need bold human beings who lead with vulnerability; sometimes, daring to say “I don’t know”; other times daring to say “I stand by my decision”; but always saying “I hear you. I see you. You’re welcome here”.

In some ways, #Breakingthebias is like embracing ESG: it used to be a “nice to have”, now it’s a “must have” with impact on companies’ bottom line. Similarly, research shows a company which fosters diversity and inclusion will outperform its peers. All we have to do is give up bias and we’ll be rewarded for doing so! But this calls for courage and shifting from being a bystander to being an ally, a change agent, a brave leader. In the end, it’s all about the legacy we intend to create: a kinder world where each of us feels supported to become their very best.

What does #BreakTheBias mean for you?

COVID-19: The One Thing To Remember

More than threatening our lungs, COVID-19 is targeting our mind, with its fear inducing campaign. The media’s in-depth coverage of severe cases has gone viral. While this serves as an effective warning urging us to maintain social distancing, there’s no doubt it’s also corroding our resilience.

A plethora of studies have confirmed it long ago: anxiety, fear and negative visualization can suppress our immune system. Not only we are more prone to catch the virus, but if we do – we experience the symptoms more severely and we delay our healing. In other words, what we feed our mind with is a critical prognostic factor – at times, more important than the underlying health condition or the advanced age.

Most of us are oscillating between the fear of a positive diagnosis and the denial of positive thinking: “It won’t happen to me”. But what if? What if you do test positive for COVID-19? Either because you are a first responder or simply because your infected neighbour sneezed in the hallway, a few moments before you went to take the trash out. How will you deal with it?

Recalling other patients’ lost battles, the virus’ unpredictability and its potentially severe symptoms can be daunting. Everything you’ve read fuels your negativity bias, increasing the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of visualizing your healing, you keep imagining the destructive spherical cell with spikes protruding from its surface. No wonder – after all, you’ve seen this picture so many times in the media. So how can you shift your mindset?

I am challenging you to uncover the tremendous mental resilience, confidence and faith within. Escape fear by sailing through it. Remember the giants you faced in the past and take heart! Remember the inspiring stories of survivors who defied the odds. You need to know you are unbeatable. You need to feel it in every cell of your body: You’ve got this. I want you to promise to yourself that no matter what, you will fight and conquer it.

Look in the mirror and face any self-doubt. You are more than just a number reported by Worldometers. You are equipped to go through it, so program your mind to survive. Your immune system is more trained than a Navy SEAL. Your life force will set in motion your healing. I hope and wish that none of us will ever need to remember this message. But if life does put us to the test, the only line you will need to remember is this: You are incredibly strong and you will make it.

***Note: By no means you should put yourself and others in danger. Stay at home. Follow the instructions provided by your local authorities and the prevention advice of the World Health Organization.