Leadership Lessons: Have the Courage to Challenge Yourself

by | 14 September 2015

I believe the meaning of life is to constantly evolve into a better version of ourselves, which is why I want to share some of my experiences from my past 15 years in business and life. There are some key lessons that stand out as key to my becoming happier and more successful in business and life. Recently, I blogged about the importance of living in awareness.

My next key leadership lesson is: Have the courage to challenge yourself, others and the status quo.

Plus: Live in awarenessRaise your hand and define your path

I used to be afraid of heights and told people about it often, almost bragging. For my birthday in 2010, I received a voucher to do a parachute jump 4,000 meters above the ground from an airplane. I challenged myself to do it, despite being absolutely terrified. When I did finally jump, I thought my life was going to end: I was out of control, in a totally new environment, not knowing what lay ahead. I was spinning head down in a free fall for 45 seconds.

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We can only discover new oceans if we lose sight of the shore. We have the choice to challenge ourselves more often — by trying new things, going to new places and allowing ourselves to feel new kinds of emotions. There is a “new you” in every opportunity. It is just waiting to be engaged. Do not focus just on breaking new physical barriers: Try meditation, learning a new language or a musical instrument, going to Alaska or sleeping in a tent for a week with no phones.

In a few seconds after jumping out of the plane, I balanced myself in the air, and together with my instructor, I got steady and started to look around to see the clouds and the birds. The parachute opened. I listened to the quietness of the universe as I slowly flew through the air doing graceful, controlled turns. I jumped for the second time a short while after and enjoyed it even more. On the third occasion I even flew the small propeller plane. I’ve started enjoying adventure sports like sailing, rock climbing, rafting and canyoning, and earlier this year I climbed 5895 meters to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

All this started with having the courage to challenge. 

I have been in sales for 15 years. I had a relationship with a potential client, the CEO of a bank, and it felt like he was always on the run, always distant. I met with him twice a year for an always very formal 30 minutes. “What’s going on in real estate?” he asked me every time. I would deliver my script. The 30 minutes would disappear quickly. These dry encounters were followed by his saying, “Sure, we will contact you.” He never did.

Catinca was going to a new school. Every night at dinner I tried to be a good mom and find out how she was doing in school.

“Hey, so how was school?” I’d ask.
“Good, good,” she said.
“Anything interesting happen?”
“No, no …” Catinca would respond.
“Is there something you want to share with me?”
“I guess not.”

This would happen every night for a few weeks, and I panicked. I thought to myself: My daughter must be having emotional issues in class and not fitting in; something must be wrong with her. After another few weeks I called her to have a serious conversation. I asked, “Dear, what’s the matter? Why are you giving me the same answers over and over again? You’re worrying me.” She replied, “But Mom, what do you expect when you are asking the same questions over and over again?”

Any moment we spend with someone can be a life moment totally wasted or a magical moment of real connection, of fulfillment. How can we have strong rapport with a client, friend or colleague? First, be present and send away all your other thoughts. Be interested and care for the other person, and be ready to open up with authenticity. If there is a hidden agenda, it will not be natural. And fake interest is worse than keeping it superficial.

Another key lesson from this situation was: Have meaningful conversations.

I initiated a different approach with a potential client. I met him for lunch on a beautiful summer’s day. I started to deliver my script.  But three minutes into our meeting, I decided to change my direction: “You are a smart an experienced businessman and have plenty of life experience as well. Could you share something with me? If you could change one single thing in your life today, what would that be?” The client started talking enthusiastically about his family, and we shared experiences regarding our daughters. We then talked about leadership lessons, shared our favorite books, and we ended up talking about philosophy, his time spent in an ashram, my plan to visit India and how to find one’s “mission in life.”

At the end of an engaging, two-hour discussion, he said: “You know, Ilinca, you are not actually how I thought you were. You always seemed superficial and driven by self-interest. I am delighted we had this conversation.” Two weeks later, I received a request for a service from him, and today we do business on a regular basis. What was the trigger?  A meaningful conversation.

My dinner talk with my children changed, and my relationships with my colleagues and friends became alive and authentic. And it all started with having meaningful conversations.

I have, up until now, lived a full life and learned more from my own mistakes than the mistakes of others — as we frequently do. But I could summarize the most game-changing lessons for me in the past few years with these simple 3 ideas: Live in awareness. Have the courage to challenge. Have meaningful conversations.

Now my invitation to you is to look around you and find a colleague, customer or friend. Think how your current state is affecting that person and how that person’s is affecting yours. Then challenge yourself to engage in a meaningful conversation and really find out how you can help each other.

Ilinca is Managing Director of Colliers International in Romania and has spent the last years understanding performance in life and business. An architect by profession, she sees as her mission today designing and building a platform where people can learn and grow, contribute to others and make money as a result of outstanding performance.