Leadership Lessons: Live in Awareness

by | 03 September 2015

I believe the meaning of life is to constantly evolve into a better version of ourselves. 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.

Consider these questions: Is this a situation I am facing right now? Have I been through this myself? How did it feel?

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It was the beginning of 2008 when I arrived home late in the evening, and my two daughters were playing in their bedroom, waiting for a goodnight kiss. I was tired, and the noise was getting on my nerves. I started walking upstairs, purposely placing every step loudly to announce my arrival. I opened my daughter Georgia’s door quickly and stepped forcefully into her bedroom. I saw her in bed, where she had quickly found refuge. Her face was expressing something I had never seen before: pure fear. “Is this person really my mum?” The fear in Georgia’s eyes had been there before, but I had missed it; I had been paying more attention to work, clients and the paycheck.

The lesson, dipped in strong emotional context is: Live in awareness.

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In 2009, after reorganizing the company to face the economic crisis, my boss who had been the Managing Director of Colliers Romania for 10 years decided it was time to leave the business and therefore needed a successor. He called me in to his office and said: “Ilinca, my dear, you could be a candidate for the next MD, and theoretically you are skilled to be a good manager. But, you know, the problem is that everybody in the office hates you.” My boss gave a huge gift to me that day, for which I am still thankful. He was a true friend by telling me directly how things were.

Climbing the corporate ladder and getting rich do not make us better people. They are separate journeys. The key is to know where you stand in the present. How can we become self-aware? We all have an ego: It is a protection system designed to build our self-confidence. It tends to block our emotional intelligence, though. As we become more comfortable, normally in our late 30s, that emotional intelligence tends to grow; it is a key development. We can do two simple things to help it along: First, watch the reactions you generate around you. People are like mirrors for us (like Georgia was to me). Second, ask a friend how you are doing — really how you are doing.

That year, as a COO, I started a project within Colliers to establish our values as a company. It was a parallel process with my own introspection about who I was. I discovered that I am passionate about making an impact in the world, and I wanted to transform Colliers into a special place where we learn, contribute and make money. I opened up. Today to a large extent, I am aware of my emotions; I am able to name them and rise above them. My daughter and I are now the closest of friends, and we now laugh when we remember that night.

Making conscious choices is important in all aspects of life. More recently, I became aware of what I was eating. I became a vegetarian three years ago and eat much more healthfully, avoiding refined sugars and any kind of fast food. I feel better than ever. Doing yoga and other mindfulness techniques also help me be aware of my balance or lack of it and find way to get it back.

All of this starts with living with awareness.

In 2010, two years after, I was appointed Managing Director, and the journey became more fun. Above all I wanted to create a culture to boost entrepreneurial spirit. So, one time I had an idea for a special team-building event, an experience meant to take all of our team out of our comfort zone. I got that bit pretty right. I took 60 people to the mountains with no GSM coverage, running water, toilets, electricity and …. Hotel room. For 3 days. We went camping in the wilderness and had an outdoor adventure competition. It sounds fun, right?

After 48 hours of constant rain, many bug bites, running from a herd of horny bulls, not to mention the multiple bruises, getting lost in the woods and doing crazy things like jumping off of cliffs, the day was coming to an end, along with the team’s enthusiasm. The rain kept pouring, and it was getting dark. Most started to demand to go home. Some had already packed and put their stuff on the bus. They got emotional. The pressure was high. I felt like I was about to be crucified on the first tree they could find, high enough so no merciful passer-by could ever save me. I bet you are wondering how I survived this. The crowd was angry.

I remained firm because I believed in the benefits of experiential learning. I told them that we were staying, and I told them why!  We started a fire and put some music on. The rain stopped — divine intervention. At 4 o’clock in the morning, we were still singing and dancing. It was one of the best parties ever. After the event, I received many thank you notes from the team.

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.