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9 Leadership lessons learned during the Brussels bomb attacks

How one leadership decision saved 12 people’s lives.

Morning started as usual. We were going to have the 2nd day of the European business leadership board meeting  on  22 March. Checking out of a beautiful hotel, the Dominican, in  Brussels centre, I was almost on the way to take the subway to the office. A colleague from Brussels suggested that he has a car and can drive a few people to the office. I did not mind – can either take subway or car, I’m easy-going.

While we were sorting out who would go via  the underground and who will travel to the office by car, another colleague, who was going to go back to London at around 11ish that day, hence was still in her room, was  desperately trying to reach us. She had  seen in the morning news that there had been a bomb attack in the Brussels airport. It sounded surreal! Shocking! We all grabbed our smart phones and started to check the news. While reading the tragic and shocking news, we could not still realize, what had just  happened.

Despite the news, we were on the way to office anyway, so we had to sort out the logistics of who takes the car and who takes the metro, to  get there. Our leader Tony said: ”Wait! Let’s reconsider it here. I remember, when there was a bomb attack threat in this country some time ago, the government closed all the underground transport. Now there has been a real attack at the  airport. Most probably, they will close the subway sooner or later for security. Currently the subway is still functioning, but for how long? Let’s take taxi!”

Despite the fact, that in the previous day, we all got acquainted with a  new enhanced company expense policy, so, this was a situation, where you have to trust your leadership  and make a judgement call. The first leadership lesson:

  1. Trust your leadership judgement

We took taxis instead of the subway to office. And when arrived at the  office, we  discovered in the news that there was another bomb attack in the center – nearby the hotel where we were staying – in the station from where we were going to take the train to the office. This got us gutted. We were one leadership decision away from being in the middle of an explosion. I cannot really describe that feeling when you feel like you are born again and thankful for your life. It puts things into different perspective.

  1. Put your people first,

is the second leadership lesson learned. On the way to the office we were checking whether everyone from the Belgium offices were  safe and not been close to any explosions. One colleague was actually going to be flying out from the airport that morning – he reported to be safe and not injured. There was relief in the team and much bonding together. I was amazed later how much the local Belgium team cared for the European Leadership team to be taken care of, despite their concern about their own families as well.

Although, our leader was  chased from the London office about  the important deadlines, and presentation decks for important meetings, he said – “I will think about our people first, when they are safe, they will deliver for our customers and internal stakeholders. Definitely, I will manage to reply to stakeholders, but – our people come first.”

  1. Be flexible to change your plan

Although we had a very busy board meeting agenda for that Tuesday, and Tony is a very driven, results focused and demanding leader, he asked the question – what shall we do – deliver on the agenda, stay here until  tomorrow or until the security warning decreases and then go home or figure out how to get away from here? Although there were really a lot of things on the board meeting agenda to resolve (including my Talent management session, which is important), some people suggested – it is not safe here, we can not focus on the agenda while the country is on a  4th degree security warning (highest), lets figure out how to get out of here.

  1. Diversity helps to look at wider range of options

Having 12 people to  listen to  in the team from different countries, professional backgrounds, nationalities, gender, and life experiences was a big help   in reviewing all the options for the day and to decide on  the most appropriate. It was a worth while experience to hear different approaches, options, opinions and together to land a  solution for the  day.

  1. Play to people’s talents and strengths, they will excel in what they are great at

In the crisis situation that we were in, naturally we started to focus and contribute in the areas we could best add value to – Operations professionals helped searched  for transport options, schedules, nearest cities; Frequent travellers – suggesting which airports/train stations are most convenient and how to get there.  Human resources – ensured we should take care of the  local Belgium team and people, not just the  European Leadership Team, Sales & Trading – keeping spirits up with some jokes and anecdotes.

  1. Care for your people and they will care for you

The first thing I did while travelling in the car from the hotel to the office – was to message the  office manager and HR leader to check in on the Belgium people, whether all are safe, whether anyone was  travelling at this time from the airport. When speaking to people in the office, one colleague said – she is really worried about her daughter that is in kindergarten currently. I suggested – if she is worried about her daughter, she should do what she feels best in the current situation – to drive safely and pick up her daughter from  kindergarten. They can then go home safely and she can continue to work from home as necessary.

It was extraordinary, how the Brussels office colleagues cared about the European Leadership Team to ensure we get home safe. They first thought about the leadership team and only afterwards – about how they are going to travel home themselves.

  1. Involve your team in decision making

There came a point where Tony asked: “What do you want to do – stay here until  tomorrow or figure out today how to get home?” It was not about telling – we will do this or that. But together, deciding on what is the best option in the current situation, for the team and for each and every individual. Every single person  was important – we did not leave until we figured out how Ignacio will get home to Madrid (he had to make quite a journey from Brussels to Lille to Paris to Madrid) and how to get Barbara out of the hotel and to the team (as by 10am there were no more taxi’ s available, neither any other transport).

  1. Humour helps to release stress

To be honest – some people freaked out at  the situation and just said – get me out of here, I’m not staying! And that is a normal reaction to enormous stress levels. What was helpful were  some silly jokes during the conversations and while figuring out what to do and how to get home safe for everyone. It was quite a  logistical nightmare – to get people from Brussels to Spain, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, or just to home for those that lived in Brussels, as there was no transport from Brussels available – no airplanes, no trains, no car rentals. Together, creatively we solved the logistics puzzle.

  1. Have a strong team

Having a strong team helps to have good times in business and enhance strong business results, and helps to travel through  tough times successfully together. Big  respect to my colleagues who suggested – I have a car, I can drive to the centre to pick up Barbara from the hotel, I just need someone to travel with me as that area might be closed down due to high risk and recent explosions. Big respect also to the colleagues who effortlessly drove other colleagues to a  neighbour country such as the Netherlands, to the airport and to the Lille train station. And  big respect to the colleagues from the Belgium office, who first wanted to ensure that the European Leadership Team is managed and safe, and only then thought about – how will they get home.

Final thoughts:

The day started as a usual day, but it turned out so unexpected. While remaining calm and grounded during the day, emotions only kicked in for me in the evening, when I returned home. I felt exhausted from the stress, sad for the people in Belgium, angry at the situation and the people who can cold-bloodily do these kinds of things – taking away innocent lives. It kicked in for me later that I was one leadership decision away from being in the middle of the explosion. Shocking! And – grateful for my leader’s decisions, team collaboration and the care for each other that was shown that day. This really puts things into a different perspective, something, I will never forget.



Leader, don’t motivate your people, it’s too difficult!

Motivation is something external to the person. It’s done to them. And it’s too difficult a job for you as a leader to constantly motivate your people. Inspire them instead. It’s much easier and enjoyable for you and more energizing for your people.

How to inspire instead of motivate? Here are the top 3 steps to inspire:

  1. Find out what are their talents and strengths
  2. Discover their highest values
  3. Help them to achieve their aspirations – their STARs

Talents and Strengths

The magic is knowing your people’s talents – knowing what they are great at and helping them to apply the things  they love doing. This  makes them enjoy what they do and feel happy about it. When people know and are confident about their key talents and apply them in what they do and want to achieve, it enhances their success opportunity extraordinarily. It  brings confidence, impact and focus to deliver with excellence.

Why would you as a leader in  business want to spend time and effort to motivate someone to do things  that they are not inspired about and will not feel passionate about doing? Instead give them the opportunity to do the job they are excited and inspired about. It takes less effort for you to place people in roles that they are inspired and talented to contribute and excel, rather than to keep motivating people to do a  job they dislike in a  culture they can not shine in.

Highest Values

If you are clear on what are your values and choose your job, role, relationships in accordance to them, you generate energy.

If among my strong values are independence and creativity, but I choose the job where I have to strictly follow the rules, like risk manager or underwriter, then I will not be happy about the content of my role as I will constantly have to do something that does not naturally resonate with my core being. The set of values that each individual has is unique to them.

Highest value – you are spontaneously inspired to do the job that resonates to your highest value. You get up and do it, You do not need a motivation to do it. Napoleon Hill called it, chief aim. It is a burning desire to fulfil. Doing the job that fulfils your highest value is one of the secrets to master your life. It’s intrinsic.

Lowest value – you need a motivation to do the job that is in congruence with your lowest values. You find it difficult  and de-energizing. You do not enjoy doing a job that relates to your lowest values. Therefore you need an external stimulus to motivate you to complete that job.

It is more difficult  than doing the job that you are naturally inspired by . And for leaders it takes much more effort, time and energy to motivate people to do the job that they do not feel naturally inspired to do. It is much more rewarding to inspire people to excel in their jobs that they enjoy doing and that are contributing to their highest values.

Inspiration is calling from within, building on intrinsic values and talents. Motivation is pushing from outside to do something that your person does not enjoy.

Help to reach their STARs

Nobody goes to work for the sake of the company. People go to work to  fulfil their highest values, aspirations, to reach their stars – whatever stars mean for each and every individual. If they see how their job, vision, mission of company helps to fulfil their highest value, they are inspired to contribute and to be effective to deliver. If not – they have low productivity and need to be constantly motivated. If their job fulfils their highest value, they can not wait to get to work each and every day and add value to the company. They feel ownership, responsibility, commitment. They are engaged and constantly improve their customer service to deliver upon their personal excellence.

Your wisdom as a leader is to place people in the right role that will help them to reach their stars and add massive value to the company. The role that they feel inspired about, so you do not need to put an extra effort to motivate them. Instead – inspire your people by giving them projects and opportunities that play to their strengths , talents and values.

Your wisdom is to fill  your day with high priority things where you add value. If you do not fill up your day with high priority actions that inspire you, it will be automatically filled with low value distractions projected by other people that are low according to their values.

Ask yourself on a daily basis what the highest priority actions I can do today that generates most income, inspiration etc. Rest – delegate to somebody else. How do you live an  inspired life if you keep doing desperate things? There is always somebody that matches the job you need to delegate. Make sure its congruent with their values, so you do not need to micromanage and motivate them. Inspire them instead!

Marca personal frente a marca empresarial, o cómo desarrollar un servicio al cliente excelente

Personal brand development in Spain – developing excellent customer service by @IngaEzera. #PersonalBrand #Spain #dowhatyoulove #personalexcellence #excellcustomerservice.

Read the article in Spanish from “Equipos y Talento” here: Personal Brand development and excellent customer service.

Personal Brand versus Company Brand – developing excellent customer service

Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room, as per Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. It is about your behaviour – how you treat other people, what you say, how congruent it is to your personal values.

In  companies where leaders highly value customer relationships and service as well as their people inspiration and development, leaders develop their leadership brand to better engage with their people and empower them to WOW the customer.

Personal brand development is more important

Personal brand has become more important than company and corporate brand development. Why? Because people that work in a  company are building a  company brand by  how they serve customers, how they communicate and deliver  or exceed the expectations of customers and shareholders. Customers trust people more than companies and they build relationships with people, rather than with companies.

If you have an issue with a  product or service that  you recently bought, whom do you call? The company? No, you call the person who can help you  solve the issue. And who is answering the phone? The company? No – the person. The way  this customer service person will treat you and help to solve your issue, you will make an assumption about the  company brand experience and will develop your judgement about that particular company.

Great leaders inspire their people to serve the customer with excellence

I have been researching what takes  it from a good to a great leadership, and here is what I have discovered: Leaders who develop their personal brand are much more impactful to inspire their people and teams to WOW the customer. They are very clear on what  is their message, what is their purpose and  role and what they want to achieve to exceed.

Employees need clarity from their leader and vision to follow. Personal brand development makes people more impactful and successful in their roles by having better clarity – what are their strengths and talents, how they can best add value and gain personal satisfaction in adding the value to customers, their company, their teams. Therefore, current workshops and coaching sessions for employees and leaders focus on how to develop their personal brand and to become an integral part of Talent or leadership development.  .

Personal brand development is about clarity and adding value

I encourage people to build their personal brand to be able to better serve customers. Developing personal brand means having clarity on what value you are adding to the people around you, to your customers – in the way how you treat them and help them with solutions. Do you deliver a solution or service that exceeds expectations? People and companies with strong brands never start out with the intent to build a great brand for themselves. They build it to better serve others.

How do you help your experts to differentiate themselves in the market?, is one of the questions for you to ask to develop your company business success. For your employees to have clarity on how do they add value – by providing innovative customer solutions, by being visible, accessible and reachable for your customers, by managing the claims in the way that adds value for customer business, by developing innovative solutions and products that improve life for your customers.

When people build their personal brand, their confidence increases tremendously. Their impact in the team and market increases. They have better job satisfaction and engagement. They are much happier with what they do and how they do it. It is a benefit for employees, for customers and for the company.

Developing careers

The journey of personal brand development allows people to not just better serve customers, but also be more clear on their career aspirations – how do they want to progress in their careers based on their passion, talents, strengths, values – to choose the career that is most congruent for them.

We all know the saying that “people join a company, but leave the leader”. Unfortunately not many companies help their team leaders  develop their personal brand to better succeed in people engagement and customer service. In the best companies, they do. That is one of the approaches that the best companies to work for are taking to develop their people, leaders and customer service.

Based on a survey conducted by Glenn Llopis organization in USA, less than 15% of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5% are living it consistently at work – each and every day.   Why?   It can be extremely challenging and it requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, action and accountability. Because when you develop your personal brand and commit to it, you will  live your personal excellence every day. That is very rewarding, but also challenging.

I believe that personal brand is not so much about self-promotion, but it is rather a commitment to advance yourself by differentiating the way how you are serving others and adding value to others lives. I wish there were   more companies in the market who do so.

Inspire Reaching For STARs

We all have a dream when we join a company or accept a new role. As employees we want to contribute to achieve the company’s success, perform with excellence, feel recognized, develop our capabilities and our careers. We want to reach the stars, whatever the stars mean for each of us; and for each of us it is different.

How do we, as leaders, inspire our people to achieve their dream, to reach their stars and to contribute to the company’s performance and strategy execution? – it is a million dollar question.   If we were all doing this with excellence – our companies would constantly achieve top results in the market.

I have developed and successfully implemented for businesses the STAR model to better connect with peoples’ aspirations and for leaders to better understand how to inspire their people. The STAR model is very simple and easy to apply, and very impactful. When you connect to peoples’ hearts, minds and aspirations, you can radiate an inspiration from them with true passion.

Here is a short summary of the STAR model and questions to ask in each stage:

S – Start. Why did they join the company. What are their aspirations?

T – Target. What are they aiming to achieve? How can we channel it? Do we have the right resources to achieve the strategy?

A – Action. What should they do to achieve the goal? What appeals most to them? How can we be supportive?

R – Results. How are they progressing? How are they achieving the results? What else is needed for their inspiration, development and retention?

Keep connecting with your people and inspiring them to reach for STARs!

7 Steps How To Develop Your Leadership Brand

What makes it from being just fine to having a brilliant leadership? I have done much research and this is what I have discovered: Having a personal brand is a leadership requirement now. It helps you to be a better and more authentic leader. It also enhances your executive presence and impact.

Leaders who develop their leadership brand step out of the sea of sameneness and make a much more meaningful impact on their teams by inspiring and empowering them. For what? For being excited to deliver on strategy, to collaborate, to do their best to WOW the customer. Personal leadership branding has become more important than company and corporate branding.

Why? Because we trust people more than companies. And people are more accountable than companies. When you have an issue with a company product or service, whom do you call? The Company? Is the Company picking up the phone? No, you call a professional who sold you the product or service or who is there to help solve your problem. Great Leaders inspire and empower their people to be their best. And overall, leaders, by their leadership brand influence the brand of the company – the experience that people have dealing with the company.

As a leader you are selling your strategy, your vision and why people should follow you to your team and employees. Your personal leadership brand message makes an impact in people’s hearts and minds to engage and convince them, to feel valued and excited to contribute their best.

We know the saying that “people join companies and leave leaders”. Yet, we spend little time developing leadership brand.

What is a personal leadership brand?  As Glenn Llopis, leadership branding expert defines it, “A personal brand is the total experience of someone having a relationship with who you are and what you represent as an individual, as a leader”. Think about what that means to you. And don’t confuse this with just acting the part. On the contrary, you should be more of who you are naturally and bring up your best in leadership.

Developing Your Personal Leadership Brand, consider the following 7 steps:

  1. MISSION. Consider what major outcome you want to achieve in the next 12 month as leader?
  2. TALENTS. What are 5 words that characterize your talents that you would personally want to be known for as leader?
  3. PURPOSE. Write down 3 phrases that combine 5 chosen words and capture your added value and desired identity.
  4. BEHAVIOURS. How do you differentiate from others?
  5. VALUES. What are 3 core values that are truly important to you in the way you do things?
  6. PASSION. What are you excited, energized and passionate about in your leadership agenda?
  7. VISION. What is your aspiration in the leadership journey?

Based on a survey conducted by Glenn Llopis Group, less than 15% of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5% are living it consistently. Why? It can be extremely challenging and it requires a tremendous amount of time and effort invested in developing self-awareness, being focussed, executing actions and being accountable for the impact and the result.

The image of your brand is a perception held in someone else’s mind. Successful Personal branding entails managing this perception effectively. As well as managing and influencing how others perceive you and think of you.

It is important to bear in mind though, that the purpose of leadership branding is not self-promotion, it’s rather a commitment to advance yourself as a leader by serving and inspiring others. This will enhance your leadership impact naturally and extraordinarily.


5 Key Things That Define Leadership Mindset

There are so many different definitions of leadership. As example – the Oxford dictionary defines leadership as „The action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this.”

In Wikipedia “leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. For example, some understand a leader simply as somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others while others define leadership as “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.”

Daniel Goleman defines Leadership as “Executing a vision by motivating, guiding, inspiring, listening, persuading and creating resonance”

I am confident that leadership starts from within. It starts with your own leadership mindset. Leadership mindset is seing opportunities, taking ownership of solutions and inspiring yourself and people around you to take an action towards achieving aspirable goals that lead to acomplishing purpose and striving towards vision. Leadership mindset initiates in your thinking habits, in your believes and ability to take accountability for solutions and actions.

You can only motivate, guide, inspire and influence others to accomplish something if you can influence yourself to accomplish what is meaningful for you and people around. If you can motivate, inspire, persuade yourself to do something inspirational and meaningful day in, day out.

To do that, you need a Leadership Mindset, that is build by the following:

  1. Strong Self Awareness.

Awareness of your values, talents, strengths and weaknesses. Awareness of your passion. Listening to your heart and what is important to you. Taking time to think and reflect. Be cristal clear on what is meaningful for you and what do you want in life.

  1. Vision and different perspective to strive for it

Vision is the ability to see things as they could be instead of as they are now. Every product, every  business, every scientific discovery that exists today was at some time in history “impossible.” It took someone with a different perspective to see, believe and create it. Leadership mindset is incouraged by innovation and different perspective.

  1. Passion, inspiration and commitment

Passion is the force which turns ideas into action, and dreams into reality. With your enthusiasm, passion and commitment you thrive to achieve your vision. What ideas inspire you? What are you doing to implement them? How excited you are doing it? How do you keep your commitment and energy levels to achieve result? How do you engage people round you to contribute and drive it forward?

  1. Courage to take risks

Some people have great aspirations, but fear of being wrong stops them from taking action and commiting to achieve the outcomes, so they don’t act on their ideas. Having great aspirations is not enough. You must take risks to succeed. Have a courage to admit your mistakes and learn from them. Learn to improve constantly. Make clear decisions on improvement and take further action.

  1. Measure results and go beyond

Take time to reflect – How is this working? How am I doing? What have I learned? How have I inspired and enthused others for leadership mindset? How have I communicated clearly to engage people around me? It starts with the leadership from within, but it shall go beyond. It shall go beyond your mindset and inspire others for developing leadership mindset. To enthuse and passionate people around you to live even more inspirational and fulfilled life and share it forward.

In conclusion – there are many different definitions of leadership. I am confident that leadership starts from within – with your leadership mindset.