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Mental Stamina of a Great Business Minds — an Interview With Dimitar Karaivanov, CEO Kanbanize, On How to Keep Focus and Productivity in a Fast-Paced Business Environment

Dimitar Karaivanov, co-founder and CEO of Kanbanize – a SaaS company providing Kanban software for Lean Project Management. He is an author, speaker and one of the thought leaders in the Kanban community. Dimitar is a Lean-thinker and a Kanban practitioner with a background in the areas of software development and process improvement. Through the […]

Dimitar Karaivanov, co-founder and CEO of Kanbanize – a SaaS company providing Kanban software for Lean Project Management. He is an author, speaker and one of the thought leaders in the Kanban community. Dimitar is a Lean-thinker and a Kanban practitioner with a background in the areas of software development and process improvement. Through the success of his company, he has proven that Kanban can be used for product development and not just change management activities. He is passionate about achieving extreme performance at scale and applying Lean / Kanban outside IT.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?

Dimitar was working as a Software Engineering Manager at a big German company when he realized that his team couldn’t visualize their work on a feature level. They were already using Lean thinking but they lacked adequate tooling. This is how he got the idea for creating Kanbanize – out of necessity. Due to his persistence to solve a problem that many managers were facing and his firm belief that his tool could help companies to free capacity for innovation, Kanbanize is now acknowledged and recommended by the pioneer of Kanban in knowledge work himself. Dimitar claims that Lean is common sense and comes naturally when people want to improve themselves, so following the Lean and Kanban principles really helped him become what he is now. For five years, he managed to build a company of more than 30 people with more than a thousand customers all over the world and works with some of the leading brands on the market.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader? 

I’m definitely an introvert but not the archetypal one. My role requires working with and being among many people, which I enjoy doing. However, I think clearer and achieve the best results when I’m alone with my computer. That’s what makes me an introvert in mind.

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?

Being a mentally strong leader means keeping your focus and managing to see the big picture despite all the ups and downs your business might run into. One important skill I’ve learned is not to take negative things personal – this helps me approach issues with a clear mind and take rational decisions.

Moreover, I operate out of a set of principles that I never make compromises with. It makes life much easier when you know that you would always do X if Y happens. That helps me not to overthink situations and take decisions quickly, which conserves a lot of energy.

A lot of people in the business would feel as if talking about mental health makes them appear weak. How do you feel about showing mental strength and setting an example of what it takes to have strong mental stamina to succeed?

That’s unfortunately true. I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues going through a breakdown and I’ve always been there for them. We put our mental health to the test every day and it’s just human to sometimes fall apart.

That’s one of the reasons our company employs the Kanban method. It is a humane approach that ensures balance and keeps us sane. Kanban preaches managing the work and not the worker, which reduces the stress and ultimately creates a safer, healthier environment. Its data-driven nature helps us make better decisions and leaves no space for interpretations or emotional responses, which also makes a difference.

Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?

There are a couple of books and authors that have changed the way I think and essentially the way I live. By far, the most influential person in my life (besides my parents of course) has been Mr. Christopher Avery and his Leadership Gift programme. Although it wasn’t him personally to introduce me to the Leadership Gift, I admire his work tremendously and the Responsibility Process is the first thing that I teach everyone, wherever I go. I can talk about him all day, I’m a huge huge huge fan.

Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters. 

I will give you my foundational principles that I operate out of. They are heavily influenced by Ray Dalio’s book “Principles”, which I highly recommend.

  1. Radical transparency: It happens to all of us to get angry about something and then keep it inside. I rarely do that. What keeps me sane is telling people how I really feel. You do something great – I tell you. You piss me off – I tell you. It may sound too simple to help but it’s done miracles for me and my mental health.
  2. Radical Honesty: When you always tell the truth, your brain is free to focus on whatever it is you’re doing and not on maintaining the false reality you’ve created. The truth is not always pleasant but it’s better to deal with the fact that it IS the truth and face it.
  3. Radical open-mindedness: Our egos are the biggest enemies we could ever have. I’m constantly working towards taming mine. I’m working hard not to take myself too seriously. For example, I’ve invited everyone in the company to argue with me and question my decisions, as long as they have data. Sometimes I go as far as demanding it from people, as they don’t feel comfortable criticizing their CEO. I try to be very much open-minded and learn from everybody. Acknowledging the fact that I don’t know everything is truly relieving and helps me with my mental balance.
  4. Radical calmness: While it’s always a bit personal, nothing in business is worth worrying too much about. Don’t get yourself obsessed with who said what and what was done for no apparent reason. We’re all gonna die and we all deserve to be happy throughout our lives. Don’t bother that much! (I have to admit I’m not that good with this principle, but it’s work in progress.)
  5. Radical Acceptance: Sometimes we may feel as if we hate people in our guts. These emotions are damaging for our minds and bodies. I’ve had plenty of occasions where I could have developed hatred towards someone but I’ve always chosen not to. I try to understand and accept all the people I do business with for who they are. I’m nowhere near perfect, nor is anyone else.

If the readers of this interview series would like to read more about you, how can they reach out? 

If you are interested in learning more about us, you can visit our website: www.kanbanize.com or reach out on LinkedIn and Twitter (@KanbanizeInc, @Dimitar_HK).

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