Opportunity to awaken. This crisis is the call to wake up from the dreamy life in which we know that we are not doing the right things, polluting nature, causing animal suffering, accepting unfair situations. We can listen to this call and start daily changes that will bring us to more fulfilled lives. I took this call for having more ecologically responsible behaviors, buying more raw products, paying attention to the garbage, little every day gestures, using more public transportation or bicycle instead of my car.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Mikhailova, a consultant and coach on strategy, leadership and partnership. She is a Process Communication Model and Emotional Assertiveness Master Trainer, French Foreign Trade Advisor, EO member, Lecturer at HEC Paris & Moscow School of Management Skolkovo and Sensemakers’ Co-Founder and Director. Victoria is also an international expert in communication, emotional intellect and corporate psychology and a creator of a new profession called “Sensemakers” — a profession, at the junction of coaching, consulting, education and traditional business-studies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I am a 51 yo Russian-French born in Kazakhstan. I came to France at the end of my Masters in Arabic philology and turned into business with an MBA from HEC. I teach Partnership and Leadership at Moscow School of Management Skolkovo and at HEC Paris. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a specialist in the history of art, and now I paint with oil paintings and envision to live from it later in my life.
I am a proud mom of two sons (22 and 20 yo, students in design and in sciences for healthcare and economy). I practice yoga, I love animals and travel.
I am involved in an Entrepreneurs organization, an international network of 14000 entrepreneurs, and I am a Foreign Trade Counselor of France. I help the charity foundation “Sun City” that deals with issues of social orphanages.
After a successful corporate career as a VP Sales and Marketing at Savencia I started my entrepreneurship ventures in IT and consulting. I sold the first company and dedicated myself to consulting and coaching. Together with my partner Gor Nakhapatyan we created a theory of Tandemocracy that tells how to build partnerships that last and resist time and conflicts.
My personal goal in life progressed from trying to do as many things as possible at once into being a wise person, to contributing into improving quality of life for everyone through showing little gestures in everyday life that elevate the mind. I believe that this is how we can bring organizations on a higher level and avoid unnecessary competition, conflicts, lack of responsibility and compassion.
This is why I became a co-founder of Sensemakers, a company that puts the purpose in the center of any business through the concept of organizational wisdom.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
A lot of amazing events happened since the last year when we launched Sensemakers. (www.sensemakers.biz)
We created a unique course “Tandemocracy” where we teach people how to build partnerships that last and give wonderful results. When the pandemic situation started we had to switch all the courses (and we have dozens of speakers) online. Our program typically started at 9:00 AM, and our students stayed with us till midnight for three days, because the discussions were very insightful. Sharing their personal stories, business cases and even using Chinese medicine for recognizing signals of psychological trouble in partnership — that was a unique and amazing experience. Our students have learned a lot since April.
In our company, we have the rule to talk about everything openly, without fear of being judged or judging other people. And we stick to it. One day we decided to make a list of all our fears including how we will take care of each other if any of our 4 founders gets crazy. And we imagined the scenarios for each of us going crazy. It was a lot of fun and really liberating to be able to talk in a relaxed and open way about such intimate questions on which both business and life may depend.
It was great fun and now I am not afraid anymore about getting crazy one day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
During the pandemic crisis, we decided to help the community of theater artists that were suffering dramatically from lack of work and lack of revenues. We decided to support them by creating an educational program to turn them into business trainers in communication skills. We used the Process Communication Model as the theoretical framework. We got 150 applications from Israeli artists, all of them being multilingual and we just started to train them and also we are now building the system to sell their services. They are such great people and so enthusiastic that we are all having a lot of pleasure by working together. This project is free of charge for them and will allow them to have good revenues and also for people that they will teach to benefit from very engaging pedagogy combining theater techniques and the amazing theory of Dr. Taibi Kahler, creator of Process Communication Model.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am very thankful to my mentor and friend John Parr. John is a certified master trainer of Process Communication Model and a very experienced psychotherapist and consultant. When I started to learn how to use different tools in organizational psychology I got very strong support from John. It was a difficult time, I just got through a very painful divorce and had to start my own company alone.
John with his great sense of humor found good words to give me faith in my own power and to inspire me. He also became my mentor and we had great discussions and lessons, I learned a lot from John and became a master trainer myself. I am proud to have certified more than 100 professional consultants and coaches.
But the most important lesson that I had from John is the positive assertiveness in a very little moment for “walking the talk”. John is incredibly consistent in what he is teaching and demonstrating himself. There was a special day when me and John were taking an exam from a group of future trainers. In this group one person was strangely turbulent, spreading around a lot of distress and all the group became agitated. I knew that John (who is 77 now) was not feeling well the day before, but I was not aware that he had a heart attack. Despite that fact he remained deeply grounded, attentive, positive and firm dealing with the group in such an inspiring way, that he became a legend for all of us. I remember this situation any time when I have to deal with agitation and cloudy thinking in myself or with other people.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
The biggest issue for a working woman is to find a work-personal life balance. I am divorced and still a single mother as my sons still live with me. My parents live 7000 km from Paris and I always worry about them. I suddenly found myself facing dozens of domestic tasks that usually I delegate, to thrive in my company and the community of 70 business trainers through all my duties and as a coach to help my customers to deal with all kinds of problems. And of course, to be available for my boys both closed at home and dealing with their studies remotely.
As for my business, we have just started the company and had to change our strategy and to deal with the pandemic being in 4 different countries. I also was involved in Boards of two other companies and in charge of a new educational program at a business school in addition to all my routine work projects.
I had to deal with a lot at the same time as a professional leader, mother, “home-manager”, coach, professor… Different social roles, different task lists, a lot of responsibilities and necessity to take care, to secure everyone and to give direction, sense of purpose and to stay positive. I believe that this is what leaders stand for during the crisis.
First, I took the confinement as a gift, but very soon I found myself starting meetings at 7 AM and getting off my computer after midnight.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I love challenges and I decided to address them with the team. We ran a lot of meetings and we talked about our thoughts and feelings, we also shared new ideas to keep our curiosity high, to open to new ideas.
I think that as people who came already through more than one challenge we worked calmly without panic, sharing every day our life, our worries, celebrating our successes.
We assessed people and companies with whom we could build alliances and we just did what we planned: created new educational products, invested into marketing, sales and analytics.
Positive thinking during such periods is the booster for those who want to go to the next level. But for managing the multitude of tasks I also decided that first I have to care about my health and my physical body. I also decided that I needed to do something for my soul and I started taking vocal classes and yoga courses. It became my new passion and amazing source of energy and inspiration that I keep for now.
Then I decided to take care about my psychological needs to keep a high level of motivation. As a Persister base person according to the Process Communication Model, my needs are recognition of the convictions and recognition of the work. I decided to use this time to start running webcasts on the points of my reflection. I started the weekly cast “Kitchen Philosophy”, and every week an interesting guest joined to discuss their field of expertise. My teammates and partners got involved and I am very proud of the work that we did. I also started organizing conferences at HEC Paris alumni on the topics like geopolitics or ecology. It gave me incredible psychological force.
Now I use summer calm to learn about such amazing topics as Chinese philosophy or Transpersonal psychology.
For my Promoter phase I also need business results and adrenaline. Promoter is a Personality type or energy that any person has. This energy focuses on achieving goals, producing immediate results, facing challenges, dealing with hard situations by action and negotiation. A person in the “Promoter phase” needs short term results and challenges every day to feel alive and positively excited. That is why we rebounded by creating new products and hiring sales people instead of cutting costs.
At a certain point I also decided to concentrate my energy on what matters: my parents who live far away in Kazakhstan, my kids, my partners, my team and my customers. I also excluded non-essential activities. I decided to step away from a project to which I have been invited as a partner.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The difficult part is the combination of roles: being a reassuring, energizing, thoughtful leader and a professional, caring mom and daughter, provider of revenues for the family, maitresse of home, attractive woman — it all requires time and energy. And with the pandemic I could not delegate some of these tasks anymore.
One of my challenges was to learn how to use a multi cooker that I had a couple of years ago as a gift and that was still unboxed. The work was also challenging but maybe just a little bit over the usual level.
The most unpleasant episode I had to come over happened in one of the projects in which I was involved with five co-founders and I decided to step away. My male partners were showing the non conscient disrespectful behavior and mindset speaking about women from a superior position and claiming willing to make positive changes.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have seen in every challenge the opportunity to learn and to grow. You know what? With my multi cooker I learned how to cook amazing pilav and also how to do home-made pasta. And I love my homemade food, I ordered food delivery just once and only to help the restaurant owner. Before the pandemic I was a frequent restaurant visitor. Now I appreciate cooking at home and do not order as much as before.
With my work challenge with partners I took the following decision. Despite the fact that I am a trained coach, it was quite challenging to have a positive conversation. That was also partly because I was spending so much time working, that I was literally exhausted and felt quite weak. I do not love this feeling of unprotected vulnerability and at a certain point it was too much for me. I decided to have a conversation and eventually to step away, prioritizing my psychological well-being. I knew that if I stayed, I would need to spend more time and energy re-educating and learning to work together in a different way. But I decided to recognize my vulnerability and my temporary incapacity to demonstrate patience. I felt that my frustration was also polluting my relationship in my other companies.
I stepped over and I felt an enormous freedom. What I learned is that this kind of decision is a liberation. If the energy is invested in something meaningful, there are no remorse or regrets left behind.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
As a leader and a women you need to be clear with you values and with your organization, to keep in touch with your team and relatives, to have some fun, to keep dreaming and to keep acting.
Say to yourself: the best opportunities are born during the crisis time! Remember your dream and keep it big. Communicate about it and make it real. Plan your time and make your own rituals and rules: having meals together, switching off communication devices, planning “quality time” with family are very important.
Start new activities together: singing, sport, cooking. Negotiate the rules on how you will respect professional time and space. Keep surprising to avoid annoyance from the routine. Laugh, laugh, laugh! Share home tasks and have fun from cleaning, ironing or cooking. That is a wonderful moment to make your kids autonomous on all these fields, unless they are toddlers. Stay attractive and remember that beauty is inside. Show your internal beauty by dressing well and keeping beauty routines: simple and aesthetic.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
For this you need to be in good shape physically and psychologically! Fill your batteries by following your psychological needs. My colleagues conducted a study about this topic examining strategies of distress management during the pandemic of 450 people. It was very interesting to find that for some personality types redecorating their house or making furniture was a great way to keep up the energy, while for others it was sport or listening to the music.
For me it was extremely important to keep a diversity in activities, like mixing sport, books and having work satisfaction as well. I have seen that for many leaders having a space to inspire others became a really important help for getting out of distress — many turned bloggers.
My personality type is rare for women — only 2,5% in western population women have a Persister base and a Promoter phase. This type is the one who is rather appreciating having a leadership role during a crisis, not bothered by working remotely and appreciating the possibility to work alone. I paid particular attention to stay in a positive part of my profile and not to become a tyrant for my teammates (that’s a threat of the negative part of it).
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. All these emotions are deeply connected to what we are, humans, and to our ability to survive in a hostile environment.
From the night of the times, humanity has developed a couple of techniques to deal with these existential fears: feeling of purpose, community and compassion, hope and practical plans. We usually have them when we build the project of our life as well as we create the understanding of the world. These two aspects was seriously challenged by Coronavirus and more then ever we need to have a purpose, as individuals and as humanity, to find or to rebuild a new different professional or personal project for those who lost their job or work in a severely damaged industry, to feel belonging to a supportive compassionate community and to have backup plans to face potential threats.
Mass media have a huge impact on how we can develop all these and how we can increase both our awareness and a place for practical tips. I believe that sharing wonderful testimonials, reflexions about these topics, giving tribune to the readers and staying tuned positively will be wonderful. I think that no taboo should be for raising the very existential questions such as life and death, cells and universe, body and soul, science and extra sensorial fields. I also think that feeling of proximity through testimonials from any person, not only public figures, will be extremely encouraging for readers to decide about a little change a day.
My personal 5 reasons to be hopeful during Corona Crisis are as follows:
1. No stress, never. Staying positive is the only way to face the challenges and to see the solutions. Negativity, distress and compulsive fear kill our bodies and minds, prevent us from having clear thinking and exploring new opportunities. Being aware about our own states, about our fears and having arms to deal with it makes us psychologically strong and less vulnerable. My personal story is a rather good example: I studied the Process Communication Model some years ago and now even teach it. This Model explains in a logical way all the states, positive and negative, that we experience depending on our personality. And it makes very clear the failure patterns and negative thoughts that we have automatically. I know that they all are just patterns, not reality. My business partners are all trained as well, so we can notice by observation the very first signals of distress and we know what kind of psychological needs we have to feed. I take care of my psychological needs every day. And I also practice reiki for caring about my vibrations. Meditation and second per second communicational practice are my best friends to prevent me from distress and stay grounded. Positive communication is the art of living and practice to which I attribute huge importance every day. I prevent other people from my negative behaviors, when I feel tired and overloaded, I rather prefer to sleep, to have physical activities and to chill before having heavy conversations.
2. Opportunity to explore. I believe that the crisis is not the end, it is just the redistribution of opportunities, when we can access new doors and get out of trapping ways. In short, being optimist by nature, I enjoy in this uncertainty the creative part of it. Curiosity is a wonderful feeling that helps us to win rather to lose. I cherish it in myself and I read, learn and create more with books, lectures and art. We can integrate into our lives the roles and talents that we left aside and became happier people. I get back to painting and writing and these activities fill me with amazing energy. Creating is an act of generosity. And generosity connects us with other people and probably with eternity.
3. Opportunity to be whole. Like in other crises, today we are called by the surrounding universe to adapt ourselves for new given conditions. I believe that we can grow up as people only in contact with other people. And during the crisis time we are reconnecting to our very human abilities to express compassion, to help, support, accept others and to bond. This is pure love and love can heal any disease. Practicing meaningful discussions is a great door to this. Not only with people that I admire, but with any people, because we always can learn from them and discover our own hidden parts.
4. Opportunity to change. Alchemy, transcendence, metamorphose are things that we are searching for. The crisis gave us a perfect context to get rid of heavy dirty parts and to have a pure life. We claim this need in advertisements, in toasts (Lahaim, Pura vida), in movies. Now we have a perfect call to action to experience it in our lives.
5. Opportunity to awaken. This crisis is the call to wake up from the dreamy life in which we know that we are not doing the right things, polluting nature, causing animal suffering, accepting unfair situations. We can listen to this call and start daily changes that will bring us to more fulfilled lives. I took this call for having more ecologically responsible behaviors, buying more raw products, paying attention to the garbage, little every day gestures, using more public transportation or bicycle instead of my car.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Anxiety is a form of fear and concerns the future. The healthy answer to this is to build scenarios and to get prepared and also to have the back up from your family, relatives and friends in case of any bad scenarios. People go through difficulties better when they do not feel lonely and when they have a clear answer.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin
Usually we remember about improvisation and being strong, adaptive and forget about collaboration. Both are important especially now.
How can our readers follow you online?
Youtube channel: sensemalers_global
LinkedIn: Victoria Mikhailova
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!