My journey to building confidence, taking risks and making an impact

What is your attitude towards risk and ambition? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Noi Ha Nguyen at the #InsightsSharing Show where I shared my journey, life principles, and insights I learned in the last 20+ years working with leaders. I thought you might like this to get to know a little bit more about me but more importantly, to get my perspective on things like risk, courage, ambition, urgency, beliefs. Ready? Let’s start:

Q: Let me bring you to the younger version of Andrea. What was your dream? Job? Life?

A: You will be laughing now, but when I was a young kid, I want to be the pope! It maybe tells you the level of ambition I had at the time…Then I realized that it wasn’t much about being a pope, but more about being in a position to make an impact. 

Q: It sounds like you didn’t pursue that goal…

A: That dream didn’t last long but it turned into being a scientist. Many years later, I became a geologist (studying volcanoes) and a career started. I moved up the corporate ranks quickly. I became a manager, then a director, and a few years later I found myself leading a large team and eventually a 100+ company. As I always say, I had many twists and opened many sliding doors. Opportunities came my way and I often took them. I didn’t push back.  But then, after a brilliant career of successes, in 2018 I had an Epiphany.  I realized that I wasn’t making a real impact on people. Not in the way I wanted. So, I spent weeks alone to be more connected and aligned with myself.  In the weeks, I got to realize that my current drift wasn’t fulfilling either. Here’s the problem: when you do something that doesn’t make you feel 100% right, you feel that something important is missing in your life. The introspection led me to do what I do now. Helping others to become a better version of themselves, raising their standards, and making an impact on the future of society.

Q: 2018 was indeed a pivotal time for you because you transformed your life to make something more meaningful and fulfilling. And you have been courageous enough to leave behind a successful executive career.

A: You said something very important: I had the courage of taking unconventional actions and steps for my future regardless, of my current comfortable situation. For me, it was a reflection of my search for happiness. In 2018, I came to the conclusion that happiness was more important than a career or a good salary. But happiness for me is not a job. Not even as an entrepreneur as I am now. For me, happiness is the ability to keep raising my own standards and getting to the next level. This leads me to push myself, challenge my thinking, and refuse complacency. With a caveat though. If you’re like me, getting better every day generates a strong sense of urgency. Not surprisingly, ambitious and high-achievers are relentlessly looking for excellence which may become a curse. I think that what made me who I am today could be a sort of inclination from the early days (remember the pope, right?), but also the fact that my career has been on the edge all time. I worked in challenging contexts and countries, I took so many professional but also personal risks. So I guess I learned to live beyond my comfort zone. As an entrepreneur now, I think this attitude has really helped me to deal with the uncertainty of this new career path. When you start something new, you need to believe in yourself first and don’t be too much worried about being confident from day one. Confidence will come from doing.  So if you’re there waiting for starting something new because you don’t feel ready, you’re making a mistake because you’ll never feel ready. My suggestion would be to start but with the commitment to get better by 1% every single day. 

Q: Inspirational message, Andrea. What can risk-averse people practically do to help them take the first step? 

A: First, you need to find clarity on who you really want to be in the future. What’s your vision of yourself in the future? When I ask this question to my clients at the beginning of our work together, they struggle as I did before 2018.  And don’t be afraid to think big. Don’t get sidetracked by your current perceptions. Because they can be your worst limitation to your future possibilities. Once you get your answers, do reverse engineering. Define what short and medium/long-term goals need to be accomplished to get there. Also, connect three things: 
  • Passion
  • Skills
  • Drive
Passion is one of the biggest motivators which has been proven by neuroscientists. Skills are necessary to allow you to take calculated risks and increase your chances of success. Drive is another critical motivational factor that allows you to keep pushing to do whatever it takes to be committed to your goals. 

Q: Excellent point. How do you deal with limiting beliefs?

A: First, we all have limiting beliefs. The problem is that they shape our actions.  We have two main beliefs that I want you to focus on:
  1. The belief that we’re not good enough, we won’t succeed, we are not ready. These are limitations to our possibilities
  2. The belief that we’re too good. This is even more dangerous because it reinforces our ego, get us complacent, and prevents us from seeing other perspectives
To change our beliefs, the first step is to become aware of them. Self-awareness is the number one thing that everyone should build. It’s a medium of leadership. With awareness, comes options. You can’t control your beliefs but you can park them once you become aware of them so you can see things differently. Then, the question is what you can commit to now that you are aware of these beliefs?

Q: Great! Let’s switch gears. You work primarily for CEOs and Senior Leaders. Tell me a bit more about them and your work.

A:  One thing that really helped me and makes a lot of sense to senior leaders is that I speak the same business language as them. I’ve been there myself, I’ve been through the same issues they’ve been through, I, I know exactly how they feel, what they think. In other words, it’s quite easy for me to build chemistry with CEOs and have peer-to-peer conversations with them. The biggest misconception about CEOs is that many think that CEOs know everything. They’re super qualified and skilled to take any possible decision. In reality, CEOs are human beings like us. So they’ve been through ups and downs, and they face huge challenges every single day. And they don’t have all answers. Given the nature of their role, it’s also difficult for them to open up with everyone. So my role is being a coach, an advisor, a whisperer but sometimes just being a sounding board in a very private setting.

Q: You mentioned that’s difficult to open up. Not just for CEOs, right? How can we build a workplace where people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts?

A: It’s the responsibility of the CEO to build a culture that allows everyone to speak up. Leaders must build an environment where people feel comfortable sharing without repercussions.  However, they have to show the way first. They must be the first to open up. This is not unidirectional. How many leaders are open for example to receiving feedback? How many leaders are really open to listening to their people’s ideas or admitting they’re wrong? Not many, unfortunately. The main reason is their status and ego kick in

Q: What do you think is the major challenge of a CEO these days and how do you help them solve it?

A: Lack of execution is a huge problem at the moment. Many CEOs are struggling to get things done in their organizations. They often feel their people are not able to execute their vision and strategy. They use to say: I am not sure what we decide it goes down to the entire organization. My approach is first to understand if there’s alignment in the leadership team because sometimes CEOs take it for granted. Then, I tend to do some diagnostics with the teams to understand how they see the world. In that way, they feel heard and their input appreciated. Then, I report my findings to the CEO and we co-design the intervention which is normally a layer-based approach to make sure the changes we want to bring cascade from one level to the next in a very collaborative way so we can drive engagement and motivation. There’s much more to this, so listen to the full episode if you enjoy our conversation:  Listen to the podcast related to this article:
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