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Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength

How to win over new colleagues in the first days after taking up a management role abroad? What characters are welcome in a team of subordinates? And to what extent is a manager allowed to show her weaknesses? This was also the topic of the next episode of the podcast series Women Leaders Beyond Borders. Cristina Ferrari, Chief Underwriting Officer at VIG Re and Violeta Luca, CEO of Vodafone in the Czech Republic were guests of the second episode hosted by Jaroslav Kramer. 


You can watch the episode on YOUTUBE or listen to the episode on SPOTIFY and APPLE PODCAST.

Women Leaders Beyond Borders: Cristina Ferrari, Chief Underwriting Officer at VIG Re and Violeta Luca, CEO of Vodafone in the Czech Republic
Women Leaders Beyond Borders: Cristina Ferrari, Chief Underwriting Officer at VIG Re and Violeta Luca, CEO of Vodafone in the Czech Republic

Not everyone is a natural expat. For some, working abroad is part of their nature, for others it is an unimaginable adventure. At the top management level, however, a foreign mission is something to be reckoned with. Cristina Ferrari has no problems with moving for work, she considers herself a natural expat. „I grew up in Italy, studied and started my career there, but soon I wanted to seek for an international experience. After a master, I moved to Switzerland, where I had the chance to join Swiss Re, one of the leaders in the reinsurance industry. And that gave me the opportunity to move to Miami, where I spent some time for the company overseeing the Latin America business. After that I came back to Zurich and now I´m here in Prague,“ Ferrari recaps her professional journey, adding that Prague suits her, among other things, because of its „right size“.


Violeta Luca comes from Romania. Although Prague is definitely not her first foreign work stop, the Czech Republic is the first destination where she relocated. „I used to have different missions in Italy, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria. But I always was located in Romania. Prague was my first relocation experience,“ she explains. She shares with Ferrari a good impression of the Czech capital and adds that although her Czech mission was to end after three years, she decided to stay in Prague. The beginning was not easy at all. Luca moved to Prague in 2021 during the general lockdowns due to the covid-19 pandemic. „We were working from home, but I wanted to be in the country to be able to understand better the environment, the market, the customers, the partners.“


According to Cristina Ferrari, the frequent movement for work leads to the automation of certain mechanisms. However, there is always something you cannot prepare for in new destinations. „There is an element of challenge that stays because in any case, you are changing completely your dynamic, your rhythm, your environment. You enter into a completely new setup, a new culture, and you never know if you will fit or not, if you will find what you're expecting. There is always an element of excitement.“ So there is a lot to take in and that is why it is important not to be overwhelmed by all the new insights. One must be able to keep one's identity. „It is demanding to keep your roots, to keep your connection with your family, your beloved ones, your friends, requires way more time, energy and planning that if you are around, obviously it's way more spontaneous,“ Ferrari says.


Contain an excitement

Both ladies have been in their current positions in Prague for a relatively short time. Cristina joined VIG Re's Prague office in 2023 after 14 years with Swiss Re. Violeta Luca has been Vodafone's CEO since January this year, having previously led Microsoft's domestic office. What's their recipe for getting off to a good start, launching a new mission 100 per cent on day one? Luca believes that the prerequisite for a good start is the right mindset, in which curiosity, the ability to listen as well as ask questions, and having an open mind have their place. At the same time, a certain systematic approach should not be lacking. „It is really important being structured. There is a lot of information which is coming your way, starting with the new colleagues, ways of working, the organizational design, customers, partners, investments, short term, long term. There is a lot of impulses coming your way and ability to being logical and structured is very important,” she adds. She agrees with Cristina Ferrari that it's good to contain your excitement about a new experience. „I met people and it also happened in my life that the excitement is very high in the beginning, and then you hit some walls, and then you enter on a downward slope. My learning over the years is that it's important to balance your energy and also to be mindful about how you feel.“ 


On the question of „first impression“, the Romanian manager is also clear. „I am who I am.  I came to Vodafone with open mind, full heart, but also being conscious. I am who I am, and I don´t need to pretend to be someone else just to win people.“ Even so, joining a new team can be accompanied by a certain amount of nervousness, which is natural, but it is the openness and positive energy that helps build trust in the team, which makes the jitters disappear. 


From Cristina Ferrari's point of view, it is the systematic approach that is essential, the ability not to get lost in the flood of first information about the company's operations and its projects. „You need to be very structured, very mindful about how to approach the various topics, how to organize yourself. And what I found valuable for me was also to consciously carve out time for dialogue with people from the very beginning. So, push myself away from the tendency that I have to enter into reading and looking at the information and the data and the documents and really carefully spend out the first few weeks in talks with people. And obviously it takes time to build a mutual trust. But then at a certain point, I think it's so crucial to be able to listen what is not spelled out right. To really be able to read between the lines what also the counterpart may not say straight.“ 


Mix of personalities 

Everyone goes through personal development, and this naturally applies to top managers as well. Their approach to things is different today than in their early careers. Cristina Ferrari describes how her approach to inspiring colleagues has changed over the years. „At the start of my career path, I loved to collaborate with smart, kind and open people, but the focus there was more on building up my knowledge and broadening up my horizon. But along the journey you can clearly see a growing relevance of people. People you are collaborating with, people you are serving and people you are working for.“


Violeta Luca continues by saying that finding common ground with colleagues is always necessary, but over time she has discovered that it is equally important to be able to give up. „The self-awareness and also the ability to distinguish between what you want and what you don't want actually becomes very important, because time is finite, and you can't do everything you want. You can do anything you want, but not everything. It's important to have this level of awareness and be able to act on it.“


However, it does not mean that having exclusively similar characters in the team is beneficial to the cooperation. Cristina Ferrari seeks out personalities other than her own. „I'm seeking to collaborate with people that are very different from me, that have a very different style, because I'm a true believer that diversity of mindset of approaching things create a lot of value for the organization, but also for the people involved,“ Italian manager says. She adds that she has no sympathy for colleagues who are not willing to take responsibility for the results of their work, nor for those who do not show enough passion. 


Lead by Example

Violeta Luca strives to be perceived as an authentic leader. That's why she has no problem admitting that she doesn't know something, asking for help, for advice. „I think I show vulnerabilities sometimes not out of necessity, but rather out of my kind of authentic style, and also because I want to role model a type of transparency and honesty in the way you lead people, in the way you drive interactions. Of course, I am mindful. I don't go to complain about my things because this is unprofessional. It's really about being able to say, I don't know, or I need help. This can be a sense of vulnerability. In the same time, for me, it's a sense of power, being able to say this,“ she explains her attitude. 


She agrees with Cristina Ferrari that showing imperfection is not weakness, on the contrary, it promotes mutual trust. „We want to lead by example. If I'm seeking to build the mutual trust and to be sure that people in my team and people collaborating with me feel in a safe space in talking to me, I have to, and I want to demonstrate that safe space environment. I think that the time of the Superman and superwoman as leaders has gone a long time ago. And it's evidenced also in literature that it simply is not successful in the long run,“ VIG Re manager concluded. 


More information about the podcast can be found on the website HERE or on the podcast's LinkedIn profile HERE.

Women Leaders Beyond Borders


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