7 leadership questions to Evgenia Peeva
Evgeniya Peeva is the Former Executive Director of Teach for Bulgaria. Back then when she was on our stage she was the active CEO of the organization. During her student years she founded the STEP Bulgaria Foundation / Step for Bulgaria; she was selected as the Woman of the Year in the Society category in 2012; has been featured in a number of prestigious charts, including: Forbes Bulgaria’s selection of 30 Under 30 in 2013, Darik Radio’s 40 Under 40 project in 2014, and various rankings of the most influential women in Bulgaria; She graduated from Harvard University with a major in Economics, Political Science and Sociology.
Evgeniya Peeva or as her friends call her – Jeni, was a guest at Leader Talks in February 2017. To find out what was the most exciting part about her meeting with the young leaders of Bulgaria and what questions they asked her, CLICK HERE to watch the full video from the event.
- 🎯 What does the notion leadership mean to you?
Evgenia: I have been guided by different definitions at different times in my life (I am not just talking about whole stages of my life, but also about specific situations). Thinking about them, I realize that they all share several elements:
- The leader assumes responsibility (at least for his own behavior, and very often for the people around him);
- A leader has a clearly defined goal for which he or she works consistently and without fail (in traditional understandings, this is a specific decision that he or she wants to implement in a given situation, or a “victory” to accomplish; but nowadays the goal can be linked with the creation of environments and processes through which groups of people can come to their decisions and ideas for “wins”);
I am increasingly aware that, although we often evaluate leaders especially at the level in which they have achieved their goal (whether described and defined by the external environment or themselves), in today’s dynamic world, when a leader inevitably cooperates and interacts with different people, goals often change. Sometimes we are not even sure what the end state we are after looks like. Or, even if we have an idea, we cannot imagine the exact path to it. Therefore, the true strength of the leader today is to be resilient in the process of working toward the goal. The process is many times more important than the ultimate achievement.
I’ll give an example with my work. In Tech for Bulgaria we work every day to ensure that every child in Bulgaria has access to quality education, regardless of origin, ethnicity, socio-economic background (a reality very different from the current one, in which 40% of Bulgarian young people are functionally illiterate, those with the lowest school outcomes most often come from poor and uneducated families). We have a common understanding of this ultimate goal, but the most effective path to it is unclear. Moreover, we know that there is no way a handful of people or an organization alone can achieve such a profound change in our education and society. For years, we have been half-disappointed with ourselves that as much as we try and work hard, we hardly see enough progress on the basis of objective data. But in the meantime, we have learned that a change in education for the benefit of every child depends on a change in the attitudes of our entire society about what is possible for each child, what is the role of the school, what are the restrictions on parents, where institutions can influence and other.
We have realized that in our work, in addition to achieving concrete results with individual students, classrooms and schools, it is very important that we are constantly open to cooperation with all other stakeholders, to hear their point of view, to be open to provocation and rethinking. Thus, even if we do not know the most effective way to our final destination, on the way we meet daily with new and new adherents, with whom we become together better informed and prepared to achieve it.
- 🎯Which book would you recommend us to read and why exactly?
Evgenia: I regularly meet young people who feel alone in their “leadership”, in their work as managers, innovators, teacher-leaders. Although they have colleagues with whom they can share difficulties, they somehow consider themselves to be “on top”. A few years ago, I read a book that helped me a lot in tackling this challenge – with very specific guidance on what a leader can do to create a benchmark and support mechanism in times of uncertainty, congestion, the need to make big decisions without visible support and interlocutor in their thinking.
The book is Robert S. Kaplan’s What to Ask for a Person in the Mirror, an experienced financier and professor at Harvard Business School.
- 🎯In difficult times, where do you get your motivation from ?
Evgenia: From the people around me who do not give up and achieve results in an extremely difficult and challenging environment. I am very fortunate to work with leaders in the Teach for Bulgaria team, our partner schools, program participants and alumni, our business and public sector partners, as well as people in the civic sector who are confident, that our change and our positive future depend on ourselves. Their perseverance and responsibility motivate me daily.
- 🎯What is the leader’s most difficult task?
Evgenia: To fight with yourself, with your deep-rooted stereotypes and fears about what is right, good, successful, valuable. To look inward and in the most difficult situations, either when he has received critical feedback or when he has visibly “failed” – and then, instead of crying and suffering, ask himself “what can I learn for myself and what about my next steps in this experience? “,” what within me prevented me from being successful? “,” what is the cause of my internal obstacles and resistances? “
- 🎯If you have to compare the leader to an animal, what would this animal be and why?
Evgenia: I do not like to generalize to either humans or animals. So I would not say that one person is a leader and another is not, or that one animal looks more like a leader to me than another. Every animal, like every human being, has valuable qualities that, if used effectively, knowing itself, can achieve high results for itself and its environment. Take the sloth, for example – a seemingly uninteresting and not particularly impressive animal. And in fact, with tremendous strength and endurance, which slowly but persistently works daily to exist and to leave a generation. I remember a while ago I brought to the office a cloth rug from India (made from patches of different fabrics) that depicted an elephant. I used it as a symbol of the values of Together in an Hour that unite everyone in our community in our daily work and collaboration. I told my colleagues why for me the elephant embodies our 6 guiding values: entrepreneurial spirit, effective collaboration, constant learning, focus on results and long-term impact, respect and modesty, professionalism.
I cannot recreate the exact story at the moment, but this is one example of how we can find a suitable “animal” embodiment of leadership, depending on the definition we have at some point.
- 🎯What would you like to share as your main life lessons with our readers (young professionals and leaders)?
Evgenia: To work with passion and to have true faith that what you do is the right thing (you see the meaning in it, you believe it is worth the most of everything) is great, but also very exhausting. It’s just hard for you to say “I need to sleep, rest, recharge my batteries.” It acts slightly as a drug. And that is why young and active people who are heartbroken and heartbroken in their activities and entrepreneurial initiatives can very easily burn into them, be disappointed, at worst, give up and just say “this is not for me – if I change my job, things will work out. ” Don’t do it. And take the opportunity to get to know yourself: what gives you energy and and what drains your energy; before which point of exhaustion you have to to take a breath and just take a break; what motivates you in your daily life, what lifts you up. It is when a person works with real passion that he is often willing to step outside his comfort zone for the sake of achieving his goal. Getting out of your comfort zone is very valuable, but only when you give yourself the time and opportunity to think about what it teaches you about yourself and how you can become stronger, more resilient, healthier and happier in this experience.
- 🎯What are the values that help you make difficult decisions?
Evgenia: Health (personal and that of my loved ones) is a top priority. Honesty is the most important quality in dealing with ourselves and others (no matter how difficult it is, you should always be honest and sincere). Sincerely caring for others and a desire to help them, developing pure human relationships with the people around me – without prejudice to the above two – is also leading in my everyday decisions. The belief that true happiness is not the ultimate goal, but a process (path) that, above all, requires deep self-insight, self-knowledge and a willingness to learn and develop all the time.