Dear Eva, it is such a pleasure and honour for me to interview you today. It’s December 2020 – which means we’re at the end of 2020, an extraordinary year for the world and a special one for you and your boutique management consultancy, as you’ve celebrated the 11th anniversary of Human Facts. And of course, this gives me an amazing opportunity to ask you 11 questions that fall into three categories. First, I would love to look back with you – at how it all started. Then, it would be so inspiring for me and your audience to learn more about the lessons you’ve learned, and what you can share with us. And then of course, let’s take a look at the future. Let’s go back to 2009 with our first question:
1. What inspired, motivated and pushed you to found Human Facts 11 years ago?
Well I think I have to give a bit more context to answer this question. At that time I was working in a large, multinational corporation in the financial industry. Mainly, we tried to unleash a more collaborative mindset among leaders and a “We-Culture” across functional or geographical boundaries and I really loved it. However, despite a senior management affirming all the time how important these topics were, it was always a battle to get the so-called “soft topics” on the management agenda. It seemed that managers gave “hard topics”, such as revenues, technical issues etc. clear favor, valuing them as more important.
I realized that this was a manifestation of a general deep divide between the business world and humanity. To be a “tough cookie”, to be fact and number driven, rational, distant and a demanding negotiator, condensing all you have to say into three bullet points, was what was highly valued and expected as professional business behaviour. I remember wearing only black polo-neck jumpers to cover anything that would reveal that I am a multi-dimensional and colourful human being. There was no place for humanity, all that makes us human, such as feeling with all senses, being creative, kind, helpful, caring, giving, having emotions, love, compassion, solidarity, empathy, forgiveness – these behaviours were an absolute no-go, not business-like at all.
I increasingly suffered from this divide in my outside world and inside my own life – here my business-self and there, apart from it, my human self with all my senses and feelings, my love to care for others, to be close and to feel with them. So it was both, an outside and an inside push that led me to found Human Facts, to stand-up and bridge this divide and to help give an inclusive management approach a voice.
Thank you so much for these insights Eva. And I’m beyond happy that when I look at the Human Facts website today, it shows colour, personality and emotion. And it also shows that the main driving force, your WHY, has never changed – “the value of we.” I can assume that sticking to your core wasn’t always easy and is for sure something to be proud of.
2. Staying with this topic, Eva. What are you are most proud of when looking back at 11 years of Human Facts?
There are two things. First, not giving up when things did not work out as expected. Particularly in the beginning, which was quite painful to be honest. A lot of colleagues kicked-off their businesses with existing clients. I literally started off with 0. The very first mandate I got from a friend – thanks again Dolores! - who worked for a church in a very small community in Switzerland. She invited me to hold a speech about “How managers tick”. It was in the midst of the financial crisis and there was huge public distrust against managers in general. I was standing in a large hall prepared for about a hundred people. Embarrassingly only a few people showed up – I think not even ten. However, I gave my speech and we ended up having a very insightful and engaged discussion with the few people around. It was certainly not the glorious and shiny beginning one would have wished for.
But in retrospect, it guided me in the right direction: focusing on those who want to work with you – they are the right ones.
And do not go only for quantity but for what feels right, resonates and has the potential to co-create meaning, and as well, joy and fun.
The second thing I am very grateful for, is the fact that more than half of my clients have become recurring clients and have stayed with me for years or recommended me to others. We were able to develop very sustainable, longterm and enriching partnerships, and in some cases, even friendships that I appreciate very much.
Looking at the other side of being an entrepreneur:
3. Can you share with us the most painful insight you had to acknowledge over the last 11 years? How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
Well, I guess my most painful - yet most important - learning was that I was not prepared at all to market my business, respectively myself. As embarrassing and naive as it may sound, I had the wishful thinking that clients would come to me as soon as they learned about the experiences and competences I offer. After digesting this shock, I slowly realized: to be competent is one thing, to market it is another. So, I started to move myself out of my comfort zone and tried to learn about acquisition and marketing, actively approached people and clearly asked for help.
It’s still not the favored part of my business today but I learned that it is not necessary to like everything you do – but you should be capable of doing it.
I think a lot of our viewers and listeners resonated with the statement that as an entrepreneur you do not necessarily need to like everything you do and that it is so important to continuously move yourself out of your comfort zone. Staying in this line:
4. What ONE thing do you wish you’d done differently?
Overall, I think I would have started together with others and not alone anymore. Today, I appreciate so much to think together, to share ideas, to co-design, co-create and co-work with all my wonderful partners – such as with you for example. I truly believe we can serve people and planet better together – and above all else, it’s much more fun :)
You have had such a wonderful career. And I’m so thrilled to ask you about some insights and advices, especially for young and aspiring entrepreneurs.
5. What are your three main suggestions for new / young / aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders?
To be honest, I am very reluctant to provide suggestions as I believe there is no such thing as “best practices” that you can pass on – everybody needs to find his or her own journey. So maybe that is my most important suggestion. :) But I am happy to share my personal top learnings from my 11-year “entrepreneurship” journey:
First, make every experience a chance to learn. If you don’t always take the turn you wanted or expected, be confident that there is something to learn in it. What a turn might bring, you will recognize only from a distance.
Secondly, most clients prefer that you serve them in an authentic way. In other words: it’s not about sugarcoating. It’s about respectful candor and care. Don’t fear difficult conversations or conflicts. Interestingly, the client relationships that started off with a conflict ended up to be the best ones.
And thirdly, find a balance between give and take.
You only survive on your little boat in this big “ocean” called the global market if you care and give back to others. Much more of our career, business or personal success than we might be conscious of is a result of many others who graciously connected us to people, shared their knowledge with us, helped us develop ideas, passed business opportunities to us or simply encouraged us. Even if you can’t give back to each and every person who helped you along the way, pass it forward to somebody else. Don’t take it for granted. Care for and cultivate all your relationships – not only the ones with clients. The world is circular – what you share comes back to you.
Thank you for your advice. Especially the third one – finding a balance between give and take – it really resonates with me. For me, that’s one of the main characteristics of an inspirational leader, an inspirational leader such as you, dear Eva. I know that during the course of your career you have worked with many inspirational leaders.
6. What values and personality traits do inspirational managers and leaders all have in common?
At least two outstanding inspirational leaders come into my mind I had the chance to work with. I witnessed that they make a difference particularly in critical situations.
For example, during a townhall with a hundred leaders, where a C-Level colleague got under fire from the audience, the CEO stood up and said “This is not how we solve things here - we do not shoot at people. We are in this boat together and we find solutions and answers together”. Another one, when it came to a rollout of leader assessments in order to change leader behaviour, put himself in front and said: “I will take part in it, I’ll do the assessment, too”.
Both, in my eyes, showed what I think inspirational leaders do: They not only inspire by words, but by living-up to the change for which they seek. It’s not only about how to change others, they put themselves in the equation, too.
Above all, they are great listeners and great learners, ask questions, seek out people with diverse opinions from themselves, ask for feedback and admit what they do not know or apologize for mistakes, are empathetic and respectful to everybody. And finally, they have a great portion of humour and can laugh at themselves too.
7. From your experience, if you have to pick one single trait: Which one is the most dangerous trait in a leader?
Overconfidence.They underestimate their own “blindness” caused by the hierarchical system they are operating in. For example, when another firm experiences a scandal or derailment, they tend to attribute those issues to the character of a certain leader and feel like “This will never happen to me.” Whereas this mostly happens due to the “locked-in” phenomenon that all hierarchical systems suffer from and which can hit all of us.
8. You often talk about asking the right questions: What are the top three questions that have inspired change and action in your career? How have these questions changed over the years? What were questions you asked at the beginning of your career and what questions are you asking yourself lately?
In my early career it was a question that I was asked by a seasoned manager I met at one of those corporate business dinners:What is your big dream that you want to fulfill in this life? I was speechless. It provoked many sleepless nights. Finally, it led me stop my corporate career and go back to university for a PhD, which I found out had been a dream for me. It indeed became the seedbed for my lifetime mission and a vessel for a lot of wonderful, enriching relationships.
Later on it was “What about you do you want to stick in people’s hearts?” So, for example, do you want that people experience you always in a hassle? Always pointing out problems? Always being perfect? Do you want to leave them feeling discouraged or encouraged, appreciated or disregarded? Included or offset? Up to then, I was very much concerned about what I say, i.e. words and content. But from then onwards, I realized that we also leave an unspoken energetical footprint – mostly subconsciously - with others. And we should in fact be more conscious of the energetic mark we leave with others.
Lately, I’ve been inspired by questions like
How can I become who I am destined to be? What if it’s not so important what happens in my life but how I respond to what happens?
It let my focus shift from the “wanting” of something specific in life to the “how” can I respond or transform what has been offered to me?
We’ve arrived at our last section of questions - Looking into the future:
9. What concerns you the most when looking at the current business environment, when thinking about the future?
The lack of partnerships. To solve the most burning issues of our times, such as inequalities, climate change, and the like, is not a question of money. We need the ability to partner across any kind of boundaries, such as different disciplines, different cultures, geographies, nations, demographics, organisations and so on. After a long period of “What’s in it for me” and “me comes first” we have all learned how to pursue our own advantages and are, in a sense, “best-self” driven. But how to become “best partner” driven? How can we learn to shift from “what’s in it for me” towards “What’s-in-it-for all-of-us”? Not in a selfless sense but in a sense of developing and partnering towards a shared purpose, that benefits us all? This needs a conscious paradigm shift and renaissance of our social cooperative roots and strengths.
10. What are the keys to developing the next generation of leaders in the world?
I think this holds true not only for the next generation, but us all: How to enable collaboration among distributed people across any boundaries, and above all, consciousness, gratitude, ethics and the aspiration of becoming a best partner.
11.What do you hope will be different in the business world / leadership area in 11 years from now?
I have indeed some hopes:
First, I hope that businesses will exist only to serve humanity in the short and the longterm.
Not as a social responsibility add on, but as their true legitimation and purpose. Second, I believe that stakeholder relationships of companies, and particularly the quality of these relationships, should become its own intangible asset class on the balance sheet – maybe called Network-Capital or the like. It should form the base for any risk evaluations of firms and be taxed. And finally, as a result of this, I hope that leadership will be much more collaborative and truly partnering. I hope that we will see leaders get rewarded, appreciated and receive applause for how many collective partnerships they enabled that generated sustainable impact for the benefit of all-of-us.
Eva, we’ve reached the end of our interview. It was as inspiring, kind and heart-opening as I expected. Thank you for all you’ve done to bring more humanity to the business world over the last 11 years and thank you as well for continuing to do so, because the world will need it more than ever. I allow myself to conclude this interview with our personal mantra, that matches this conversation so well: onwards together. Thank you Eva