Q: What's the most important leadership lesson you've learned, and how has it proven invaluable?
A: There are so many attributes of top-class leadership, all well documented in thousands of books, but the one which we don't talk about enough is constant improvement and constant learning. Irrespective of how good we may be in our current field, our environment continually changes, driven mainly, but not limited to the revolution of technology. If we don’t evolve at the same speed, we don’t adapt, learn, upgrade our skills, we are at risk of going backwards.
Some CEOs are excellent at leadership roles in one company but fail at being a successful CEO at others. The same relates to any other profession. We have to constantly adapt and constantly improve. The only way to do it is through continuous learning. Learning may take many forms. It can be through formal training, through reading, but most often it is through informal processes like discussing ideas with others, listening to those who we work with, not being afraid of asking questions and not being afraid of being seen as the one who doesn't have all the answers. From my personal experience, I always try to surround myself with people who inspire me and who push me to be better at everything I do. Great leaders continually improve, and inspire others to do the same.
Q: How did you learn to embrace risk-taking?
A: Frustration was my driving force. However, it was always calculated risk taking. I don't think we can ever achieve grand things in life without risk-taking. The same relates to our professional life. If we don't take risks, we stand still, if we stand still, frustration takes over. The biggest regret in life people can have is not trying, and the reason they don't try it is that they are risk-averse.
Q: Did you have a mentor in life? If yes, what did you learn from him/her? If not, what do you feel you missed out on?
A: I wish I’d have had a mentor when I was at the beginning of my professional journey. When I was in my early twenties I didn't know which professional path I wanted to take. I didn't have (and still don't have) any innate advantages, but I was always good at maths. Hence the reason I decided to follow a career in finance, and, as finance touches all aspects of business, I am involved in all areas of running a business.
Regarding my journey along the finance hierarchy, I was lucky enough to join fascinating companies and was able to move up the ladder reasonably quickly. So, whilst I may be content with my career progression, I do regret that I didn't move into the Private Equity sector earlier. I wasn't brave enough to make the move. I am confident that if I’d have had an appropriate mentor, he, or she, would have helped me navigate my career in a way that I would have achieved my desired goals.
Also, we continuously learn. If you don't have a mentor, we learn by our mistakes. How much time and pain we would save if we could listen more to those who have had greater experiences? On a positive side, it is never too late to reach out and have a mentor.
“Great leaders continually improve, and inspire others to do the same”
Q: What have you gained from your mentoring journey?
A: I gained so much. I have always been excited about the potential of young people, and I am even more excited now. Young people have so much drive, passion, creativity, aspiration. I draw from it. Young people inspire me, give me energy, push me to reconnect with my aspirations and drive from my younger years. On the other hand, young people can be too career-oriented and their work-life balance are different to those who are on the other side of the professional time scale. We value personal life, family life, passions and hobbies and we try to ensure that we have the right balance in all aspects of life.
Q: What is one thing that impressed you in your mentee?
A: All that I have mentioned above; drive, passion, aspirations, and the fact that my mentee works almost 24/7, reads at least one book a week, and practices his chosen sport at a level that is almost professional.
Q: Do you think that the concept of 'global thinking' is important?
A: Absolutely. We live in a global, and, mostly a boundaryless, world, where economic, socio-cultural and political influences move around the globe at ever-increasing speeds. The revolution of web-based platforms and the ability to connect with masses means that we are no longer isolated to the boundaries of our direct external environment. There are significant benefits to the current global world. Not only the freedom of movement but also the freedom of expressing our views, sharing our concerns and raising our voices, learning from each other and supporting each other. Although global thinking and the global world has many valuable benefits, it is not without some drawbacks. The main one being the slow amalgamation of our cultural pillars, our core values and our beliefs, and, whilst we are on this slow path of creating a global culture, let us not forget about who we are, what we believe in, and what we stand for. Let's maintain our identity, our uniqueness, our individualism. Multi-culturalism is one of the most fascinating aspects of the world and the global world, without multi-culturalism our lives would be much less captivating. So, let's think globally, let's share knowledge globally, let's act globally, but let's maintain our individual identity, let’s embrace and respect our differences.
Q: What is your motto in life?
A: Challenge yourself…challenge yourself to make every day memorable.
CFO, Smart Pension
Iwona is a senior executive with a track record of achievements in CFO, strategic finance and advisory roles in £multibillion quoted businesses, private organisations, and start-ups across Europe, Asia and North America.
She has a proven ability to identify critical issues, reduce complexity, develop strategies and build a lean infrastructure for hyper-growth businesses to capitalise on commercial opportunities, react to threats and evolve performance. After ten years tenure as the CFO of a global derivatives trading business, Iwona recently joined Smart, an innovative and fast growing FinTech company developing a financial well-being platform. Iwona is a proud Advisory Board Member of Global Thinkers Forum.