Paying it forward for women in leadership
Developing your leadership skills starts with your self-awareness. This is how Cristina Elena Penciuc, a business innovator and storyteller based in Amsterdam, sees it. After several years of successfully building a career in international marketing and innovation management, she won a scholarship to study an Executive MBA (EMBA) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) to develop her inclusive leadership skills because she was attracted by RSM’s commitment to enabling more women in leadership.
Become the change, study an EMBA at RSM
She graduated from RSM’s EMBA in 2018. “Now, I am paying it forward by choosing to invest in other women,” says Cristina, who is passionate about building innovative cultures that can transform organisations and societies, and particularly interested in making innovation affordable and accessible for societal impact.
Becoming the change
Her early career began in the Netherlands, following her graduation from a Master’s in Communication Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. Her formative years were in bringing innovation to market in healthcare. It involved a lot of international travel, and she was struck by the lack of female business travellers. “It did not feel like I belonged to that lifestyle. It taught me the tough lesson that the world was designed by men and for men. I wanted to make a change,” she explains.
Cristina chose an Executive MBA at RSM, and won a scholarship of 10.000 euros: “I envisioned launching my own business and wanted to gain the competency to manage it without having to pay an expert for every decision I had to make.”
During the programme, Cristina discovered what inspired her most - and she acknowledges that the journey to a clear vision can be rough. Her advice? “Get a coach. You don’t know what you don’t know - including about yourself. This is not really a piece of advice for only women, but in a world that lacks women in leadership, you might not see the role models that inspire you. We truly replicate who we are, not what we know.”
Serving something bigger than ourselves
Leadership, says Cristina, is “being invited to serve something bigger than ourselves”. She makes an analogy to her favourite sport of sailing and harnessing the power of wind in the sails: “As leaders, we inspire and energise the hearts and minds of people. We harness everyone’s unique strengths to thrust towards our vision and we clear the path. For that, as leaders we need our own personal compass and our people on board.
“I like John Maxwell’s view on this - that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision."
“If I had to use only one word for my style of leadership, it would be ubuntu, a Zulu word meaning “I am what I am because of who we all are”. I learned this philosophy during an EMBA study trip to Johannesburg.”
Letting go of ego
Another life lesson from her EMBA has stuck with Cristina - learning to let go of her ego and to ask for help. During one EMBA leadership course - hiking in the mountains in Spain - she discovered that her hiking shoes weren’t quite up to the job for the descent from a summit and she found herself slipping. “One of my EMBA peers offered help while he was walking backwards. Even he had his shoes taped together because we jumped in deep water the day before, so although we were slower, we were stronger together.”
These life lessons - and getting to know herself - have helped Cristina to be able to shape her future, and by extension, the futures of others. Coaching helps in this process by “upgrading our software," says Cristina. “We unlearn what no longer serves us as women, break the autopilot of our choices and become the architect of our futures.
“If we define ourselves by others’ definition of success, we give up the opportunity to lead with authenticity and to create our own definition of success, happiness, or wellbeing.”
RSM’s Executive MBA is a transformational journey in personal and professional development. Find out more here.