Stella BIDA, in conversation with Karen LUKANOVICH, Personal Leadership & Performance Coach, Olympian, Founder Summit2Summit Coaching
Summarised conversation transcript
This is a summary version of the conversation. More details, stories, and amazing insights are mentioned in the video!
STELLA BIDA: Hi everyone, and welcome to this new edition of the Conversations of Excellence. I’m delighted that you're here, because our guest today is a dear friend, Karen Lukanovich. She is joining us from Quebec in Canada. She has done so many things in her life - from being a kayaking Olympian, to being a Sales Executive in a STEM organization, to even creating her own manufacturing and consulting business. She also works with high achievers, professionals, executives, athletes.
Beyond that, she’s one of these human beings that when you meet, she knows how to make you feel comfortable. Karen, welcome to the Conversations of Excellence!
KAREN LUKANOVICH: Thank you so much Stella. It is so wonderful to be here. I'm so joyful and it's just truly an honor to be a guest. I love your Conversations of Excellence, so it's fun for me to be a part of one.
STELLA BIDA: Karen, is there anything I did not mention, about that you would like us to know?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: I'm a single mum of my beautiful daughter, adult daughter with special needs. I also coach youth in sport. It really feeds my soul, and it brings me so much joy! I also volunteer with different organizations regionally to help empower youth, delivering services, supports and scholarships to them. So those are some of the other things that I do.
STELLA BIDA: It seems that there's a common theme to everything you added about you around youth. Do I understand well?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: I think that I've been very blessed to grow up in sport. Sport is just a wonderful vehicle for participation of youth. It's an opportunity to develop mindsets and self-belief, that really help our youngsters as they continue on their journey through life. This is why I'm still very involved in empowering youth through sport.
STELLA BIDA: I read a couple of your articles online. I love the way you share about the realities and the challenges of being a high achiever. According to you, what is a high achiever?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: That's a good question. Well, I think it's a love of pushing oneself toward mastery. It could be in different areas of life.
An individual can have a self-fulfilling purpose that is so strong inside of them, that their goal requires a journey toward mastery. It depends on our goals.
For myself for example, when I was just 11 years old, I blurted out that I wanted to be an Olympic athlete. Everybody is different, we have our own journey. For me that was early on. It was a journey toward excellence that I wanted to embark on. And did that make me a high achiever? I would say so…
That would be my way of thinking of it.
STELLA BIDA: From your experience of working with high achievers, what is according to you the biggest myth that high achievers have, or the biggest thing that they need to unlearn?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: Well surprisingly, often it's the negative self-talk, the stories that we tell ourselves, our own self-limiting beliefs. Because no matter at what level of performance and excellence we are, there's a lot of inner work that goes into your level of confidence, arriving at a point of self-belief. For high-achievers, there's always a next level or a new mastery to move toward.
STELLA BIDA: Why do you think that when high achievers reach a level of excellence, despite the achievement, they still have that negative self-talk? Where does it come from?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: It's a journey that we've taken through our life. There's never an any easy answer.
Most of the work I do outside of coaching athletes is working with high achieving women. When I talk about the things that can be very challenging for women, there is the negative self-talk. That's very specific for women. We tend to ruminate a lot and overthink. So those kind of things go hand in hand, and they really hit all of us, no matter the level.
It's through practice and intentional training that we can change the stories that we tell ourselves. The sources of the stories can be a lot of different things. It can be experiences from our childhood, how we were raised, environments or experiences that might have been traumatic.
One of the biggest things to shift around mindset that comes up for women is perfectionism. That is something that is shaped in us socially, in the way that the girls grow up, our social patterns, even the way girls interact with other girls and boys. It's a complex issue.
The way to move forward when I'm working with my coachees is that we develop awareness. Some of the questions there are to ask are: What are the patterns? What are the triggers?
We use neuroplasticity to start changing the stories. This means that training our brains the way we train our muscles. It means having a goal, intentional effort, consistent practice and doing it over time, because it takes time. You can't become an expert at anything by waving a magic wand. It's the same thing about our mindsets and our mental habits.
What I've come to learn is that it starts with awareness and then the inner work can begin.
We need to be patient and compassionate about ourselves. We're so hard on ourselves. How can you ask yourself to take a risk if failure means you're going to be so hard on yourself?
Our brains want to keep us safe and survive, so they're not always working with us when we want to get out of our comfort zone and take risks. That little gremlin might be saying things to us such as: don't go out there on stage, don't ask your boss for that promotion, you're not that good… It's really through saying no and developing our own mantras that we counter such thoughts, because we all have different patterns.
It's very rewarding to see how this work actually does make considerable change, brings results, more joy and helps in getting to that next level. It’s a lot about moving into a growth mindset, by accepting that we're going to fail, that we're not perfect.
STELLA BIDA: I can imagine it can be sometimes challenging when you're working with someone that you want to see grow, to have also the patience as a leader, to allow the growth to happen. How to have the patience when we know that the person has the potential to reach the higher levels?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: As a leader, I had some great wonderful journeys in a STEM organization (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as Vice President. I had a team of Sales, Product Development, Marketing, Communication... I had a wonderful talented group.
It was important to have patience, and to create an environment where people were allowed to make mistakes.
As a leader we need to own up when we haven't made the right decision, or something didn't go according to our strategic plan. We need to collaborate, and provide opportunities for our teams to succeed or fail. The team members have to be able to go out there and learn in action.
We need to create an environment where the team has the ability to have these experiences. If you see that they have the potential and you believe in their capacity to critically think for themselves and for the organization, then you know you need to cut the umbilical cord so that they can go out there, to learn, grow, thrive - and become eventually leaders themselves.
As a leader, my goal is to become obsolete.
STELLA BIDA: “Being a leader is being able to become obsolete”. Thank you for that perspective about leadership.
KAREN LUKANOVICH: For me the rewarding thing was for example when I got promoted up, and that my two hand men were promoted to VP. Isn't that the best you can do as a leader? Making sure that those that do have the talent also have the opportunities to grow. You have to give your team those opportunities.
STELLA BIDA: If you could reflect on your life - What has been the most difficult decision that you had to take as a leader?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: I think one of the most difficult decisions I had to take as a leader was whether I was going to continue or leave the company that I was involved in founding.
That was a really difficult one for me, because I was leading a company that I co-founded, but as we do at times, I eventually felt that the situation with the other partners wasn't serving my best interest. I had to make a really tough decision about whether I stay or whether I move on.
I hadn't really thought of a good exit strategy. Usually when I make a decision to make a change, I've got some sort of exit strategy, something lined up. But I didn't have anything. This made that decision even more terrifying to decide to move on and jump off that cliff. It was a tough one. That was a personal decision.
Professionally, I think the toughest decisions came when I was a VP in Sales. I was often under a lot of pressure to bring in the numbers, or to be able to do something that exceeds expectations. I had a track record of being able to do this year over year. Things changed, and we were being asked to commit to numbers that were not realistic in my opinion at the time. I had a team of Sales people, Director of Sales and Product Development behind me, who didn't feel it was reasonable. I had to take a stand for this. I was their advocate. It wasn't just about me. It was about bringing it forward, having the courage as the leader of the group to go forward to the President and the Board, to express our feelings and our disagreement with the plan. That was very tough.
Like I said, those are the things that we have to do as leaders. If I did not do that, I would not have continued having the trust and confidence in my team.
Otherwise, how are they going to want to perform their best, if they've lost trust and confidence? When people aren't performing, it's because they don't know why and what they're performing for. Something's been lost.
STELLA BIDA: Thank you very much for your sharing because you took an example, you described it, you have put us in your position, explained the why as well as the challenges that there were. You also shared what there was at stake.
I love the fact that you dared to say that there was a challenge of trust.
Trust was at stake, and when people don't perform, it's because there's a certain responsibility from the side of the leader too.
KAREN LUKANOVICH: Yes, exactly. Leadership is a partnership. It's like coaching an athlete.
We have to create an environment for athletes to thrive. It's the same thing for creating as a coach or leader.
I love the approach of coaching as a leader. In other words, if you're a leader, taking a coaching approach with those you lead is a very effective way of leading. Because it's creating awareness and environments, rather than telling. It's moving to a learner mindset from knower mindset, and it creates a lot of loyalty, trust and affection in those that you are responsible for, because they know when you do.
STELLA BIDA: You're really a leader of excellence Karen. You embody that leader who takes responsibility. I think we're in a moment of time where we need these leaders who dare to take a stand.
If you could model the skills or the qualities that are needed to take that stand, while keeping and building trust with our teams our communities - What would you say are the most important skills to take a stand?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: We are in a period of change and uncertainty, and I’ve thought a lot about leadership. There are a few things.
I think that curiosity is really important, because it allows us to be into the Learner Mindset or Growth Mindset. It allows us to be comfortable with not knowing everything, because that’s okay.
Also, it’s about being open. It relates to having an open relationship with others, to collaborate and work together on how we're going to move forward.
Hope is also really important as a leader. We need to model hope. Because, even if we have our goals and that they haven't changed, the path to get there may change. We don't know how the journey is going to go.
Flexibility, being able to adapt, and compassion for others and ourselves are important as well.
I think ultimately the most important thing is self-belief. What is meant by that is the belief in self and others. We've hired our teams, we know what they're capable of. I have to believe that together and collaboratively, we're going to be able to reach our goals. Because we're hopeful, we're positive and we know that there's opportunity. We're going to focus on what we can do and adjust the plan in order to continue toward achieving those goals.
This is the way I see leading and leadership. If we can practice that on a regular basis, then when we're in times of turmoil, we're prepared.
This is what athletes do. What they can do is practice for all possible contingencies and train on a regular basis. They show up, be ready, execute and so on. It's about knowing how do we want our life to look as a leader, as a person, every day forward.
STELLA BIDA: Karen, I would like to have your opinion about this. I work a lot with people within organizations for whom it is not always easy to change, to embrace change and all its uncertainties. According to you, what are the steps that we can take as individuals and as leaders to better embrace change?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: That's a great question! Because we're in a period of change, but also because of the fact that when we look at life in general - whether it's the life of an organization or ourselves - change is inevitable.
The first step is the acceptance of the change. It means accepting that this event has occurred, and things have changed, that there's been a disruption. So we can either accept it or we can fight it. As leaders, to survive, we need to really accept the change and then look at how we can adapt and how we can work within this to find opportunities.
On a personal and organizational level, change brings a lot of uncertainty.
What really helps is building a tolerance for uncertainty. We all have developed, depending on where we are in our life and our life experiences, different levels of tolerance for uncertainty.
For example, athletes live a lot of uncertainties. Their tolerance for uncertainties will be quite high. They never know what is going to happen, they have to train.
We develop a fairly high level of challenges with our life experiences. We go through these things, and we start to develop tolerances for uncertainties.
The other piece is focusing on what we can control in the disruption.
There's a really good psychologist that I follow, Adam Grant. He has done some great research around these areas - for anyone who's interested in behavioral psychology.
KAREN LUKANOVICH: I want to offer this, because it's one of my life principles. That is: “Polarity is always at work in our life and world around us. Positive, negative.”
It's how we respond that really determines the new path that we're going to take. Because for every single one of us, if we look back on our life, we're going to see that in all of our major life events, there's been wonderful things, tragic things, ups and downs...
Whether it's success or failure, we develop strengths, we develop skills. With self-belief, we believe that with all this, we can face whatever is coming next, because we believe that we have the capacity to do so. We will make it through, we will find the opportunities to do so.
STELLA BIDA: I would like to ask you, Karen, if you were given the opportunity to have a conversation with your 10 year-old self, what would you tell her?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: I would tell her to be patient, because at the end of the day, it's all about the journey. It's all about the trip. What we remember is the fun we had, and not necessarily the individual successes or events. It's really all about the journey. So surround yourself with people that believe in you, that believe in your projects, that you can have fun with. And make it a fun ride! Don't sweat the small stuff either!
STELLA BIDA: Patience seems to be important for you…
KAREN LUKANOVICH: Well, when I was younger, I would definitely say I was like many young enthusiastic kids. I was very physical, always doing something, very impulsive, more oriented toward wanting to win everything. I was highly competitive.
I needed to learn how to be patient and be more grounded. It took time…
But we are who we are… All those characters parts also helped me as a woman in becoming extremely successful in sales, in a male dominated world of STEM, in advanced tech and in hardware engineering. I was highly competitive and was able to thrive in an environment that was all about bringing in the numbers.
The last thing that I would say to my 10 year-old self is: “Know your values, and follow your values”, when it comes to new opportunities or navigating through change.
If you're in your values, you're going to find happiness and joy.
I found over my life that by following my core values and knowing what those are, I'll be happiest. That's what I would tell my 10-year-old self too!
STELLA BIDA: How do we find our values, Karen? What is your experience about that?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: There are different exercises which can be done. For some people, they know their values at their fingertips, and for others, they are not so sure about them. Depending on where they are at, they might do more “values mining”, to really have a sense of what matters to them. It’s what matters to us individually that makes up our core values.
STELLA BIDA: Thank you Karen, you've given us so much today and I imagine that it might get people excited, knowing that there's just so much which can unfold by doing all these exercises! If people want to work with you to go a little bit deeper, how can they reach you?
KAREN LUKANOVICH: They certainly can go to my web webpage http://www.summit2summitcoaching.com. They can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenlukanovich/
STELLA BIDA: Thank you Karen for being part of the conversation! Bye!
KAREN LUKANOVICH: Bye!
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