Stella BIDA, in conversation with Yolande MEYVIS, Partner at One of the Largest Law Firms, International M&A Lawyer, Award-Winning Professional
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, welcome to this new Conversation of Excellence! I am here today with an incredible leader, Yolande Meyvis. Yolande is a leader of excellence. She is one of these people that when you meet, you know that you just want to know more about her! She is the partner in Brussels of one of the largest law firms in the world. She is an Award-Winning professional, has won numerous recognitions for the inspiration she provides to others, but also for her work and her business. Yolande, welcome!
YOLANDE MEYVIS: Thank you, I feel honored, I'm in the presence of an inspiring woman like you. Thank you very much.
STELLA BIDA: You are so powerful Yolande! I feel honored to be here today with you too. Is there anything you want to add about you before we actually dig into the conversation?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: I'm a lawyer specialized in Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A), buying and selling companies, but I have a passion for human heart, for human rights. I am also Head of Pro bono work. This means that we provide free legal advice for those in need, and every year we try to seek for a project that really fits into what I think enhances humanity, with if possible a specific focus on women.
STELLA BIDA: Yolande, you are a very powerful woman in a world in which it is not always easy to navigate and use our leadership abilities fully, as a woman. Did you have to redefine a part of being a woman, in order to navigate in that world?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: Completely! It took a long time for me to realize that women are treated differently from men in the legal world. It took me a long time to define my own sense of how I want to go about it.
It's a long journey, it's very difficult to find your own identity, because when you're a young professional, you only worry about your work and how it is perceived by those who are more senior to you. It took me a long time to realize that I do things differently, I sense things differently, I can do it in a more personal manner. There's another way of how I can do my job, and it doesn't have to be the same way as those who trained me, surround me. And it’s not wrong the way they do it, but it's not me.
So, for a long time it was very uncomfortable, very stressful. But it took me a long time to realize that maybe it was because I was forcing myself to do it in a way that was not mine.
STELLA BIDA: Wow! You said something about forcing ourselves, to fit into a definition which is not ours. What has been the biggest challenge for you in doing that?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: I think the main part has been for me to realize that we cannot change what people think about us. We can only try to do our job in a way, and try to show that we’re not here to annoy people, show that we’re there to help. So the biggest challenge for me has always been to manage the perception of others. You can feel it in a room. It also struck me with time to realize in my world that I was not only the only woman, but also often the only person of color in the room. Gradually, I realized that there was something different in the way I was perceived. I realized that I don't have to act the way people want me to. I think that automatically as a person, if you are kind, you want to change your behavior so that people like you, because you always want to be liked.
STELLA BIDA: What is the best way to change for you, as an individual?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: To accept that it is the only way forward. I want to look in the mirror and not feel that I did something that wasn't true to me.
I must say that one of the inspiring moments I had in my life was when I met you! The way you talk about leadership and are an example, I think wow! Finally a young brilliant person comes out! For me that's inspiring.
True change for me doesn't happen just like that. First, it is an uncomfortable feeling for a long time, without really knowing how to pinpoint what is happening. Then I had to learn that automatically as a human being, we tend to start thinking that what is not right is external to us, that it’s other people’s fault, the circumstances, the past, the upbringing… Then to realize that I can only change myself if I change the approach towards others or towards the circumstances.
I also think that the biggest limitation in life is always our own fears, rather than other exterior factors. That has changed for me and I still have to work on it very regularly. It's work in progress.
STELLA BIDA: You are an amazing leader. And sometimes, what is difficult to do is to have tough conversations with others, with the intention of helping them grow. What is your approach in starting these conversations with people?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: When I want people to grow, I've learned over time to back away from pinpointing what the problem is. Because when you do that, you attack the person immediately and there's no conversation going. I have also learned that you don't change a person. If you require very specific actions from someone, you have to be very specific about it. I always try to talk about how things affect others. For instance, if somebody is being very aggressive to another person, I would not say: "Stop being aggressive!". This is not the way to do it. I would rather share that I want to create a culture of kindness in my professional environment, and share the impact of this with the person. I think being successful can perfectly be combined with kindness. You don't need to be tough to be good.
STELLA BIDA: What is for you the most important element to take into account, in creating an environment of trust for a team?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: Caring. When people finally decide to come to me for a challenging situation, it's often too late. Very often, the situation is as such that it's very difficult to then create the safe environment.
It's a tough one, because when you are in a professional world, the first thing you need to do is perform, you need to achieve very specific targets in your job, it's a high pressure environment. As a person, because we are so scared of achieving our own goals, we very often forget that we are the ones creating an unsafe environment to others. The environment becomes competitive, we ask ourselves if we are good enough, ...
To create a safe environment is to show you care, and that you are there to help, that you are happy with everyone’s contribution, and that when something goes wrong, you are there to help out with conversations.
Creating a safe environment is the most important element in having a good team, good work, good spirit and in the end good client satisfaction.
STELLA BIDA: As a leader, the power lies in the team that we have around us. The people in the team are the ones who make things happen. What is for you the way to identify the A-players?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: You see it immediately. Beyond being intelligent or smart, it's what we call being professional. Being an A-player is about showing you are there to do the job, you are ready, you take initiative. You have the abilitiy to connect immediately, you ask questions around, you talk to people. Also, you are ready to help, to share.
You see the A-players immediately. Sometimes people surprise you, because they grow into being an A-player, or completely the other way around. I'm supported by a great team worldwide, but my personal experience is that in the end, you never really know it until you work with the person.
When meeting a new team member, the idea is to share a lot about the culture. At our office in Brussels, we have multiple nationalities, from all over the world. I try to give an honest image of what it is like working together.
STELLA BIDA: Yolande, do you think that we should always be honest about everything?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: I think that you need to know how to communicate with people in a way that you don't offend. You should have in mind your specific goal, and make sure that it is communicated to others, and that people work towards that goal. My specific goal is to create a number one team in Belgium, and to create a number one Belgian practice, because there's room to have that. Not everybody always likes or agrees with what is said. But we need to develop the talents, the techniques, in order to enhance our communication with others.
And what do you think about honesty Stella?
STELLA BIDA: I think it's one of these things for which we need balance. I think there are two sides to this: honesty with ourselves, and honesty with others. I think that in being honest with ourselves, we can easily voice what we think and interact with others in that honesty. I think that it is one of these topics for which you need to be in a dance with others.
I haven't been honest with myself for a very long time, until I discovered who I really am.
STELLA BIDA: If you had the opportunity to meet the Yolande of 10 years old, what would you tell her?
YOLANDE MEYVIS: I would tell her not to loose her patience that often, to take her time. When I was young at 10 years old, I was very impatient. I still am, but I try to control it. I wanted changes to happen immediately. And of course, as a 10 y.o, you're much more intense, the feelings are much more intense, which is lovely! There was not this perspective of patience and letting go of things when I was a 10 y.o.
And you Stella, I'm very curious, what would you say to your 10 y.o self?
STELLA BIDA: I would ask her to listen to that voice inside of her. I would ask her not to shut the voice down.
YOLANDE MEYVIS: You're so right! Because as children we have this very strong sense, and of course with education we need to ignore that. One shouldn't exclude the other, so I think that's a great message to yourself! That's loving, very warm!
STELLA BIDA: Thank you very much Yolande for this conversation. Honestly, I’ve loved it, and for myself, I know I will certainly come back and listen to it again.
YOLANDE MEYVIS: Thanks, so much pleasure!