7 Questions with Mirela Cialai
Name: Mirela Cialai
Current title: Board Member
Current organisation: Visiting Neighbors
Seasoned mobile marketing expert, board member, Stevie® Award Marketer of the Year, frequent speaker and podcast guest, founding member of SpeakHer organization striving to promote women speakers within the tech industry, passionate about making a difference and improving the quality of life for older adults, and reducing social isolation.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
One of the most challenging aspects is the fact that even large enterprises have limited resources, so at times is difficult to balance the lack of resources with the need to build impactful projects that deliver results. What helps a lot is prior experience in startups or smaller teams where there is no clear delimitation between roles and everyone is working together towards a common goal.
2. How did you become a board member of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
2020 has been a very challenging year where many people were impacted in different ways, and while I was getting involved with many different organizations looking for volunteers, it felt like I wasn't doing enough. So I started looking for opportunities to get involved as a board member with a large organization which shared the same values as I did, as hopefully through leveraging my years of experience in marketing and leadership I would be able to contribute in more impactful ways. While searching on different job boards, I came across an advert for a board member position with a nonprofit organization called Visiting Neighbors. Their mission statement to improve the lives of older adults and help them remain independent and safe in their own homes resonated with my own beliefs, so I reached out to them and after several conversations it was clear that this was the right organization where I can make a huge impact by leveraging my skills and knowledge.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
The first thing I usually do early in the morning is taking some time to talk to my family in Romania, as due to the time difference that's the most convenient time for all of us. Once I get started with work, I first check in by Slack with my team (based in Barcelona), as by that time it's midday for them and I want to make sure they have everything they need to accomplish their tasks and be successful in their jobs. And usually most mornings are full of back to back meetings with cross-functional teams where we discuss priorities, blockers and updates. Right before noon (end of day for Barcelona) I have my regular meeting with the team I'm managing, which sometimes starts with either a group fitness or a yoga session, and most times with an informal chat to find out how was their weekend / or their week is going before diving in the meeting agenda. In the afternoon I usually check my inbox and respond to emails, look over the reports and take care of urgent tasks, which leaves the later part of the day for strategizing or projects that require creative thinking. So to sum it all up: family first, followed by my team, then email, reports and everything else.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I know it's very basic, but the most significant lesson I learned was that in order to be an efficient leader I need to get better at delegating rather than trying to do everything myself, and also stepping back and allowing my direct reports to learn by themselves how to best tackle each challenge, instead of micromanaging to ensure that everything gets done perfectly. The fastest way for them to learn is by making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, thus enabling them to discover new solutions and be creative.
5. What are some of the keys to doing governance well in a large enterprise?
I think the most important is to have a proper structure in place, that delineates the responsibility of all members forming the governing body, clearly defining the roles and authority of each member, and holding everyone accountable for completing their assigned tasks.
6. How do you differentiate between the role of board member and the roles of CEO or executive team member of a large enterprise?
In principle, the board's role is to set the vision and the long term goals to drive forward the organization, while the CEO and the executive team are responsible for devising the plan that would help the organization meet those long terms goals.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a board member of a large enterprise so far?
A great story showing how impactful organizations like Visiting Neighbors can be, is about one of their clients, a 93 year old woman who was insisting on using a shopping cart to lean on while walking on a street instead of a more stable walker, as she felt she looked “really old” using the walker outside. However, a change of strategy finally helped getting the message across after months of negotiations, and instead of pointing out that she could fall, the staff appealed to her vanity and let her know how proud we were of seniors when we see them using mobility devices that enable them to move around safely and viewed them as determined and “young” in spirit. Our society too often overlooks the frail and the oldest old, the seniors 85+ who spend their days alone behind the confines of their apartments. They have lost their family and friends and cannot go to senior centers for companionship, stimulation or assistance. These seniors need human contact to help sustain their will to take care of themselves, eat or even live and to encourage them as they face the challenges of aging. They need someone to talk to, and also someone who can listen with a trained professional ear, someone who can connect them with the help they need and expresses that they care.