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7 Questions with Lea Berhane
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7 Questions with Lea Berhane
Name: Lea Berhane
Current title: Chief Development, Marketing & Technology Officer
Current organization: StarVista
My connection to StarVista is rooted in who I am.
At age 9, my family and I were enjoying a vacation in Sunnyvale, California, we were visiting my newly immigrated aunt.
But our visit took a sudden turn for the worse, when officials informed us that we would not be able to go back to our home in Ethiopia. The dangerousness around the fighting and Civil war changed our fate overnight.
Immigrating to America and adapting to a new world came with some confusion and lots of questions for us. We went from a wonderful home with our mom and dad to 11 of us living in a 2-bedroom apartment. It was my mom, my 5 five siblings, and eventually my mother’s siblings and their kids (we were all new immigrants adjusting to a new world at the time).
Many moments produced trying times for my family and I, and that helped me to deeply understand the need for human support and community at a very young age. By drawing meaning from the past: As the Chief Development, Marketing & Technology Officer I have found more than a career at StarVista. I have found a mission that I deeply connect with that empowers individuals, inspires hope, and strengthens our community.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Leading throughout a pandemic has been both rewarding and challenging. The challenge of managing, mobilizing, understanding, and leading change throughout the global pandemic has helped me push myself. It has been challenging to guide change, knowing how to mitigate consequences, overcoming resistance to change, and dealing with employees’ reactions to change.
I have also appreciated the challenge of managing relationships, politics, and image. These leadership challenges include gaining managerial support, managing up, and getting buy-in from other departments, groups, or individuals.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I brought an energy and enthusiasm that I have continued to use while leading my staff here at StarVista. I have led all of my teams to consistently show up as their best selves. I have implemented many processes and procedures and have brought forward a strong sense of efficiency and accountability to the teams I manage. Rising to the occasion and leading throughout the pandemic led me to having a new position created for me; that includes managing 5 teams; Development, Grants, Marketing, Data/ Analytics & Technology.
My strengths have been challenging myself to consistently developing managerial effectiveness, inspiring others, developing employees, leading a team, guiding change, and managing internal stakeholders and politics.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I require myself and my teams to plan our whole week every Friday. I like to find something to focus on and start my day with the night before (bible verse or inspirational quote). I like to wake up early at 5:30/6 and start my day with something positive to meditate on. If I am cooking for my family I like to get that out of my way early in the morning. Once I start my work day I stay pretty focused and productive. If I can take a walk mid day I do. I prefer eating one meal a day and having small snacks throughout the day. My day is filled with many meetings, check ins, looking over drafts, drafting documents and phone calls. My work day usually ends at 5pm. I usually workout after work. All three of my kids play sports so I usually have to drive them to their practices. I improvise and workout during their practice by going for a walk or run. I usually wind down to go to bed by 9pm.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Understanding intent vs impact. Despite good intentions, try to set aside your own thoughts and feelings to center the impact that your actions had. While it can be difficult, it’s a key part of maintaining healthy relationships. One person’s intentions and another’s perception or experience are both valid, so context can be key when talking about intent versus impact. I constantly push myself to listen and understand different angles before making a decision.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist". Alchemy was an ancient branch of study which involved converting ordinary metals into gold. The person who practiced it was referred to as an alchemist. But this term is used as a metaphor throughout the novel. During the journey of Santiago ( the shepherd ), he encounters an alchemist who helps him to find his ‘true-self’ and ultimately his path to the treasure. A leader is similar to an alchemist. We all are born ordinary, just like Santiago who knew nothing but herding sheep. But when we work under a good leader, he/she makes us realize that we can get converted into gold with the passage of time. You must also remember that even if there is no leader to guide us, we ourselves can become an alchemist and practice the art of converting the ordinary into extraordinary. So a good leader, along with converting himself into gold, helps his team to unlock their potential, rise above their limitations and finally convert them into gold. This can be achieved only if we follow our ‘personal legend’. One of my best assets as a leader is my ability to allow others to bring their best selves to work and to shine.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
You can build leadership capacity by building mastery, it helps drive engagement. Getting better at something makes you want to continue pushing forward, even when it’s difficult. Taking ownership of awareness is key. Genuine appreciation of others is essential to leadership capacity building. Inspiring followership - inspiring others to bring visions to reality. It is also important to show competency in what you are asking others to do. Most importantly, be direct with feedback.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
One of my managers was struggling with one of their employees. They asked if I could help manage the employee. I decided to have a one on one check in with the staff member. During that check we decided to check in regularly and I decided to mentor that employee. I saw tremendous growth in that employee in a short time. This was extremely meaningful because I learned a lot about that employee personally. That knowledge helped me to mentor them.