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7 Questions with Harris Apostolopoulos
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7 Questions with Harris Apostolopoulos
Name: Harris Apostolopoulos, PhD
Current title: Chief Transformation Officer (CTO)
Current organisation: PMO Global Alliance
Harris is a visionary strategy executive, author and speaker with almost two decades of diverse industry exposure, highly skilled and experienced in international and multicultural business environments.
Led and directed a plethora of large scale, complex project portfolios and programs (20 countries, up to $1.65 billion value and benefits of $178 million). Results-oriented, being capable to lead Business and Digital transformations, PMOs and sustainable strategy implementation, putting the pieces towards corporate excellence. Board Member and Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) of the PMO Global Alliance as well as, an exclusive member of the PMI’s Thought Leadership Inner Circle, actively contributing to the profession and community.
Harris’s work often involves the integration of multiple strategy processes & tools taking into consideration diverse corporate environment factors, blended with change and risk management frameworks as well as, with global project management best practices (traditional / hybrid / agile). Being motivated by what others believe as complex and impossible to achieve.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
It is really hard to distinguish one challenge as there are more scars than trophies. Being a C-level is not easy, as you have to wear many hats in an attempt to find out which ones to try on, taking into account a plethora of conflicting factors.
You have to be able to make bold decisions and take the risk(s) but it is equally important to be able to take as few and right decisions as possible, in a really unpredictable environment.
Sometimes, there is a great dilemma of looking at what the data is telling you versus going with your instinct. However, sometimes trying to put the pieces together towards corporate excellence and sustainability can be thrilling.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have always had a passion to share knowledge and give back to the “community” of professionals in my field. There are some people to which I’m really grateful who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to deploy my talents and move forward.
I do like to work on challenging project portfolios and with interesting teams of people who “speak”’ and “think” differently. In order to reach a C-level standard it requires a lot of hard work and tangible results; academic education is an important factor as well.
The way to become a C-suite executive is a path full of twists and turns...your star will shine no matter what, but, at the right time. It’s not easy, it requires strong commitment to your goals and consistency all the way.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I would say that I don’t work long hours, but I do balance work and life. Some days are tough, some days quite easy going. I try to exercise (plenty of outdoor activities) when I have time and keep work issues outside my family and friends.
Prioritization of tasks is rather important as it saves time and effort. I try to enjoy life, and in order to be productive, perhaps you have to discover your own rhythms. I surround myself with positive people and I see failure as an opportunity to take the next greater step.
There is no single ideal time for going to bed and waking up that is best for everyone. From time to time, I focus on learning a new skill, or take a training course which can also improve my mental well-being. Speaking for myself, a 6-hours sleep is enough to keep my energy levels high for the next day.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Well, learning never stops. The greatest leadership lesson for me is to “take care of your people and your team, no matter what”. For this reason, I have an open-door policy. I do encourage open communication, feedback, and discussions about any concern my colleagues might have. Everyone can help you learn something.
It’s really amazing the quality of learning you can get by helping people... Being more human again, is the key to success. Another issue to pin point is that the recent COVID-19 crisis is a great lesson and opportunity for all: Get prepared and adapt to increased turbulence and disruptive situations. It’s a great challenge for leaders to step up now and get better prepared for the next one.
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?
I try to read several books per year and I have a special interest in history and politics. Nevertheless, a book that caught my attention and read recently is “Alexander: The Virtues of War” by Steven Pressfield.
Alexander the Great (born July 20, 356 BC in Pella, Macedonia), ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of nineteen as a King. He conquered the seemingly invincible Persian Empire before he was twenty-five; died at the age of thirty-two, undefeated by any enemy. His reputation as a warrior and leader of men remains unsurpassed in the annals of history... the person who unified the West and the East (the Greek and Persian empires) under a single mandate, language and currency. I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. So begins Alexander’s extraordinary confession on the eve of his greatest crisis of leadership. Educated by the philosopher Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), when it came time to assert his military authority, Alexander was well-prepared both mentally and physically to challenge the forces that stood in his way.
So many leadership lessons out of his life it is hard to choose one, but I will stick to one of his historical quotes that characterizes me as well as a person: “There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”
This is what I try to follow in my personal and business life. Start with small steps and progressively try to reach the top, never quit and keep going. Trying something is a catalytic and necessary step which can lead to completion. A tremendous amount of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment comes upon finishing something that you started, regardless of the outcome. If the outcome is successful, then the feeling cannot be described in words (the greater the challenge, the greater the feeling), if unsuccessful, then failure is a great lesson for the future.
However, as we become more successful, we should never forget our roots and the people who contributed; since our success is not only the result of our hard work but collaborative work of numerous people and processes.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
The key issue is not to build leadership capacity but to sustain it, look for new ways to put your heart and soul into work. For example: by taking the lead, you can support people in creating an environment where employees embrace work more collaboratively. Quite often I was asked to take Leadership Personality tests. So as a start it is vital to know where you are standing, your strengths and potential areas of improvement. Good leaders genuinely care about the people around them. This is much different than creating follower-ship.
One of the most crucial parts about being a leader is the ability to motivate others to want to succeed. Actually, a leader with vision has a clear idea of where they want to go, how to get there and what success looks like. Therefore, personally, working toward your vision with persistence, consistency, and confidence will inspire and encourage others to do the same.
As a leader, one of the best ways to build credibility and gain respect is to set the right examples. Act a role model and demonstrate in practice the behaviour that you want people to follow. Last but not least, the charisma to communicate clearly, concisely, inspire and empower others is crucial for tangible results.
There is no one size fits all, as each organization has a different culture, vision and goals. Nevertheless, the will to succeed remains the same.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Personally, it gives me great pleasure to catch up with old colleagues, friends, my students, and professionals from all over the world.
It’s not easy to keep-up with good friends, exchange insights and follow their progress.
The most meaningful story one can ever tell is his/her own story. Try hard, never give up and something good will happen at the end.