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7 Questions on Leadership with Katerina Theofanidou

Name: Katerina Theofanidou

Title: Managing Director, projectyou / President, IPMA Greece / Secretary General, ILME (member of ELA)

Organisation: projectyou ltd

Katerina Theofanidou is Managing Director of projectyou, a training, consulting, events company based in Athens, Greece. projectyou offers services to companies and professionals who aim to grow and strengthen in the modern business environment. Having trained more than 13.500 professionals, projectyou is a leading training company in Greece specializing in the project management and supply chain sectors.

Katerina founded projectyou in 2009, after having worked for multinational and big Greek companies in Greece and abroad.

She is also participating in the Board of Directors of two associations: International Project Management Association - IPMA Greece (member of IPMA) as President and Hellenic Institute for Logistics Management (member of European Logistics Association) as Secretary General.

Katerina is a wife and mother of a boy.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Katerina's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

When you are a leader, three things matter: people, people and people. Whether it’s your employees, contractors or customers, it's all about people management and behaviour. Your behaviours and their behaviours. Especially after the pandemic people’s expectations of how work should be have changed drastically. Our needs have changed and people tend to value personal life, wellbeing, hobbies and friends more than work. People want to enjoy their time working, even more so since work takes up so much of our time every day. This is definitely challenging for a leader, because we shouldn’t take people for granted, but it’s also a big opportunity for companies that have a positive and employee-centric culture and can attract talents.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I started from junior positions in my early career, but I was passionate about everything I worked with and put my heart into it. People saw that in me, I guess, and I was given more and more responsibility. Although I was pretty happy with the roles I had in the corporate environment, that wasn’t enough for me. I felt like I wanted to be my own boss and run my own business. Self-discipline and self-management were two skills I already had, and they helped me a lot. After running my company for the first 8 years as a family business of two, I took a leap of faith and hired the first full-time employee, because I believed that hiring people would lead the company to growth instead of believing that company growth would lead to hiring people! It proved to be the right decision and since then projectyou is growing every year and investing in its people.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

After waking up at 7am I dedicate the first 20 minutes of the day to my morning routine, that includes self-care, a rich food supplement that I adore and a healthy breakfast. Then my family is a priority until 9am when I get to the office. Each day is different but structured in detail and pre-planned in my calendar. There are slots during the day that I will give training, other slots that I will meet with my team or customers, slots that I will do some office work or prepare something big. When possible, I try to push the meetings later in the day, so that the first half of the day is open for strategic decisions and planning. At the end of the working day, picking up my son from school and taking him to his sports activities is very important to me, unless there is a scheduled training that I will give or an event I will attend. I make a conscious effort to keep weekends free from meetings and trainings to recharge. Not always possible, but it’s worth it! I prioritize spending time with my family or meeting friends. During the weekend I spend 20-40 minutes planning next week. I have found it to be a very effective process and increases my productivity for the whole week.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

One important leadership lesson that everyone should be aware of – whether a CEO or a young team leader – is that success is not a sprint but a marathon. Patience is a very important leadership skill, that together with a great team, good planning and hard work can do miracles. You might all have seen the famous drawing of two people digging the earth to find diamonds; the first one gets tired and stops digging a couple of meters before reaching the diamond spot, while the second one makes an extra effort and finally reaches his goal.

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?

“The 21 Success Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires” by Brian Tracy.

All 21 success secrets are important, but if I must choose 3 of them:

- Learn Every Detail of Your Business

- Determine Your Highest Priorities and Concentrate on Them Single-Mindedly

- Get around the Right People

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Mindset is everything. Difficult and unpleasant things happen every day. It’s up to us to choose how we will react and behave. Did you lose a client or a partnership you really wanted? Take your lesson and move on. Did someone offend you? Choose your reaction wisely and understand that their behavior is their emotional baggage, not yours to carry.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One story that comes to mind begins way before I became a leader. When I was 18 years old in the university, there was a professor who urged us to submit a project, present it to the class and that was the best way to pass the module without exams. But the idea of speaking in an amphitheater full of 150 students – even if they were my fellow classmates and friends – terrified me! So, I rejected this option and went for the exams, which I eventually managed to pass in the fourth year of my studies, after succeeding in more demanding modules.

10 years later, and in the early days of my company, I could provide a training to an audience of 10-20 people and deliver a speech in a venue with 2.000 people. Nowadays I participate in conferences as a speaker and deliver trainings every week.

Skills are trainable. Even soft skills. Leaders are not only born; a leader can be made (with strong will and hard work of course!).

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