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We all need role models, people who have tread the path we hope to travel and who came out alive thriving.
Elisabeth Moreno, CEO of Lenovo France is such a person. Lenovo is a $43 billion global technology company and a leader in the PC market. Moreno, a black woman from Cap Vert who immigrated to France as a child and was brought up with little means, has risen to the top in the fast-pace, male-dominated world of high tech.
Moreno recognizes the significant role self-confidence and risk-taking have played in helping her achieve this success, and seeks to transmit these qualities to her team, her family, and to you and me. It’s a delight to interview her.
As a CEO, my duty is to transmit. It’s how we prepare the next generation of leaders.
“I took a risk…”
Interview with Elisabeth Moreno
CEO Lenovo France
Denise Dampierre (DD): “Welcome. Let’s dive right in. Tell us about some of the risks you took in your career.”
Elisabeth Moreno (EM): “Hello. Risks are like finding yourself at the bottom of the pool. Either you sink, or you swim. I swam.
A professional turning point in my career was when I accepted to launch an initiative in Morocco for a company I worked for in the past. No one believed I could overcome the social, racial, and religious differences. Yet, when you must rely on yourself, you discover qualities deep within you. I consider my two years in Morocco as among the best of my professional experiences.
Another risk was also to join Lenovo. When they came knocking I was in my comfort zone and could have stayed there for years. And yet…my flame was flickering. Lenovo, a Chinese company, represented opportunity and the unknown. I took the risk to be vibrant with life.”
Build confidence: Try. Dare. Make Mistakes. Fall…and get up again.
DD: “It seems that risk-taking is integral to your life-paradigm. Where did it come from? Were you born with it?”
EM: “I was scared of everything as a child! I feared doing wrong. Dreaded not understanding or not being understood. I was scared to try. And the more I focused on my fear, the more it grew and the less I dared anything.
I learned to embrace risk by facing challenges and realizing I overcame them.
When confronted with the kinds of situations, “If this should happen to me, I’ll die,” I came out of them alive. Those fears were in my head! When I realized these were fears I created, I sought out counseling and coaching and embarked on some thorough soul-searching and soul-healing.
Confidence is like a flower needing daily watering. It is a muscle to keep in shape with daily exercise.
When we take a risk and it works, we grow in confidence. It nurtures more confidence.
Even if the risk does not work out as hoped, we still grow in confidence. We learn from every trial. And even in failed attempts, something worked. If that one element succeeded a first time, there is a high probability it can generate positive results again. Our society depends upon risk-taking.
Once we gain in confidence, then we need to learn to maintain it. Confidence is like a flower needing daily watering. It is a muscle to keep in shape with daily exercise.”
DD: “You speak of changing yourself. And yet many people resist change and risk-taking because they believe the problem lies with someone else.”
EM: “We only see in other people something that resonates with us, be it positive or negative. Everyone is not sensitive in the same ways. One person can be transported by a piece of music whereas his tone-deaf neighbor finds the noise discomforting. One person will leave a conference feeling ecstatic and uplifted and someone else deems it was a waste of time and money.
It’s so much easier to believe the problem lies in the other person. People do not change against their will. If they want to evolve, they will. The only person on whom you have real power to change is yourself.
We reap what we sow. Sow hate; reap hate. Sow discord; reap discord. Sow love; reap harmony.
I spend a lot of time transmitting. There is no magic wand to extract change in someone else. And yet, I can create circumstances which favor change in others. First, to be a role model, which I practice in both my personal and professional life. Next, to be authentic. When I am genuine with others, I invite authenticity from them. When you are sincere, 50%—no, it’s more like 80%—of your contacts will respond with sincerity.
We reap what we sow. As a junior manager, I believed success lay in being tough. I reaped fear and distrust. Then I took the risk to trust my team. Trusting anyone renders one extraordinarily vulnerable. When I trusted, positive results abounded.
Life is like a mirror which reflects what we give. Sow hate; reap hate. Sow discord; reap discord. Sow love; reap harmony.”
DD: “How do you transmit a desire for risk-taking to your team, to your young employees, and to your daughters?”
EM: “As a CEO, my duty is to transmit. It’s how we prepare the next generation of leaders.
Our youth seek meaning in life and in work. Purpose comes from the heart, not from the intellect. We focus our training on knowledge-building; we need to build know-how.
Creating learning experiences implies accepting our vulnerability as people. By doing, and through interaction, we face our humanity straight on. Unfortunately, today’s education in France focuses so strongly on the intellect, and we find ourselves disconnected from our own humanity. I wish our youth had more opportunities to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.
Parents are obsessed with grades and, with the best of intentions, raise children to become test-taking machines. I don’t blame them; we all want to protect our children and do the best for them. Unfortunately, many parents respond out of fear.
And yet, our children will, and need to, confront their own fears. This is how to prepare them for taking risks and for success in life.
Purpose comes from the heart, not from the intellect.
For a long time, we have been taught that leaders should manage with their intellect. Reasoning reigns. I have learned that leadership also relies on your heart and your gut. As parents, we are called to use our brains to find ways to connect meaningfully with our children and to help them develop grit.”
DD: “What do you want your employees and daughters to believe about risk?”
EM: “I want my daughters and everyone to dare to take risks.
Risk does not avoid danger. The fear of risk will not keep bad things from happening to you or me. In fact, it is a good thing to recognize the riskiness of a venture. It will guide you to keep a safe distance from the edge of a cliff.
Only our fears are often exaggerated. The outcome is often less serious than we dreaded.
I want my girls to have confidence. Let them try. Let them dare. Let them accept making mistakes. They will fall…and pick themselves up again.
I want my daughters and my young employees to know they are marvelous and a wonderful life awaits them when they embrace it.
Too many people today no longer dare to risk. If they don’t succeed on the first try, they are ashamed.
If you or I do not take risks, we might distance danger, but we will forget to live. We end up like the walking-dead: biologically alive yet without a life inside.
The more risks you take, the wider you open your arms to life.” It need not be a big risk, even the small ones can open fantastic opportunities.
DD: “Are there risks you did not take and wished you had?”
EM: Laughter. “No. Of course, there must be some. However, I do not live looking in the rear-view mirror and harboring regrets. While I am still alive, I can still embrace those risks.”
DD: “Thank you.”
Elisabeth Moreno gave us food for thought. May we feed on it wisely.
- To clear out the fears in our head
- To dare and learn
- To nurture our confidence daily
- To lead with humanity
Stay tuned as, next week, I’ll share exercises to put these insights into action.
P.S. I’m writing from my orange Lenovo PC. My husband recommended it for the technical qualities and value for money. I fell in love with the color; it makes me happy to begin work every day.