Role models

Zofia Dzik: To be successful at work, you should do better outside of it

For over 20 years, Zofia Dzik has been managing and sitting on the boards of the biggest Polish and Central Eastern Europe companies, such as Link4, AmRest, PKO BP, CCC or Inpost. In the last ten years, she has also focused on social entrepreneurship and innovation. Today Zofia Dzik runs Humanites Institute – a Poland-based think&DO-tank addressing human wellbeing and the need for new competencies that arise from technological and social transformation. Employers should recognize that leadership comes down to developing multidimensionally: in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spheres, she explains.

In an interview with Joanna Socha, Zofia Dzik shares her observations on the impact of technological disruption on human wellbeing, as well as her own experiences and challenges when trying to integrate an intense career with having a family.

Joanna Socha: What challenges of today’s world does the Humanites Institute address?

Zofia Dzik: The Institute combines the issues of humanity and technology. I launched it ten years ago as a think&DO tank that would research the perception of a human being in the wide social ecosystem of the modern world. The goal is also to initiate systemic social impact activities that would prepare people to use the opportunities coming with the new technology in such a way that he or she does not become its slave.

Thanks to my professional and personal experiences, among others in the fintech area, I noticed a dangerously growing gap between the speed of development of new technologies and the actual readiness of human beings to adapt to the changes. That led me to found Humanites Institute, where I have initiated several systemic projects, annual conferences “Human&Technology” and the latest project of International Center for Ethics of Technology.

We are very much interested in the learning capabilities and the so-called strategic competencies of the future. The technological transformation will eliminate many jobs that are based on simple, repeatable patterns. At the same time, there will be a need for new jobs but with a different set of skills.

Based on one recent analysis, every second person will require significant reskilling in the upcoming five years. Considering that the world is becoming more and more complex and diverse, we are interested in emotional intelligence and empathy, which is crucial in building diversified teams and creating an environment enabling them to cooperate. Emotional intelligence is also a key in establishing lasting relationships and preventing loneliness.

You mentioned that technology is taking control of our lives. I can see it too, especially recently, when we spend a lot of time at home, and we use social media excessively. Could you please elaborate on the topic of what particular challenges a modern individual faces?

First of all, we are dealing with a broadly understood technological transformation. Automation and robotization can increase the number of people losing their jobs or moving to remote work or home offices, which is already a massive challenge for the modern world. People are not prepared for that. Until now, they functioned in a certain rhythm; for instance, the rhythm their work was imposing. So now the challenge is how to prepare people for – possibly – a life without work, how to teach them to wake up their intrinsic motivation, find purpose, how to reskill.

The second challenge is related to the growing phenomenon of alienation, loneliness, mental illness, civilizational diseases connected with obesity, myopia, diabetes and posture disorders. Research shows that many of these problems stem from loneliness. This very loneliness is partially due to immense stress, the pace of life, and a job that does not give us enough time to build relationships. There is also more and more evidence and research that these disorders are strongly correlated with the development of social media, which have a very adverse impact, particularly on the young generation. They can lead to emotional anxiety, gamification of relationships (“likes”), and growing FOMO syndrome (Fear of Missing Out) strengthened by advanced self-learning algorithms. We observe enslavement and growing intellectual dullness. In recent years, the IQ index in the world has shown a downward trend.

Photo: Courtesy of Zofia Dzik

Over ten years ago, while working on the Coherent Leadership Model, I coined the term “tunnel development”, which says that as humans, we are prone to develop in a one-dimensional way only. This is usually in the professional realm. Whereas a man is multidimensional, consists of physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual areas. These neglected areas, such as emotional and spiritual, are what we need the most nowadays. The spiritual area is like a signpost; it gives us direction and helps us find the meaning of life, purpose in the ambiguous world. The emotional sphere helps us build social relationships. Years of reducing man just to mind and muscles have been brutally exposed at this time of the pandemic. Thanks to science, we have effectively extended human life, but, unfortunately, we can say that we have learned how to survive, but not how to live.

Today’s world, or maybe the pandemic, on the one hand, developed new digital competencies, but on the other hand, perhaps even increased the ubiquitous phenomenon of loneliness.

The third reason for aggravating the loneliness phenomenon is the growing gig economy, in other words, freelancers’ world – which gives a lot of flexibility of employment and the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world. It also took young people from the offices, and the office is often a place for building relationships. Today’s valid question is: how the scale of loneliness will grow after remote work, as ¼ of companies in the world declare that they will never return to offices. Did they consider all potential long social consequences of such a decision or just short-term, mainly cost-based?

You mentioned a deepening problem of loneliness. How can we cope with it? Can we combat it somehow?

The problem is very complex and there is no one simple solution. It requires a systemic approach within the whole ecosystem in which a human being lives and works. When launching the Humanites Institute, I set myself a goal of creating a space that breaks the silos approach towards problem solving, which I discussed, among others, in my “Village Model of Social Ecosystem” and “Fractale Loop Model”. The Village model focuses on the forces that impact the human being and its decisions, fears and competencies, starting from family, business and work environment, education, media and culture. For instance, your childhood impacts your self-esteem and emotional health later. You can get wings or leave home with deficits that will limit your abilities to learn, trust, communicate, build good relationships.

But there is no one with a perfect childhood.

For that reason, the foundations created not only in childhood but also in adulthood by society and government are important. This is why, based on the “Fractale Loop Model, we aim to make employers aware of their social impact. We want to show them that they can be the wheel of change: by inspiring employees to lead more meaningful, healthy lives, build better multigenerational bonds and by allowing them to integrate their professional and private roles better. Our action initiated ten years ago called “Two hours for the Family” – #2h4family – could be an example of our systemic approach. We started from a well-researched correlation that a happy person is also a more involved employee. Employers spend a lot of money to motivate employees, while employees’ demotivation is often related to problems occurring in their other roles outside work. Employers often say that work is work and life is life, they use a term “work-life balance,” which is dichotomous and suggests that you always have to choose. I am an advocate of the idea of integration of personal and professional lives, as I believe that we have one life in different roles. Pandemic times showed this blending very clearly.

I believe that it is in the interest of employers to encourage and support employees to do better outside of work; to develop them not only as employees but also as people. Employers should ask themselves whether they are hiring a human or an employee.

If you employ a man, you employ him with all his multidimensionality and all his roles in life, e.g., being a father, mother, husband, wife, grandfather, sister. All these roles are important, and it is worthwhile for the employer to support the employee to integrate these roles best. Because the better he can cope with life in general, the greater the chance that he will also have great results at work.

Over 20 years ago, the United Nations established Family Day on May 15th. I thought that I would use this date to promote the “Two hours for the Family” campaign, which we organize every year to encourage awareness and quality time in our private and work relationships. Each year the campaign has a different leading theme. We encourage employers to review their people policies toward more holistic approach. This year is the 10th edition of #2h4family. The leading theme is “Sport through Generations”.

We have concluded that the crisis of relationships also results from the fact that we stop talking to each other. We live hectic lifestyles; we are less attentive to relationships both at work, where we know little about the co-worker sitting next to us and in the family where members pass each other. They do not have common topics to discuss; they do not even notice when their conversations come down to “Who will do the shopping?” or “Who will pick up the children from school?”; or “Who will take the dog out? “When was the last time we approached another person with curiosity? For example, I don’t know much about your interests. What do you like to do in your spare time, Joanna?

I like to dance.

And do you dance in a group?

I usually dance in front of the mirror. Some time ago, I signed up for so-called “commercial dance” group classes.

If I hadn’t asked, we would have talked through the whole meeting, and I would never have known that we have something in common! I also love to dance. Even as a child, I belonged to a local song and dance group in my small town in south-eastern Poland.

Every year, we encourage employers to inspire their employees to be more curious about the people around them. We believe that it is impossible to build a relationship without the curiosity of another person, without creating a space where we get to know each other.

Every year, we also prepare a game called “Ask Me”, which has a series of different questions. This is important because we lose the ability to quality talk due to remote communication. We limit ourselves to single words or emoticons. We convince employers that it is in their best interest to persuade people to take care of this area. I believe that micro change brings macro effect!

In the first edition, we had 40 companies participating. In recent years, the action has changed more into a Global Social Movement for bringing people closer. Employers from 18 countries have already joined the campaign, including large international corporations. We hope that we have brought some people closer to each other, at least to some extent. Every year we hear many touching stories in which people confess that they have rediscovered their parents, grandparents, sometimes just before they left. They hear the stories about their roots. This would probably never happen without being triggered by our activities. We believe that this way, we will wake up the need, appetite for more such experience, more often than just once a year, making it a habit.

The employer should create a space where employees develop not in the “tunnel way”, but multidimensionally: in the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spheres – Like a car that has four wheels and instead would ride on only one.

But sometimes we want to focus on work only.

I perfectly understand that. And this is how I understand the integration of these roles. There are various moments in one’s life. That is why I do not like the word “balance” so much. What does 50:50 mean? Many of my campaigns stem from my personal experience. I am with my husband for thirty years now. Over twenty years ago, before our first child was born, we had a very serious crisis and were on the brink of divorce. That was a time when I was dynamically developing in my professional area. I was promoted by two levels two years in a row. It would appear that I was doing great. That was a moment when I realized that, in a way, I stopped developing as a human being. I was more of a fantastic, effective robot. I lost the curiosity and attention to the relationship being overwhelmed by work issues and neglecting the space for work hygiene. There might be the time that we need to put maximum focus on work – but still we should do it wisely, defining e.g. expected timeline, some critical points not to be lost in the “tunnel.” I had to ask myself again a question, what is the most important in my life? Since I answered that, I haven’t missed a thing. Still, I managed to become the youngest president of a board in the regulated market in Poland and maintain happiness in my marriage and become a mother of three children.

That is why I am talking about conscious living and coherent leadership – where we develop in all spheres, and we live in harmony with our values. I started exercising regularly. Every day I start my day with a minimum of 20 push-ups. I also returned to the path of spiritual development and started creating rituals with small steps.

Currently, I am crazy about rituals because in today’s fast-paced world, if you do not create a space yourself to live consciously, then every single minute of your life will be filled with a million bits of news that you will not read.

Today, my husband and I have a daily coffee drinking ritual. Regardless of the age of our children, for years, we have organized trips only for two of us. We have rituals with children, such as saying goodbye to the day. Every day in the evening, we meet and express our gratefulness for the day. Years ago, I implemented a ritual of gratitude; you know a lot of little things like that. And at the end of the day, these little things make a difference.

Taking care of your personal life and your passions do not mean giving up your career. It is these other areas of life that may turn out to be your driving force. Therefore, please dance! I also value time for myself, time with white space. For example, I like going to the desert. For twenty years, I have been wandering through various deserts of the world. This is also my mental space that allows me to rest. I love the overwhelming silence and nomadic life.

Photo: Courtesy of Zofia Dzik

Every day I spend a lot of time with people. I sit on the supervisory boards of numerous listed companies in Poland. My husband, on the other hand, loves water, windsurfing, etc. All these elements are important and it turns out that I can find time for most of them because just work will not satisfy me. I would say even the opposite. I become more creative and innovative because I enrich my life through experience in many spaces and roles. I like connecting dots and different worlds. This exactly is the way to be a good leader today in this complex and volatile environment – to have this flexibility to move along the wide scale of styles and capabilities from directiveness to empathy. You will not gain the flexibility staying in the “tunnel.” I believe that today’s world needs optimistic, coherent rebels, who will answer such questions as: where are we going as human beings? I am definitely a dreamer, but also a strong thinker and doer and I do hope that I am not the only one, who believes that it is not too late to wake up human in human.

Interview by Joanna Socha
Translation by Aga Rogowska
Edited by Phyllis Budka

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