MD EPT, Executive Coach, Motivational Speaker, Author
More than twenty five years ago, motivated by her ongoing exploration of the art of communication, Jessie co-created the company Executive Performance Training (EPT) of which she is managing director to this day. Based in Amsterdam, EPT specializes in compact personal development programs which connect the knowledge and techniques of effective live communication with leadership, diversity and cross cultural collaboration. These programs take place in Europe, North America, Asia and Russia.
In 2011, prompted by her own hospital experiences with both a broken ankle and a lung embolism, Jessie developed the PAC-CARD (Patient’s Action Communication Card) and sponsored the creation of www.pac-card.com, which offers a ‘free-download card’ containing a checklist of essential support question for patients to use in any interaction with a health professional. This is now available in 9 languages.
In 2013 ‘What GAP? – A Communication Tool Box’ was published in the Netherlands by A W Bruna (Levboeken) Uitgevers. In this book Jessie distils her knowledge and experience and shows how extraordinary things can happen with all of us once we have the skills to close the understanding GAP.
In 2014 ‘The Patient’s Guide – Think . Ask . Know’ was published by Lulu. This book explains how to effectively use the PAC-CARD. In 2013 the Dutch version of this book ‘Zo praat je met je arts’ was published in the Netherlands by Kosmos Uitgevers.
Name something that guides both your professional and personal development and helps you regain focus during challenging times?
The major guide and support for me has been and is my family, as well as a very close group of friends, mainly women and a few men. They are my gang. Some of them I’ve known for many years and some are more recent friendships. They have been and are an extraordinary support network for me.
Humor is also a key element; keeping a sense of humor is crucial. So, when times become overwhelming, painful or seemingly insurmountable the short sentence “life is far too serious to be taken seriously” can help bring a smile to my face and put things in perspective. After all if we contemplate the idea “in the history of the universe … how important is this…? Then we have to laugh don’t we? In summary – my gang and humor!
What do you believe is at the core of women’s hesitation to step out and pursue leadership role where they are?
Thousands of years of sexist conditioning. If we reflect back on the past centuries of our developing civilization, for women to die in child birth was common. And if they did not die they would be either endlessly pregnant and / or caring for large amounts of children. The work they would do had to be in juxtaposition with carrying and caring for children. Most of their powerbase was in supportive roles, so women developed a repertoire of circuitous ways to get what they wanted. Being direct and forceful was not perceived as an attractive female quality. This is deeply rooted in our psyche, we are trying to turn it around but it’s slow. It is actually only in the last hundred years that many women (more notably in the west) have had the power over their own bodies and right to reproduce.
Our civilization is still dominated by and geared towards procreation and sex (even though the planet is overpopulated 🙂 ) a lot of the gender models are still rather old fashioned; just look at the film industry, popular music film clips and the advertising industry. On top of that many women will not want to be perceived as depowering or overpowering a man. Often, they would rather depower themselves first. I think there is real confusion happening with both genders as the idea and role of Maleness and Femaleness evolves and the functions change. What does it mean to be a strong Women in the 21st century? Confusion and lack of role models can create hesitation.
Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments and why it means so much to you?
Running my company ‘Executive Performance Training (EPT)’ which has been a slow and long accomplishment; I’ve been running it for more than 25 years. Developing personal change programmes that empower people, particularly in the area of Women and Leadership, Diversity and Cross Cultural collaboration. For me this is key, empowering those who don’t always believe they can have access to important decision making processes and power.
The other accomplishment is writing my first book ‘What Gap – A Communication Toolbox’. When I started I thought, maybe it would take me a year, it took me four! It became a mega project. I find the most important thing now is that it works and proves to be useful to all kinds of people all over the world. Very satisfying.
The world is a scary place, how do you manage fear and anxiety in your personal and professional life?
Well, when everything becomes overwhelming, I try to return to humor. If that doesn’t work I will turn to focusing on the senses. For example: seeing the light coming through the window or noticing the different shades of colors of the grass or the sky, quite simple primitive stuff. Also smelling scents or hearing sounds. In this way, I get out of my mind and direct my awareness towards time present and the simplicity of pure experience.
The other thing that gives me a sort of holiday from the enormity of life are the arts; listening to music or going to an exhibition. I like many kinds of music; contemporary for example the work of Morton Feldman, jazz, classical … I enjoy music that stops my mind from analyzing. I also love the kind of visual art that seduces my mind into giving up trying to understand, for example the work of Mark Rothko. For me this becomes a sensual even physical experience.
What do you believe would be the greatest benefit of having more women as leaders in the world?
Well, having more women in high positions and also women working in collaboration with men gives a diversity of perspective, which is crucial. I think the present preference for having one leader at the top of an organization or government is unhealthy; collaborative leadership is more interesting and potentially more successful. The more diversity of people you have in major decision-making positions, the broader and more intelligent the solutions and leadership can be.
In addition, due to evolutionary behavior patterns created by women having children, we find that they are often hardwired to focusing on the ‘We’ (the community) and men are more often focused on the ‘I’. That’s why a collaborative model is more useful.
I have heard say that if you give money to a woman then the whole community will benefit. You can time and again see how this plays out in the developing world; As the old African adage goes: “If you educate a boy, you train a man. If you educate a girl, you train a village”.
Tell us what your greatest personal challenge is and how you’ve achieved success in spite of it?
I think one of my biggest challenges which happens to a lot of females, is balancing running my company, bringing up my daughter (who is now 25) and my step (bonus) son (who is 33), keeping friendships and intimate relationships healthy, keeping painting and progressing as an artist and at the same time not being totally exhausted.
I think we can do it all, but we need to make sure we don’t kill ourselves in the process! To keep being kind to myself and move away from ‘it’s never good enough’ just realize that it’s about constantly re-balancing.
The challenge for me is to keep it flowing, not getting an over-focused, tunnel vision on one specific thing. To keep the perspective of the big picture and then counterbalance with the pleasure and fascination of the details. Be picky and obsessive and then pull out and rebalance backwards and forwards.
What role should men play in supporting more gender diversity?
I think that men should learn to be more open about their feelings, they are not emotionally insensitive people but this is how many men have been conditioned: be tough and strong, big boys don’t cry. I believe this is unhealthy for everyone since it makes it easier for men to make emotionally disconnected potentially inhumane decisions. We see this time and time again being played out in for example, world politics.
If men could develop a 21st century maleness and sexuality that is not predicated around ‘the apes on the rocks’ or the ‘macho’, or even ‘the knight in shining armor saving the so-called helpless-women’, everyone will benefit. We need to develop many more virile male images, which liberate them from these oppressive and oppressing behavior patterns.
Men can also support their wives and daughters. It is interesting to see in some of these macho guys when they get 21st century daughters, they suddenly want her to be CEO of a company. Interestingly these same men will often still want their wife to be at home supporting them and making sure the household is running smoothly and that dinner is ready. They are a generation of men who have 21st century thoughts and 20th century feelings.
If you could know the answer to only one of the following questions, which one would you choose and why?
- What happens after death?
- What is the meaning of life?
If the puzzle of death was sorted, the meaning of life would be different. A lot of our actions, thoughts and decisions in life will be stimulated by the fear of death, if we worked out the puzzle of death I think we would live our lives differently. And hence life would have another meaning.
What do you think of gender diversity in the workplace in the Netherlands and how do you see the role of women in the country?
I am not very informed on that. I understand there is a tendency in the Netherlands for a higher percentage of women to choose to work part time in comparison with many other countries. What would be very useful for society as a whole is if everybody could feel the freedom to be able to work part-time. So men and women can feel comfortable sharing and balancing responsible roles both at home and in the work place. And that we can extend that idea to those in high pressured leadership positions, so both males and females can have a position of leadership and work 3 ½ or 4 days a week.
This structure would also reinforce the shared leadership approach, I believe it would make a positive difference to the quality of life of everyone, the knock-on effect could be massive.
What advice would you give to young women around the world?
Learn a big repertoire of communication skills so you can feel at ease with living a diversity of your own femaleness. You don’t have to be like a man to fit in, you don’t have to be like a stereotypical woman, you can be all different sides of your own femaleness and maleness and all different sides of your own personality. We are all multi-dimensional and if you trust living that personal diversity you can start to taste and feel at ease with your own potency. You need to feel comfortable with getting support groups around you, both males and females, network and ask people to sponsor and help you, you don’t have to do this alone, we are group animals that thrive together.
Spotlight written by Yasmeen Smadi