STB 022 | Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau Banner

Trust Your Emotions — The First Thing You Feel Is the Right Thing with Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau

Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau is a leadership development expert and an EMCC accredited coach. Her expertise and insights will blow you away. Although she originally started on a path of international relations, she found her calling towards helping women find their strength and the confidence to lead. She talks about why expressing your personality/quirks is a blessing, how to find stillness within yourself, and that leadership is always going to be a continuous journey.

Trust Your Emotions — The First Thing You Feel Is the Right Thing with Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau

Hello, beautiful lady and the few gents who have become regular listeners. I have a beautiful spirit and woman with me today. Her name is Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau and the first time I met her I knew like I knew right away that she was my kind of gal and I wanted to have a deeper conversation with her. If you have not heard of or had the opportunity yet to meet Sylvia, she is a coach, a mediator, and extremely passionate about leadership.

She is responsible for leadership development at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. And beyond that, she’s extremely busy supporting leaders to grow the inner game of leadership. My favorite topic, while at the same time succeeding with their outer challenges. She’s been doing a lot of different things throughout her life, but there’s definitely a strong through line. She started in international relations, worked in human rights, development cooperation and consulting, HR, coaching, management and leadership of course. All the way to some of her favorite spaces in the creative world of dance, painting, music and acting.

And of course being an extremely wonderful mother, which she refers to as a great land of learning. Sylvia’s super powers are her ability to see things from new and different angles, which I see in her that she challenges herself to do this every day. And also as what she told me, a friend once said to her, a super power, being able to create order out of chaos. This is a deep conversation with a lot of thought provoking ideas and concepts. So I encourage you to, and I haven’t said this in a while, to grab your water or your kombucha or cup of coffee or glass of wine wherever you are in the world right now, cover up with that cozy blanket in your favorite chair, corner or room, and take a listen. You may even want a note pad and pen. Okay. Without further delay, Ms. Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau.

I’ve got gold nuggets of course, old gold nuggets. So what I love to do if your first time listening is just point out some of the really powerful themes that I’ve been able to pick out after listening a few times, you’re getting the first glimpse. And so I like to shine the light on some things that I think are really, really powerful. We start this conversation, Sylvia and I talking about a framework that she’s developing for virtual teams, which is so timely. It wasn’t planned part of our conversation, but just so timely for you that I wanted her to talk about it and the framework links results, relationships, and resilience. So I think you’re going to find that really powerful and some of the areas that she’s seeing as a leader and someone who’s helping to develop leaders in this time. That’s a crisis for us all and the tools that she’s creating around that.

So that’s where we start. But we quickly morph into what is really Sylvia’s favorite topic and mine, and I believe we could have talked about this for hours, but we get to what’s in her heart, which is at the core of Sylvia is leadership. She states it, right in this interview, you’re going to hear her say leadership matters and taking a lead and standing up for and saying what you believe in is at the core of her being so you can, she doesn’t say it’s her mission, but you’re going to hear her talk around this and understand how that fuels what it is that she wants to do to help others do this in the world so that she can give back and also feel happy inside. And there’s, I love, she’s talking about herself, but you’re going to see so much of you in this.

So I just really wanted to point that out. And then what I really enjoyed listening back to and want to point out for you is that I asked Sylvia where she believes she could do better in herself leadership and she talks about a topic that I know you’re going to love because it happens for you too, is she talks about where in her role sometimes she actually respects the politics too much and gets away from what’s going on inside and really stepping into the full version of her self leadership. And we walk through this, I’ll recap it at the end before we wrap up today because I don’t want to delay you any longer. So let’s dig in and hear more from the beautiful and she is her eyes just shine if you meet her in person. She is truly beautiful inside and out. All right. Now, Ms. Sylvia.

Tell me a little bit about what you are talking to your colleagues about around virtual teams.

Yeah. So that actually came from me coaching a couple of the managers at the start off the crisis. And there was one manager who told me, I have this difficult team member. He does not really collaborate. He will not answer emails. I mean, not mine, but also not the ones off the colleagues. He just does what he wants. And I knew about him before, so, she told me, well, now it’s even more difficult. Listen, there is one thing, there is a great opportunity because now with the virtual team situation, things have to be more clear, not only with this person who likes to do it his own way, but you have a possibility to get the team together and talk to them. We have to be clearer in the way and we set expectations.

And so that’s the “what“ are we going to do in the next month, two weeks, etc. And then the “how”. How do we want to collaborate as a team? And there’s also like, is it okay? Like, if I get an email, when should I respond to that? And if it’s urgent, should I maybe label it so people will know? Things like that. And so that they actually came from a couple of conversations about the other one that was about resilience. There’s a lot of stress.

So there’s things that probably will concern all the managers now. So I’ll put something together that links the results, the relationships and resilience. Basically I’ve been talking through management teams, so intact management teams through this process being very open with it. So starting like, what are you currently, your challenges about that and then going into, each of these three, the mains. With regards to results, it’s really about being even more clear because when we see each other every day when we are together, it’s quite easy to say something and then the other person can say, well, how did you mean that I’m not sure that I understood you, but when we communicate distance, it’s much more important to think, well, how I do I have to say it. So other people will understand me. Maybe ask back.

It’s almost like it’s an opportunity for anyone in leadership to hold the mirror up and see where they’re not being as clear in their communication.

Yeah. And be very focused on that. How can I provide clarity right now? So that is, and then also with this manager, we talked about the push and the pull. So, she is having to have a vision. “This is what I’m telling you. This is what I’m asking of you. And guys, how do you want to do this? What do you see as issues coming up, how do you want to implement that? So not to make the mistakes. Since we are talking a distance too, to basically broadcast the whole thing down, but to get in between. So what do you think is that possible and more create an alignment also about the word.”

You know, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about with this kind of on the similar topic about the mirror is that this time is really asking people to step into another level of leadership because empathy is more important than ever, but how can you rise to that now and how can you carry that forward in the new, post pandemic era. Are you thinking about that too?

About the question of empathy?

Yeah. And how really we’re being called or leaders are being called to, to put more of the human element forward.

I think they are being called to that right now. There are like glitches. People see that people are very stressed but people have to deal with these human things and that these human things we don’t see often so much and the day-to-day. So that, yes, I think it’s now and I believe that it will need a conscious effort afterwards, too, to keep it up or deepen it. Because I think there will be a much stronger pool when we all come back to say, okay, let’s roll up the sleeves, work harder, get the stuff done and not go into the touchy feely things to consider to be touchy feely.

Yeah. You think that they’ll want to help them forget about that stuff.

I think it’s a bit like climate change and the economy. So the risk is that, when we go into economic recovery, people will think, well, climate change is very nice on a Sunday, but now we have to relax. Economic recovery is much more important. Forget about the targets or the emission reduction refers to have to get like the engines going. And I think, yes, there has some legislation or presidential orders just being passed, which go in there. And that’s a risk because, these more human or sustainability factors, whether it’s the sustainability of the environment or the sustainability of our people in organizations, they will not go away. They are part of the system we are currently living in. And, the temptation will be very big that when we go back to the normal, the so called normal, we will start running again to recuperate because the urge will be to recover wealth and have the engines going again. All very important. But as you said at the beginning, if we lose sight of the bigger targets to make our system sustainable, we’ll lose a big opportunity.

So what is from your perspective then the risk for today’s modern leader going back? So when we do go back, what do you think the biggest risk is for leaders?

The biggest risk for leaders themselves? I think is that they will be a failure. They might not go into failure in the next months. They could actually save their company. Certainly if they go into like we have to put pressure on the people where they do something good on the surface for the economy. But I think we have learned that if you want to have businesses or societies that are sustainable, we can’t do that anymore. The failure would be to believe that the quick fix will do it.

Yeah. How’d you get so smart? Seriously. How did you step into this work? I never talked with you about that. How did you start?

Actually, I’d never stepped into that.

I mean working with leaders. How did you, that wasn’t like a degree that I saw on the menu when I was in the university.

Actually, when I started, when I decided what I wanted to study, I was between psychology and political science. And since I was fascinated about how human beings function together, that was both my interests, like psychology, not only inside the psyche, but how are we together? But then also how do state societies work together? And so I started from that end and then I worked my way slowly back again from Plato’s Politics, which I studied at school in Greek classes to dealing with politics and now with leadership in organizations. It’s probably a long way, but I see the red thread in it.

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Yeah. So you were in politics initially?

No political science, so I was a scholar in International Relations, security studies and I did my PhD on East West conflict and Systemic Change.

And when you had enough of that, you started migrating over?

Well, what happened was what happens in life. I ended up in my first job and my first job was an internship to deal with development corporation programs. And I figured out that my brain functions much better in practice than in theory. So I realized that I was much more alive and productive working in a practical work environment than in academia. So that I decided like PhD is fine, but after that I want to work in the practical field.

That’s interesting. You’ve said that twice now. How did you discover that?

It’s what you discover when you feel alive. When I was sitting in behind my desk writing my PhD, I was often feeling so frustrated and it was a good lesson to really dig through very difficult, complex questions, which I think has helped me to not be afraid of the next. But, in the end I felt that when I was in the practical work environment, I felt so much alive. And I felt that whereas in academia I found writing boring, to ride with specific purpose in mind to inspire action. It was different then to write a book of 300 pages. I might come again. But from a practical point of view and that form, I have to write an academic contribution.

Yeah. I love that you shared that because that was not something I was thinking about when I was going out in a career and working, I wasn’t thinking about what’s lighting me up, what do I want more of?

And you know, I didn’t think about that. I just felt it.

You know, I’m definitely a sensor feeler type of person, but for some reason I wasn’t raised to lean into that. And so as I developed my professional career, I kind of turn that off. And I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to stay in that environment because I didn’t feel like I could be as much of a sensor feeler as I really was. Do you see that in some of the people you work with?

Yeah, totally. What I see is in the corporate world, people are asked to stay in a mode that is like not too much sense of feeler and to be functioning and to suppress certain expressions. And it depends on what company you are in. I mean, if you’re in a techie or artsy startup that will be different. But the companies that I’ve worked with, there were more of that type. That is also for me, one of the reasons why I’ve stepped into leadership development because there’s so much more available now when people bring more of themselves to work.

Yeah. That is one of the things that I’m really passionate about is bringing more of who you are. I think that keeps you more engaged and also you get better results. Done were done like that’s it! I’m curious, how do you help people see that? I kind of had to just learn this haphazardly. I didn’t just show up in the world knowing this.

No, it doesn’t. And I believe I I’ve been personally walking through life for many years, not knowing that. So my first years of career I certainly did not know that I chose to switch into a practical field because my heart told me. But I was very much the hardworking, functioning, not too much feeling person. And, well for me personally, it came through my artistic activities that I got back to feeling and how important that is to be alive and give my full. From dance improv and in more recent years, and I believe that I bring a lot of that into my leadership development work, not by having the people dance, although I did once do a tango course, but it’s more probably to my way of being. I show up in a way that is like moving a lighter or bringing humor or sharing a personal story or asking a question in a training that is about people’s childhoods. So then they can connect with that and they realize that they feel much more alive being there as a social human beings.

Yeah. It’s the modeling style of leadership. I believe in that too. I mean, people will mirror back to you how you’re showing up.

And everyone wants that in the end. I remember once I did a workshop, one of my first workshops where I used more artistic techniques and asking people more personal questions and had been scared to do that because, Oh, in the corporate world they say, Hey, it’s so strange to them. And I shared that with my acting coach who was also a great coach, life and success coach. And I said, you know, they really liked it. They went away in the afterwards. So they talk more how much they had benefited of this. And he’d just laugh like Sylvia, but they’re human beings. Of course. They like it. He’s so right!

I mean, we’re just all having a human experience together.

Exactly. I think that’s very important for us. Leadership consultants and coaches, it’s really important not to lose sight of the fact that even the most quantity people or the highest executive, they’re human beings who have the same needs and basic humanity as everyone else. So if they are too busy or in an environment that makes it difficult to get in touch with that doesn’t mean that they actually ultimately do not want to be in connection with that. And I think it’s also to be in service of them to create that space.

No matter what level you’re at, it doesn’t matter. Yeah. So what’s, what’s laying in your heart that you need to get out into the world?

You mean what is my desire for what? Well, what is really in my heart is, I believe that leadership really matters. And that is the leadership, like excellent leadership of organizations and of countries. But it’s also leadership taking the lead and standing up somewhere and saying, well, I believe in this. I think it’s the right thing to do. So, or I gave them a workshop for school students, high school finalists recently, and one of the girls said at the end, what I learned that I have to take leadership for my own life. And that’s something that I’m really passionate about and I know for myself that I don’t always get this right. It’s really hard. I’m not always the perfect leader of my own life, but I believe too, and that’s probably my, the other passion in my heart is to live our lives to the fullest. And that means necessarily that we have to too take courage and step up and make decisions that might not feel comfortable always, or say things that are not comfortable. But if we hold ourselves back at the end of the day, we step into this little rectangular thing or go as ashes into the wind and we will regret not to have lived our lives to the fullest.

I love that. So really you’re talking my language here, talking about self-leadership. Leadership from the inside out, starting with self. You talked about modeling and now you’re talking about teaching young women the same philosophy, which is beautiful. When you’re engaging with some of these younger women, how are they responding to what you’re saying? Do they understand?

I have the feeling that the younger generation understands probably more of that than my own generation. They will use a different language. I mean I have two teenage daughters and they don’t really like to speak to me as their mother about these things. When I listened to them, they actually get pretty much, right? And they are further advanced then we were in my generation or most of us. I think that still our society right now gives more space for self-realization, even demands it. I grew up still with parents who were young people during the Second World War and was more like fit in, and do what is socially acceptable. Whereas today there’s much more talk about do what’s right for you and who are you, what do you want? So I think they naturally also, when I hear them talk to among themselves, it’s much more of a talk. So I think they are pretty advanced with us.

That’s actually lovely to hear. That’s very lovely to hear. One of the things I wanted to go back to, you said sometimes you don’t always get it right. Are you willing to share with us like one of the stories where maybe you didn’t get it right?

So where I don’t step up into my full leadership. I think it’s especially in the corporate world when I know the politics and I respect the politics too much. So I was like, Oh, if I do this, then that, rather than saying, Hey, Sylvia, what are you doing here? This is so important that you should be doing it. So, for instance, I’m currently involved in a leadership initiative in my organization and I’m realizing today that I’ve been waiting far too long to accept that other people are kind of blocking it a little bit because it’s not so convenient for them.

And so that’s where I see like, Sylvia, you’ve been holding yourself back that it’s too important to accept that. So they might get annoyed with me taking more space, but here I need to step up. So that’s actually something that I’ve just decided that I really need for the sake of organization. I have to step up here. And that’s probably when thinking what, what helps me when I get it right is to connect to my purpose. Why is that important? And then also when, when I do get it right is to connect to my values because I tend to suffer and feel that when I would have the alignment between what I do and what my values are. It doesn’t feel good.

Where do you feel that, how like if there’s a woman listening to us right now going, how does she know that? How does she sense that for herself?

Well, for me it’s probably that I realized that something is off. It just feels off like it just like doesn’t, I have a feeling in my tummy, but I think it’s just like people who get depression, they’d probably, Oh, not all of them, but it’s very often it can be that something is really off and then we suppress that. I’ve been there in my past when I, for instance, when I was married before my current marriage and I was in that marriage for a long time. It’s a very dear man. But I didn’t realize that he was my best friend and not my man. And I felt for a long time, like not just, I lacked energy and when I realized that it’s sad, this is not okay.

And then I realized it’s so much not okay. So I’m out of alignment. I’m living a lie because I’m together with a man who is my best friend, but I’m pretending to be his lover. That’s not okay. So then I decided to leave and it was very painful. But, my God, I had so much energy when I made the decision, and I think it’s the same thing when we feel in, like with this leadership thing, I felt like, okay, I have to navigate the current of organization politics, but it feels heavy. And then when I decided, no, this is not good, I have to add then like you feel in alignment, I think it’s being feeling off and feeling in alignment.

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Yeah. A couple of the things you said, like sometimes you feel it in your body sometimes, but it’s more of for me, I always say it feels like it’s, why do I have to keep pushing? Like why does it feel like such a push? And sometimes it just feels like, well, we’re just going, we’re just doing this, right?

Also when I’m thinking about things a lot, do you experience that where you’re like thinking about it over and over and over, like why am I thinking about this so much?

You know, I don’t get that. I think about also I’m so passionate it’s going well, but for me it’s really more about, I don’t feel well, so why not? I feel well, what’s going on? I got that the first times during my studies when I realized I’m not feeling well. What’s going on? And then when I have allowed myself a moment of stillness. So yeah, I will not go out tonight to see my friends. I will stay at home and just be with myself to find out what’s going on. I think that’s one way to get in touch with what’s actually going on. Why do I not feel well and then get back into alignment.

That is golden. it sounds simple and I just want to put some space around this because it does sound in a way, simple. I just stay in, I don’t go out with my friends. I just kind of sit with my emotions. But it’s very difficult in practice because it’s doesn’t seem like it’s always in our nature to want to feel that.

And to just be the nature is to do the opposite. To go out with friends, the party, party, party so we don’t feel, yeah, no. What I realized at that time already is I did party, party, party, party, so I didn’t feel, and then there was no party. Oh my God! So then I realize now I feel really lousy. That’s a big thing because there’s no party, no friends around. So why do I feel so shitty? It’s not because the friends are not around for an evening. It’s because there’s something that is off.

It’s kind of like going to the emotional gym. Do you teach this to your leaders? Do you work on this kind of thing with?

To go into stillness? Yeah. In individual coaching sometimes. And I’ve recently thought that I should do more of that because there’s a lot, a lot in that.

Yeah. There is. And that’s why I’m kind of going a little deeper with you on this cause you’re very willing to share. And it’s something that I’ve been unpacking with everybody I’m talking to. I think people want to learn how to notice this in themselves and it shows up in a little bit different way for everybody.

Do you know what I’m thinking of doing is a movement workshop where I’ve learned that more when I did improv dance where you actually practice the meaningful movements. Something that actually says something. So if you arrived there on the dance floor and you just move, it’s, at least for me, when I practiced, it wasn’t as good because it came from the head. So I will move my arm like this, but it was a bit empty. Whereas when I get still and stop thinking and let the music move me, then something came out. So you could replace that with a music of life. But you can do a practice where if I think about a workshop, you can do a practice with real music.

This is so good. You know, I in recent years have something similar. It’s not with dance, it’s with my voice. And I just started to sing. Like I don’t think about it. I just sing words or I just start singing and I think that it’s emotions coming out. I think that it’s spontaneous emotions being released. Sounds very similar to what you’re describing. I love it. I’m all for that. Tell me when you’re having one of those types of shots. I’m a horrible dancer. I’m a horrible singer too.

I always played them. I was in the orchestra, I played instruments. So singing isn’t my first gift.

But you do it!

But, I do it! Isn’t that strange? Oh my gosh. Where do we go from here? That’s it. Yeah. Yeah.

I think one important thing that I have found is that when something is really important, then at least I don’t worry about what it takes to do it. So people have told me that. Why do you do that? Or once when my first job, I sacked a consultant because they weren’t really doing their job. I found that they were just taking the money and had a good time and I figured out with my experts inside the organization, together with myself, where we would do that more easily. I was just annoyed about the fact that they were basically taking advantage of a situation presented, been there for the past three years or so.

So I said, well, we will finish the contract. And he said, well, she has courage just to send us away because you will be without our help. But I felt that that’s the right thing to do. It’s not okay to pay them thousands and thousands for them actually not doing anything. And then I’d rather dig in myself and have my colleagues be involved, then have the situation continue. So I didn’t care that that would take some time to get it done. And there’s similar issues. I think when we are really convinced that that’s the right thing to heck with the extra work, it doesn’t really matter how,

How do you know it’s the right thing? Because even you were providing, which was a really powerful part of your story when you decided to leave your first husband anymore. That’s like a big decision, that’s no messing around. So how do you know what, where does the knowing come from to have the courage to take those steps? Because I can see that as a pattern for you, like a positive pattern, but I know that it takes a lot of courage.

It’s probably knowing when it becomes, it’s again, it’s the “being off” or it’s with my, living with my husband who I really, really as we still are in contact and someone who’s a very good person. I just felt it was so wrong to pretend to be in love with someone when he’s just a good friend and he is expecting something else. And I also married something else that’s not okay and it, because it’s not okay. It became really painful. It was really unbearable. I was feeling really, I’m suffering and I will. I’m afraid of leaving the situation because people will be judging me. I will be alone. I will leave, I will lose my best friend. But, it was not like as hard as living in a situation where I felt like this is so wrong and that I felt physically – I really felt like this is wow, I can’t do this.

Yeah. But you carry that through your leadership style in every way!

In many instances, yes. And then, as I said before, there are moments where I felt like, no. It doesn’t stop how difficult it is. And so I’m asking myself because I’m still, myself, on that path. I am not happy with myself always. I feel like I have to be more courageous. I have to be more out there. I have to take more of a stance. So what is it that can help us to do that better? What is it that can help me? And if I get better at it, but I’m able also to help others more, that would be because I think it’s really important in terms of giving something to the world, but also being happy inside.

Do you consider this developing your intuition? Is that part of it for you?

I think it’s a feeling thing, yeah. And trusting the intuition. Also not saying, well that’s as someone said when we had our first daughter at the crash lady said, well, mothers and fathers, if you have a feeling when you leave your baby with us, that she is not happy because you see her. It’s just your parental emotions. It’s not that. I was like, Hey, my parental emotion! That’s probably the most important emotion that anyone can have. And I think it’s the trusting the emotions,

The first thing that I feel, it’s probably the right thing. The first thing. You feel that that’s an important tidbit right there! The first thing!

Yeah. And something that actually helped me so much during that time when I separated from my husband is, I didn’t go anywhere. I was, should I stay? Should I go? It’s awful. So I wasn’t moving anywhere. And the good friend was actually the improv teacher. He said, Sylvia, stop mixing, feeling and thinking. It doesn’t work because your thinking is constantly interfering with the feeling. Do the following, Sylvia, sit down and feel, no thinking. Just feel the feeling to how you would feel when you are with your husband and feel and replace that with other any choice and feel with how will you feel when you are alone. Or do you feel and then start thinking again and then I felt clearly, well shit! Well good. Now, I have to do something about this.

I got it now the brain needs to kick in! Oh my gosh. This has been so good. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Before we wrap, the first thing I want to do is encourage you to relisten to this interview. There is some really deep moments in here. We really go, I think, further than I’ve gone with anybody else in the interviews around this idea of connecting to your purpose and what it feels like when things are off. Sylvia lays out her process. When something isn’t aligned. She describes it as feeling off and potentially in her body, you know, maybe in her stomach, but she describes a lack of energy. She talks about feeling heavy and then her three step process for working around that. And I know that this takes muscle, this takes mental muscle and going to the gym around this.

But if you didn’t catch it, she described one, I don’t feel well, something feels off.

The second step of her process asking her why, what might be going on? So having that self-reflection.

And then the third part of the process is being with herself.

Now, something really like of interest to me is her in the interview talking about her conversation with one of her teachers where he said, now Sylvia don’t mix feeling and thinking and something that I, that wasn’t on my mind at the time that I was having conversation with Sylvia that I want to plant. I’m just going to add to the conversation and then leave it with you to think about. I think there’s a step further. I think there’s something else to say to that which is don’t mix feeling and BEING and how do sometimes our feelings keep us separate and distracted from being, I wonder what Sylvia would think about that! Dang it. Well, at a minimum, I’d love to hear what you think, so reach out. You know where I’m at. and I’m on LinkedIn. You’ve got my email and I can’t wait to talk to you soon.

About Sylvia Rohde-Liebenau

STB 022 | Sylvia Rohde Liebenau

I’m a coach, mediator and leadership passionate, responsible for leadership development at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. Beyond, I’m busy supporting leaders to grow in their inner leadership game… and succeed with their outer challenges.

I’ve been doing a range of different things in my life – from International relations, human rights, development cooperation and consulting, HR, coaching, management and leadership, to dance, painting, music and acting. And being a mother… a great land of learning !

My superpowers are my ability to see things from new and different angles, my creativity, and my capacity to – as a friend once put it “create order out of chaos”.

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