Titles do not make leaders
"You are a manager, advisor, inspirer, controller, mother, confessor, fireman, mediator - and no doubt, more. Dealing with feedback that stings and navigating personality differences are undoubtedly challenging – but there is no need for self-flagellation. As a good leader, no feedback should catch you off guard. " – says Marta Tęsiorowska, vice president, Head of Marketing & Communications, Prologis Europe, as she candidly unveils the intricacies of leadership, recounting her professional journey with remarkable openness.
In the interview for Kornblit Talks Marta Tęsiorowska talks about pivotal issues regarding leadership, among others:
Glass cliff and subtle discrimination
“At Prologis, glass ceilings are something we actively dispel with. Competence and experience are gender-neutral for us. We champion inclusivity as an ongoing commitment. Unfortunately, industry-wide challenges persist. Beyond the well-known glass ceiling perception, there are also ‘glass walls’ restricting movement between departments; under the guise of ‘unsuitable for women’. This subtle discrimination with overtones of ‘well-meaning’ ignores our unique strengths, experiences and potential. The assumption (from above) is that because as women, we have to cope with pregnancy, family or menopause, and so we mustn’t be capable of ambitious projects—an assumption based on little or no dialogue with said women. And what about the misconception that ‘family’ is top priority only for women? I’d say, many men would also consider family more important than career.
Glass ceilings and walls are accompanied by what’s known as a ‘glass cliff.’ Ever wonder when a woman is most likely to secure a prominent role as CEO or managing director? It’s when she starts her own company or when the proposed position comes with a high risk of failure. In such situations, there are fewer risk-takers: Women are often ready to embrace this challenge because it’s a chance to showcase our capabilities and break through barriers. This phenomenon is what we call the glass cliff.
My belief isn’t that women should be treated differently, but for everyone to be treated fairly and equally.”
Challenges in new professional role
“In a higher position, you are constantly assessed by your superiors, colleagues and subordinates. The fear of losing your position looms, and the job market may offer fewer similar positions once lost. This fear can be paralysing, impacting decisions negatively. The most challenging aspect is a sort of isolation, which can be particularly painful if the promotion is internal. Former peers, with whom you once shared thoughts and challenges, become your subordinates. Now, as a leader, you manage a team, provide support and make decisions about promotions and raises – your current role requires careful consideration of the information you share. The key is finding your footing in the new role while maintaining positive relationships – this is the essence of leadership development.
As a good leader, no feedback should catch you off guard. You’re already in the loop, engaging in conversations, and open to various opinions. Constructive feedback serves as a guide to realign with your chosen path, all without the need for self-flagellation.
I find support in informal groups, like a circle of trusted women in the industry where we can openly share challenging experiences. Realising that you’re not alone in facing these issues helps to normalise the situation, and that, in itself, is reassuring. I’ve also found recalling positive feedback about myself works like an energy booster. In moments of doubt, revisiting these affirmations acts like a medicine for me.”
“There is one crucial skill applicable to everyone, regardless of age or role: empathy. The empathy is extremely important, as an entire team tends to rally behind an empathetic leader. It also serves to foster inclusivity within a team or company. An empathetic leader adeptly tailors individual motivators to each team member, comprehending their unique situations and needs.
In the role of Head of Marketing and Communications Prologis for the European region, I lead a team comprising a dozen passionate and creative individuals from various European countries. Leading such a diverse team poses its challenges. To foster an inclusive work environment, a leader assumes multiple roles or hats: manager, advisor, inspirer, controller, mother, confessor, fireman, mediator. My goal is to create a workplace where despite different hats, masks aren’t necessary—that is, presenting a version of themselves they believe their employer expects. Research indicates that individuals expend 40 to 60 percent of their energy ensuring they have the right mask on at work. This lack of authenticity correlates with low productivity. Inclusivity isn’t just a slogan or a management trend. It tangibly impacts results and business.
Personally, I find a great joy in working with my team. They express their thoughts freely, unafraid to challenge me by asking “why?” It’s like collaborating with Marvel heroes – each team member possesses their unique superpower.”
“Authenticity plays a crucial role: you gain the trust of the team if you are genuine and open. People begin to open up when they feel confident that you have their back. My own journey with self-confidence was a bit different. I learned that my fearlessness and unyielding determination was actually masking my lack of self-confidence. Fortunately, through valuable leadership training and mentoring, I no longer have that mask. My fearlessness and determination now come from knowing myself, my values and my skills.”
“I see role models in most of the women I have met in my life. They have sparked inspiration and motivated me to take action. It’s essential to focus on someone’s attitude, a specific situation or an accomplishment rather than their entire life. We often sell ourselves short by comparing our complete life story and achievements to glimpses of other people’s lives, seen through a narrow keyhole. The glimpse we have access to is often a carefully curated construct, which reveals only fragments, and yet, we measure our entire existence against these limited glimpses.”
Normalizing taboo topics
“The aim of Prologis Voices project is to normalise taboo topics within the organisation. During our online meetings, we tackle subjects such as the war in Ukraine, ADHD, depression; issues that are relevant to us and impact the way we live and work.
Recently, we discussed fertility problems, recognising that many of us face this issue. Our aim is to destigmatise the conversation, making it easier for someone dealing with fertility challenges to discuss it openly with their manager. We also seek to raise awareness among leaders, providing guidance on how to handle such situations and approach employees. What does a manager usually do when he/she finds out that an employee is planning an in-vitro procedure? This is a process stretched over months, even years. Should the manager refrain from assigning new projects to this person? Should promotions be withheld because she might become pregnant sooner? These are the fears that keep employees silent.
At the Voices meeting we introduced the new ‘Fertility Benefit’ concerning infertility treatment, taking the first step in normalising this topic within the organisation. It turns out that many people around me have experienced or are currently struggling with a similar issue. The program is now fully operational in Europe. This initiative is designed to provide financial and organisational support to our employees and their partners dealing with infertility diagnosis and treatment. Research by the World Health Organisation indicates that one in five individuals, regardless of gender, is currently facing fertility issues; marking it as a modern health challenge. We provide subsidies for egg freezing and in-vitro procedures, extending support to adoption processes and consultations with specialists for both women and men. Additionally, we offer extra paid days off for individuals undergoing IVF or adopting children. I take great pride in this initiative and am pleased that our organisation believes in and supports such projects.”
“Embracing change frequently demands courage, as most of us have an internal saboteur whispering doubts and questions like “Why make change?”, “Why take risks?” or “The endeavour might fail, and you’ll have to rebuild from scratch.” Women, in particular, sometimes hesitate to step forward for exciting projects, whilst grappling with feelings of inadequacy. On the contrary, research suggests that men typically require less than 50 percent of the necessary competencies to express interest in a project or apply for a particular position.
Even before facing the actual circumstances, we worry about our ability to handle them. I’m not advocating a blind ‘you go, girls!’ approach, but let’s shift our focus from worst-case scenarios to potential benefits. You need to take action—raise your hand, make yourself noticed. Approach your supervisor or leader and share what excites you in your work, express where you see yourself in the organisation and discuss what would help you thrive. No one can read your mind. Before making drastic decisions – like quitting – engage in a conversation with your boss or HR to explore options for change or development. If those options are limited or non-existent, then reconsider the decision of changing your job.
So, if you’ve hit a wall and feel helpless, look within – often, just making a decision will bring you peace of mind.”
If you want to live a life and develop professionally in harmony with your values, be sure to read this interview: full version available in Polish.