Naji: Hello, leaders of the word. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose driven healthcare leaders, striving to make lives better around the words by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership and love. I’m Naji, your host for this episode, we’re joined by Professor Loredana Padurean, associate dean at the all new Asia School of Business, the collaboration between the central bank of Malaysia, MIT Sloan, and the international faculty fellow at MIT, Sloan.
Loredana is the faculty director for action learning and innovation and entrepreneurship at ASB. She has been an energizing force behind the establishment of the school. Under her leadership, the action learning program at ASB was recognized repeatedly as one of the most innovative program in the world.
She is an international keynote speaker and TEDx speaker. She has taught in various MIT Sloan exec programs, at AMD as well as in major companies. Professor Loredana has a MA in communication and economics and a PhD in management from USI, Switzerland.
And I am just so thrilled to have you Loredana with me today and looking forward for our chat.
Loredana Padurean: Thank you. I’m very excited to do this with you Naji. Thank you for having me.
Naji: Loredana, I would love to learn more about your personal story from Romania to Malaysia, economics, management, three known international leader and professor now, what’s in between the lines of this amazing journey.
Loredana Padurean: So, I always say that I’m an accidental professor.
I actually never really wanted to be a professor and before I became an academic, I had 19 different jobs anywhere from working in life insurance, to hospitality, transportation, construction, sales, marketing, media. I used to have a TV show called Fashion Police, where I used to arrest people on the street for bad taste and give them a make-over life on camera.
So, I’m purely an accidental professor. So I was born in Romania and I was born in Romania during communism, towards the end of communism. And I actually spent most of my early, and mid twenties in Romania. And I had a couple of attempts to try to figure out what do I want to do with my life.
And, I had a startup, right after college because it turns out nobody would hire me. So I decided to hire myself. That’s what entrepreneurs do. And I learned very quickly that I’m really, really good at marketing and I’m very creative, but I was terrible at accounting and finance. So the business failed.
And with that realization in mind, I applied for a masters in economics and communication in Switzerland. I got in and while I was there, I was one of the first generations. It was a brand new university, and I was one of the first generations and the program needed some hands-on management. And as a student, I decided that I’m going to be the leader everybody’s waiting for. So I became the manager of the program and that’s how I got involved with the academic life.
But even so, I didn’t think, or I never considered that I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I wanted to graduate and start my own business. But before graduation, I was actually offered a scholarship from the Swiss National Foundation. I had to compete for a scholarship and the scholarship covered about two years of a PhD program, during which I got exposed to MIT and especially MIT Sloan. And I have to say, I have met a few people at MIT that changed the way I thought professors were. So I don’t know about you Naji, but I grew up with pretty conventional professors, you know the kind of old men, mostly white, at least in my culture who would sit down at the teacher’s desk at the professor’s desk and read from a book in the most boring monotone voice ever and they would expect you to get excited about the subject. And even during my master’s program, I had a majority of them were like that. I had a few exceptions, but there were so few and there were no women, especially when I lived in Switzerland, we only had one woman professor.
And, when I came to MIT just as a visitor, I remember sitting in Charlie Fine’s class and Roberto Rigobon and Roberto Fernandez, three outstanding professors at MIT who I worship. And I thought, Whoa, people can be like, this teachers can be like this. Professors can be like this. Well, then I decided that, I mean, I didn’t even decide. I realized that, you know what, I actually, I can actually be whomever I want. And I think this is why role models and representation is so important because I never, ever, ever imagined that somebody like me, I’m very boisterous, I’m very outgoing, I’m extremely unconventional on academic terms, could be an academic. And then I saw Roberto Rigobon through, I don’t know, through a puppet, somebody, and he started speaking in Spanish and then he started singing a song and it was like the most entertaining thing that I’ve ever seen. And I thought I can be like that.
So, I did my PhD, but I also got very excited about the MIT culture of action learning and action research. So I decided to do my PhD, but I did a PhD in action research because I’m very entrepreneurial. And instead of just writing a thesis, I actually took over a bankrupted ski resort in Switzerland and I spent two and a half years in the middle of the mountain, recovering the resort and writing my thesis. And then after that, I got my PhD. I moved to Boston where I taught for a while at Brandeis University, and then I continue my relationship with MIT by teaching for MIT at the Indian school of business in India.
And that’s how I got recruited for Asia school of business. I was in India, and they were looking for somebody crazy enough to start, to join the startup in Malaysia. And, I thought, I don’t even know where Malaysia is, but it must be interesting and it must be fun to start a business from scratch. So in a nutshell, that’s the story.
Naji: Wow, amazing. And you know, you gave so many topics. I’d love to go to the first one. You said unconventional, and I know even on your personal page, you say unapologetically unconventional, and you’ve talked about being, you know, different, being yourself. This is one of the hardest thing I feel for leaders. Like, be yourself, everyone say it, but it’s so hard, you know, in the society.
So why unconventional? What are conventions that can probably even harm us sometimes right? And how to fight those and be yourself? I’d love to have your reactions on this.
Loredana Padurean: So my handler is the unconventional professor and unapologetically unconventional. And I have to say, I didn’t think of myself as unconventional. I didn’t use this word, but it was very much my audience, the market, the people that met me that said that I was unconventional. I think because I didn’t plan to be an academic and I didn’t have role models from the academic traditional world. When I joined the academia, I joined us myself.
And my self is a pretty colorful, very open, very direct, very straightforward, Easter European woman with a big mouth. And it turns out that it’s not a typical model, is not a conventional model that you see in, especially once I started living in Asia, but even in the US, I was pretty out of the box.
And for a while, every time somebody would say, oh my God, you are a professor, but you don’t look like a professor or, oh my God, you are a professor, but you don’t act like a professor. I would always say, what is your expectation? How do you want me to act? How do you want me to behave? What is the model that you have in your mind that I’m challenging? And is it me that I’m the challenger or easy view that maybe you should open your models? And you say that it’s hard to be unconventional in general, imagine how hard it is to be a woman in a leadership position. So let’s not forget about that.
And, so I had this interesting relationship with how people would perceive me and how I had to make not only peace with being perceived as a very different than unconventional person, but to own it, to embrace it and to make it into my own brand. I didn’t start as a branded professor quite the opposite, but at some point I said, you know what? Everybody else thinks that I’m so unconventional, and I think once you see me teach, you realize that I’m pretty theatrical. I think of my classes upstage, I’m a performer, but once people sort of branded me as unconventional. I took it, I owned it and I literally ran with it. And, we actually built ASB with unconventional as one of our attributes.
So ASB stands for two attributes. It’s a school of business, extraordinary and unconventional, because I realized that I have to be other people like us out there who are crazy enough to join a brand new startup in Malaysia. Other than association with MIT Sloan, but it’s still a brand new school. You have to be a little bit unconventional.
You have to have a little bit more of a crazy streak, right?
Naji: I love it. Moving from unconventional to owning it, embracing it and running with it. I think it’s a great inspiration for many women and leaders that are listening to us.
One of the things, you know, I’d love to jump into a key topic we both discussed, soft and hard skills, right. So outdated, type of definition. And the podcast here, our podcast is all about love, all about caring for one another. And many times I hear these are the soft skills while it’s, I’m convinced, these are the core skills, right, for any business to succeed. And then I heard what you say, smart and chart. So this is it. Tell us more about it.
Loredana Padurean: So, since this is very much a podcast about healthcare, I’m sure you know, but if you don’t know, the concept of soft and hard was actually invented by a US army doctor in 1972, who noticed that different troops have different type of skills. There are people in the battalions were very good at machines, guns, you know, the technology, I guess, shooting people, I don’t know. And he called this the real skills, the hard skills. And for everything else that he didn’t know how to name, he called them the soft skills, like dealing with people, paperwork administration, et cetera. So this was in 1972 Naji, and if you think about it, this is a 50 year old concept, which served us well for a while, but as society has evolved as values evolve, as the way we interact with each other, and we think about our values evolve.
When I started ASB, I was thinking, you know, I’m so fed up with hearing that, oh, this is soft skills. And I remember when I moved to ASB, I left Boston and I went to my previous boss who I adored. Her name is Nancy Waldron, she’s a professor at LaSalle College and, I told Nancy, I said Nancy, I’m really worried about this job, it’s a big job, I’ve never done anything like this, I don’t understand much about financial statements and I’m not sure that I even know how to balance the books even today. And Nancy looked at me and she smiled a little bit, like the way you smile at the dumb child. And she said, oh, Loredana don’t worry, the job is easy, the people are not. And boy, was she right? Because it turns out that it was not the hard skills that I needed to master, but it was the soft skills that made my job and myself very difficult to work with and work with others.
So everyday I would hear about a conflict or be part of a conflict or experienced somebody who would have a conflict about managing that, about keeping their emotions into check because of stress, about dealing with diversity, about dealing with their board and all of this came from the soft skills, so-called. So I started thinking, why do we call this skill soft? I mean, there’s nothing soft about it. The dictionary defines soft as gentle, tender, fragile, and there’s nothing fragile about this skills. There’s also feminine association to soft skills. Oh, women are very good and soft, because they are soft. Well, you haven’t met me, honey, because not all women are soft. And then, I also did not like the way we think of hard skills as hard. So you’re obviously MIT, right? MIT is the godfather, the godmother of hard skills, right? It’s all about engineering and math and finance and chemistry and astronomy and et cetera. But as a child, as a young person growing up, I would always hear that, oh, these are the hard skills. And there was such, you know, implication that they were difficult. They were challenging. They were more, you know, more, tasking then the other skills. And there was an implication that they were also rigid, that once you know them, you know them, right?
So I said, no, no, no, no. I don’t like this, enough for the soft and hard skills. Let’s get smart in sharping stuff because the truth is, in the absence of smart skills, you’re actually dumber, right? Somebody who doesn’t know how to work with other people, somebody who doesn’t know how to navigate multiple cultures, somebody who doesn’t know how to deal with stress, that doesn’t make you, you know, harder. It just makes you dumber. And then sharp skills, we call them sharp skills, and this is the idea of my co-author Professor Charles Fine from MIT, who is the president of ASB. Charlie said, you know, the truth is that this technical skills today, especially, are not static, which the word hard implies, but they actually have to constantly be updated. You can’t really say, oh, Naji, congratulations, you learned a software language, you good for life. Probably in two years, it’s going to be obsolete. So you constantly have to sharpen them, constantly have to update them. So enough with soft and hard, people, get smart and sharp instead. That’s what I’m doing.
Naji: I love it. That’s what I will be doing too. I think, you know, for the 50th anniversary next year, we should like stop using soft and hard. It’s all about smart and sharp. Let’s do it.
Loredana Padurean: Yay, I love that!
Naji: It started in healthcare. So that’s make sure that healthcare disrupted too. You know, we got started here. I know each one of the letters has a meaning and has a specific skill or capability within smart and sharp, and I will definitely put them, you know, on the page and people can look at them and look at the great work you’re doing at ASB.
I have maybe a challenging question for you on this. If there is only one, between those that you would definitely think a leader should invest and, or half, you know, I don’t know if it’s something that’s can be built or if it’s something that, you know, can be nurtured, what would be this one skill?
Loredana Padurean: Yeah. So believe it or not, I get this question all the time because people want to know what’s the number one. So I came up with top 10 for each category, and now you asked me to choose one. I would say for smart skills, probably the most challenging and comprehensive inclusive skill is cognitive readiness.
And for sharp skill, I’m going to choose an MIT sharp skills, which is a system dynamics. And believe it or not, this two feed off each other, they co-exist, they have a ying and yang relationship.
So let me start with cognitive readiness. I used to only be a professor of management and my life was very easy, and then I got promoted and I became a manager and my life became very hard. So warning to people listening, if you get promoted, it’s not always for the better. So, one of the things that I heard a lot as a manager, as a leader, as a director, et cetera, was that I always had to be mentally ready, for no matter what. And I kept thinking, how does one stay always mentally ready? I mean, I know when Olympians train for the Olympics and they managed, probably working in two Olympics or even three, if they’re super humans, they train all the time. How do we train our brain all the time to be cognitively ready? And the more I started to learn about this skill cognitive readiness, which is defined as the ability to be mentally ready, no matter when, no matter what in any kind of circumstance. I realized that it’s actually a little bit of balancing of system one and system two, which is slow thinking versus fast thinking. On one hand, I need to slow thing, new problems, new challenges. So thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman, I’m quoting now, but you’re on one hand you have to slow things that you see for the first time that you face for the first time, or they’re too complicated to go into your automatic processor.
But at the same time, you have to practice fast thinking. So it’s almost like you’re driving on two lanes at two different speeds at all time. So your brain has to co-exist in this two dimensions, and I think Professor Kahneman was talking about the fact that slow thinking is something that requires a lot of energy, you know, requires a lot of mental space, it’s very taxing. And you tend to do it when you learn things for the first time, when you approach a problem for the first time when you face something for the first time. Versus, you know, fast thinking is thinking about driving. If you know how to drive or, you know, even walking, if you think about it, when you were a baby, you don’t think about those things.
So cognitive readiness, the way I understand, it is balancing fast and slow thinking, but doing it simultaneously, which is very hard. And that’s why, and I’m sure as a medical expert, you probably heard this a lot in the past 18 months that people accused very high levels of mental fatigue during the pandemic.
We are actually a lot more mentally tired in the past almost two years, because we exist in this two lanes. We are constantly in this two lanes and the transition in between the two lanes is very fast and also these two lanes are running at the same time. So that’s cognitive readiness as my number one smart skill.
If you want to know more about the sharp scale, like I said, system dynamics for me is probably one of the sharpest skills in the toolbox. And Professor Nelson Repenning at MIT, he’s extraordinary at teaching system dynamics, and Professor John Sterman as well, and system dynamics is just teaches you how to think, in function of systems and how to understand the different parts of a system co-exist, co-relate, co influence each other. And it’s so interesting I’ve noticed that during the pandemic, a lot of great leaders who sort of were ready, cognitively ready, they were ready because they applied the system thinking. They said, all right, if we’re going to have a pandemic, the first thing is going to get affected is travel. If trackable got affected, supply chains will get effected. If supply chains will get affected, production will get affected. Consumptions will got affected. Retail will get affected. Banking will get affected. So I noticed that true successful leaders during this 18 months of pandemic or two years almost by now were great because they applied both cognitive readiness and system dynamics.
Naji: Those are great insights and yeah, definitely being a student of system dynamics, I think that, everything changed in my view around the world, like it’s all interrelated with the loop. So I am definitely conquered.
So you talked a little bit about the pandemic efforts, that we’re still going through. Did you see, or did you rethink any of those smart and sharp skills relative to the virtual world or the pandemic itself?
Loredana Padurean: I did. I actually, so I’m about to release a white paper in December. So whenever we’re gonna feature this podcast, I will share with you the link to the white paper and I’m also working on a book called The job is easy, the people are not: top 10 smart skills to help people become better. And one of the skills that I learned, actually, I don’t know if I learned, but it was definitely validated by the pandemic was emotional maturity and validation. So emotional maturity, which is very different than emotional intelligence, emotional maturity is defined as the capacity to understand, manage your own emotions and emotions about those around you, and, actually for the the book I interviewed Professor Roberto Fernandez from MIT, Sloan, and Roberto talks about emotional awareness as well, not just emotional maturity. So why am I saying this? The workforce during pandemic accused very, very high levels of stress because of all the changes that we were going through and like I said, because of this constant state of being alert, of being cognitively ready. And when you are in very stressful situations and you know, your doctors are not going to tell you about adrenal glands and cortisol, and you know, all the hormones that get released during negative situations, but during very stressful times, you either fight or flight or run, right?
And most people started to lose the shields that made them nice to work with, easy to work with, great colleagues because you go sort of like in survival mode. So emotional maturity became very, very important during the pandemic because you have to practice a lot more self-awareness about what your emotional state, how would that impact or affect the meeting? What kind of energy do you bring in a meeting and how it will, that energy can teach others? And then another skill that I learned, and I have to say if there’s one smart skill next to next to cognitive readiness that I worship, and I pray to is validation. So I used to think that validation was just another way of giving a person a compliment Naji, great job with a podcast. I listened to three episodes, I was in Prague. Great job. That is not validation. That actually is just cheering, right? It’s trying to provide a compliment. Validation is saying, you know Naji, I listened to this podcast with Dr. Adam and I learned about the importance of having medical equity and medical information as a patient. And once I learned that, it made me realize how important it is for me to be properly educated as a patient. And I could go on and on. So validation is evidence-based affirmation, evidence-based detailed description of the value that you provided. Now, why is that even more important during the pandemic?
Before pandemic, we had body language, right? I can see you now on the screen. I can see that you’re smiling. I hope that you’re smiling because of what I’m saying, you could be smiling because you have a cat under your table, I don’t know. Because of the Zoom environment, we make assumptions on how the other person perceives us, reacts to us, engages with us, thinks about us, but we are very much in the dark. Validation becomes a massive positive management tool to help people understand what is it about their job that creates value. What about their job helps you and helps others. And because it’s evidence-based, right, it’s specific I’m telling you what I like about Dr. Adam’s observations about medical equity. You also understand how to further build your next step. So I’ll end here. But before that, I’ll say I learned about validation from Oprah, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah interviewed, I don’t know how many over 2000 top celebrities in the world and she said that she realized that if there’s one person that, if there’s one thing that every person she interviewed has in common is the need for validation. I saw her in an interview saying that Beyoncé was on her show and at the end of a song, she sang a song for the small audience in her studio. Beyoncé sort of looked at Oprah and she said, how was it? Was it good? And Oprah was shocked. You’re Beyoncé, why do you even bother asking? And then in that moment, it clicked for her that it doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re Queen Elizabeth or Queen B validation is equally important because we want to know through evidence-based affirmation, that what we do creates value.
Naji: Wow, I love it. Well, thanks for the validation first, I have to thank you for it.
Loredana Padurean: Very well deserved.
Naji: And it’s so powerful. Yeah, I think it’s just all that you said, this really is a managerial powerful too, but even a human too, right? For all of human. Yes.
Loredana Padurean: Yeah, by the way, guys, if you’re listening, when your wife is asking, does this dress make me look fat? The answer is never, I don’t know, right? She’s not looking for feedback. She’s looking for validation. Very good for relationship too.
Naji: I will give you a couple of words, now one word, and I would love to get your reaction to this word. So the first one is leadership.
Loredana Padurean: Hassle. You want me to expand?
Naji: Yes, that’s unconventional.
Loredana Padurean: Well, like I said, I had the best job in the world. I was a professor of management and then I got promoted and I became a manager and the director and the leader. Maybe it is because as a professor, you feel like you have a lot of freedom and a lot of oh, you have a lot of responsibility, but you have a lot of autonomy. Whereas a leader, one of the smart skills that a leader must practice is followership.
So followership is top 10 of my smart skills and followership doesn’t mean that I’m following my boss because as a leader, assuming that I don’t have that many bosses. Followership followership means that I have to follow my vision, my mission, my standards, my stakeholders, my community, people that invested in me and let me just say that leadership comes with a pain of the job is easy, but the people are not. I am an executive education, professor as well, both at MIT Sloan and at ASB. And I talked to a lot of much more accomplished leaders than I am. And they all say I spent 80% of my job, the higher I go in my career, the higher the percentage dealing with people, and most of the time, is related to validation, emotional maturity, humility, the lack of it, conflict, etcetera.
So, hassle. I don’t want to get promoted anymore, by the way, if anybody’s listening.
Naji: What about jungle?
Loredana Padurean: Oh, so now you’re coming very close to my second favorite child, which is entrepreneurship. And it’s not second favorite child, I have twins. I think of my research as my twins and, for the past six years I’ve been developing a new entrepreneurship concept called Nail it, Scale it, Sail it, which I’ve been teaching at MIT and the days before a few years, very successfully, if I can say so. And it’s it defines a roadmap for how companies evolve. I believe very much in evolution and the first stage, the nailing stage, the startup stage feels very much like going through the jungle with nothing but a machete.
So the startup world is very much a jungle world where you have to carry as little as possible, but choose that little bit care. You have to realize that the jungle is a very dynamic, very animated and very dangerous, constantly changing environment. And only the very few agile, brave and highly entrepreneurial survived.
Naji: Yeah, you talked beautifully about it. So, I recommend listeners to go and watch your TEDx about the jungle and, that it’s really great.
Another word: lazy.
Loredana Padurean: Oh, my comfort zone. I’m a person who enjoys being lazy. When I think of laziness, I think of myself as a couch potato. I love myself a really good couch and 10 hours of uninterrupted Netflix and YouTube prime. But I have to tell you Naji, I used to feel very guilty for, you know, pretty much being lazy. And then one day, I was on my iPhone and it was running out of battery because I don’t know if you realize, but the latest generations of iPhones are crap, ever since Steve jobs died, excellence is not the baseline anymore. But anyway, so I got very frustrated with my iPhone and I was like, God damn it. You ran out of battery again. You know, I can’t rely on you. Then I put it in the charger and then I stopped for a second and I was like, Huh. So isn’t that interesting that even my phone needs time to recharge. And when it has to recharge, it has to recharge it. No matter how much I scold the phone or I motivate the phone, like, come on, I know you’re only 2%, but give it some more. Let’s go, let’s do it 110%. And I thought, you know what? This is a bunch of idiots because we expect humans to have unlimited capacity, unlimited energy. We expect this energy to be expandable. And what I realized that my laziness, and by the way, I’m extremely introverted. Like I did a bunch of tests and I’m like 98% introverted. I realized that my laziness is my charging time. When I’m lazy, it is my productive time, it is the time that allows my brain to go into charging mode.
And, another thing that I hate, absolutely hate when people say, what’s your guilty pleasure. And I say, honey, if it’s a pleasure, I’m not going to feel guilty about it. If I watch six hours of YouTube, and I enjoy it and he helps my recharging process. I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I don’t care if it’s the Real Housewives of Boston or whatever that is.
Naji: Yeah, you know, it made me reflect so much when we discuss this. Yeah, I’m proud to be lazy too, now.
What about spread love in organizations?
Loredana Padurean: So, I used to tell people all the time, that I really don’t like people very much. And most of my talks start with saying, I have to admit that I hate people. If there’s one thing I learned about management is that I hate people. The truth is that I don’t hate people, but the job is easy and the people are not. Unless, unless you treat them like people.
I think organizations that treat people like sort of mining machines or, you know, heartless and soulless entities are the ones that make you think the job is easy, the people are not because I worked for an organization where, I mean, I think I like about 95% of the people I work with those 5%, you know, everybody has an admissions failure.
But it’s about how you contribute to an organization, and how that organization contributes back to you. I teach the Ritz-Carlton case study, which you also learned at MIT Sloan in service organization, in the service organizations course. And one of the things that I learned from the Ritz-Carlton case is that during a seven day training program, the first two days are all about love. They teach you about the vision, the mission, the values of the company. They validate you. They validate themselves. They make you fall in love with the organization. And then the rest is technical training. And why do they make you fall in love? Because you cannot give 110%, because humans do actually give more than the iPhone does. You cannot give 110% when you’re not in love. And then one more thing that I do when I teach, when I teach service management and I teach about service excellence, I always say, before you reach into my bank account, reach into my emotional account. Make me love you as a company, and once, I love you, and I feel that love back, I will find ways to justify the most irrational behavior like paying $3,000 for a pair of Prada shoes that are killing me. It’s all about love Naji. That’s why I love the title of your podcast. It is all about love and love justifies irrational behavior. Love justifies 12, 16 hours a day. Love justifies, you know, when the job gets hard, why do we push through? And as a doctor, I think, you know that better than anybody.
Naji: Wow, I won’t comment. It’s just beautiful. Any final word? Any final words of wisdom to all those leaders listening to you today?
Loredana Padurean: I don’t, I’m still trying to find wisdom to be honest. So far, all I’m learning is that the more I know, the less I know, which is why humility is one of my top 10 smart skills. I would say that love should also come with a massive pill of humility because if you don’t, that’s why I’m saying, I don’t have any wisdom in me because I still don’t know a lot. The more I know, the less I know. And I think that’s why we’re both in education because you know, the more we know, the less we know and learning is fun.
Naji: It definitely is. Thank you so much, Loredanna, for an amazing, incredible inspiring chat we had today.
Loredana Padurean: Thank you, so very much. And, I will share with you the upcoming title, the upcoming book title, The job is easy, the people are not, and the white paper. Thank you so very much. Get smart and sharp, get smart and sharp. Remember that.
Naji: So much looking forward to reading it.
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