The Madame Guru: Olga Smirnova – find someone who can inspire and give advice

By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder

Olga is a part of our yogi family. We have spent 3 wonderful retreats together the last being our New Moon yoga retreat in Thailand and every time we’re so happy to continue where we left off.

This beauty has the biggest smile and a calming presence, she’s a successful career woman and now – a boss lady in Brussels, where she’s moved from Russia 10 years ago.

I’m so very happy to share my interview with Olga and I am sure you will find yourself inspired and maybe left with a little different outlook on female leadership at the end of the piece.

I have known you for a while now, but I am actually not sure what is it exactly that you do (shame on me!)? 🙂

I work at a Belgian insurance company which is part of a multinational financial services firm. I joined the company as Business Analyst, changed roles a few times, and as of March this year, I’m the company’s Chief Customer Servicing Officer covering Sales & Services, Claims and IT.

Everybody who knows you know you work a lot!! You found out great news about being promoted, that is of course adding more to your plate. What motivates you? 

I think I like working in general as it gives me a sense of purpose I guess.

Our company is quite small; we are around 150 employees. But we are ambitious which makes it an extremely interesting environment, because you can do as much as you are ready to take on. If you’re willing to go an extra mile, you can learn a lot quite quickly.

There are also a lot of extremely talented and motivated people in our teams. Many of them are quite young so it’s a mix of work and fun. And as you take more responsibilities, it’s rewarding to watch team members grow. And of course, I’m always thinking that I don’t want to let them down which is an extra motivation.

It has probably been a long way there. What did you learn? What has helped you move forward and what was difficult?

I don’t actually feel that I’m “there” yet. I guess I feel grateful for the opportunities I have been given to prove myself.

I think I’m getting better at trusting my judgement but it’s also important to keep the right balance because as you are shifting from working very much hands-on, you are no longer the expert on the matter so you have to trust your teams as well even if you are still challenging them from time to time.

It was not so easy for me to find the right level of delegation, so that I could let other people grow but without “abdicating” completely.

And then it’s always about reminding yourself that you’re working with people who might have different passions, different things that drive them, different priorities in their lives, different ways of coping with stress or changes etc. This is probably the most difficult thing – to bring all these individuals together and create a common goal in which everyone can recognise something that speaks to them. I do not always succeed in doing that but when it happens, it’s pure magic and it makes you forget all the fatigue, frustration and “I-am-no-good” moments.

As a team leader, what kind of role do you take on and is it different from roles men take?

I believe female leadership in general is often a bit more participative and inclusive. And personally I never saw leadership as some kind of power display. Not that it is the case for all the male leaders, of course.

For me it’s more about creating opportunities for discussions to generate enough elements to make an educated choice. And then actually making a decision and taking the responsibility for it.

I’m not an extrovert but I find that I do spend a lot of time talking to people. At first it was frustrating, because I thought I was wasting my time but I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that these conversations have a lot of value.

thailand summersalt yoga

You are obviously very talented and capable – how do you feel at a workplace as a woman (now and at the beginning of your career)? Do you have any tips for other women on how to behave in difficult situations, how to find your footing without compromising your integrity, values and beliefs?

Even though, when it comes to their careers, women do have to make choices that men do not necessarily have to make – like having kids – I did not have any specific situation at work that was difficult because I was a woman.

I do believe though that the way women perceive themselves is different. It’s a big generalisation, but I feel there is more self-doubt and perhaps less entitlement. I caught myself more than once opening a conversation with “I’m sorry” when I actually did not have anything to apologize for.

But it gets better. And having other women, especially those who can inspire you and give you advice in your day-to-day work is a huge help. I see a lot of value in having a mentor. Not just someone assigned to you, because it’s a company policy, but someone who you would want to have as a mentor. And if you have a person who makes you say “I want to be like her one day”, don’t hesitate! Just go and talk to her.

How do you balance your personal and work life?

Well, it’s almost 10 PM and I’m typing this from my office so obviously I’m not that good at it. I’m just super lucky to have a loving and understanding husband. He is my rock and basically my life support too as he takes care of almost everything when I go on my working binge.

Since my family is back in Russia, we don’t see each other very often so my working schedule does not impact them too much. When we see each other, I always try to create special moments: trips, surprises.

It’s more difficult for my friends to accept the fact that most of the time I cannot be there for them. I almost never have the time to just hang, and most likely I won’t be able to help out babysitting. Having a drink is something I need to schedule a week in advance. I’m really grateful for the fact that my friends have not abandoned me altogether yet!

How do you unwind? You’ve been to our retreats 3 times; how does this incorporate in your life?

When I went on the first retreat, I did not know what to expect. And I actually discovered that it was more than just doing some exercise. It was taking some time for myself, getting back to a more natural rhythm, meeting amazing people.

And when I was leaving, I was telling myself: “I need more of this in my life.” Which is why I keep coming back.

I do a little bit of yoga at home when I’m not too exhausted. I go to a yoga studio in Brussels from time to time. And I also go to a regular gym at least once a week, and I walk a lot.

What’s next for you? 🙂 

I honestly do not know. This new challenge at work is a big one. So I’ll probably focus on this for now.

I have some more traveling planned this year, and hopefully next year we’ll meet again at one of the retreats!



By | 2017-05-26T06:13:29+00:00 April 18th, 2017|The Madame Guru|