BYLC graduates and the BYLC team were privileged to learn about leadership and management from Joel Reifman, Chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy, who spoke at a BYLC Talks session on October 5, 2017. Joel Reifman became Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh in May 2017. Most recently, he served at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. as a Senior Level Career Development Officer and, previously, as a Liaison Officer for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Joel started his Talk with a very humble opening and words of encouragement by saying, “If I can do it, you can do it too!” while reflecting on his foreign services entrance exam. He then talked a little bit about growing up, managing expectations, and making career choices. He then walked us through the top 3 management skills which he has learned and utilized through his leadership journey:
- Listen – really listen
Really listening means abandoning your ego. We might not like someone and not want to listen to that person speaking so we end up not concentrating. But if we really listen then we will be able to have a more meaningful conversation and gain better insight. We don’t always have to fill up conversations; listen, and let the person speak. Ideas and feedback can come from everywhere, and feedback leads to self-awareness. Self-awareness is really critical for any kind of success. We don’t have to change ourselves, but it’s very important to be aware of what our flaws are and work on fixing them.
- Practice P6
Prior Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance; that is what his boss used to say. When we prepare we have better muscle memory, it means when surprises come up we have an arsenal of tricks ready. Preparation ensures that we are always on top of things, we may have experienced a similar situation before and apply the lessons learnt from that situation to another situation.
- Plan, but be flexible
Goals are really critical to Joel. But he also believes in the saying that “No goal survives first contact with the enemy”, implying that it is also important to rethink and realign goals. Because if an opportunity comes up, we shouldn’t run away from it just because it wasn’t planned. Plans lead us to our goals but plans change and we should develop the ability to adapt to that.
Joel was also kind enough to answer questions from the audience and these are just a few of the things I learnt from his answers:
- Take failures as lessons
Working on fixing our flaws is important but so is failure. “Everyone fails, some people don’t even like discussing their failures. But learn from your failures, learn from other peoples’ failures. Ask someone whom you trust what you did wrong because they can tell you in a non-threatening way what your mistake was. Then ask yourself, how you could have done it better. Confront the experience and learn from your mistakes.”
- Maintaining focus is important
While Joel is a planner, maintaining focus is a challenge so he really puts an effort to work on it. Joel is at very early in the morning because he believes mornings are the best time to work without distractions. Mornings will give us at least 2 golden hours to get work done peacefully. Walking a bit or taking regular breaks between works also helps in remaining focused.
- Grab every opportunity that comes your way
He also elaborated on differentiating between opportunities and challenges when asked. He believes that it is a matter of context. Suppose we receive a task, we might not be interested in it, or it might not showcase our talents but we have to do it because we are required to. A challenge might crop up which turns out to be an opportunity; we have to understand that we are being watched and how we deal with a challenge. So we shouldn’t back away from challenges, we should rise up to it and turn it into an opportunity.
As well as a treasure trove of knowledge, I took away a key lesson from this Talk; how to be humble. For such a successful and accomplished person, Joel Reifman is an extremely humble person and I think that is a quality each of us should work on developing.