This is part of a series of interviews and essays from the Leadership Academy Certification from the Centre of Business Excellence of the University of Lljubljana.

“As a leader in your organisation, you set the tone for how employees are treated.”

Patricia Meglich, an expert on organisational culture and leadership, and an Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA, believes that we all need mentors and others who can help guide us as we learn. As we become more skilled at the job, we may find that helping newcomers ourselves is fulfilling. Maybe that is part of the mission of a true leader…

What did you dream of when you were small?

As a child, I dreamed of swimming in the Olympics. But unfortunately I am not a fast enough swimmer and so I had to put that dream aside. I expected to follow the career of my mother, who was a secretary in an office, so I studied office procedures and typing, but then decided to go to college. It was there that I learned about Human Resource Management and decided to make it my career.

What would you say was the most inspiring thing for you when you were growing up? Was there anyone or anything that changed your life?

Probably my parents. They always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be. My mother especially had very high expectations of me and she always pushed me to do my best. My father was kind and gentle and was always a great support to me. My mother died when I was 16 years old, so that had a big impact on me and my life. I always wanted to make her proud of me and worked hard to do so.

What about your roots – do you feel connected to Slovenia? In what sense?

Seveda – of course! I am a true Slovene with Slovene ancestors that go many generations back. Both my grandfathers were born in Slovenia, so I have a great heritage from this beautiful nation. I feel very connected to my Slovene history and am grateful that I can visit often.

Have you always been interested in people, their behaviour and well being? What was the main focus of your interest?

I first became interested in how people find satisfaction in their work when I was at college at Bowling Green State University. I had some wonderful professors there who made the topic interesting and exciting for me. After I finished college my first job was working as a supervisor in a factory; I learned a lot about how to manage people in that job. I also worked in another factory where the employees were treated quite poorly – that made me understand how important is it to pay attention to the minds, bodies, and spirits of your employees.

What do you understand your life mission to be?

To work to my full potential, to be a true and loyal friend, to appreciate all my experiences and the things that I have, and to help those in need.

 

Leadership – is it something what you are born with, or can you learn or train to become a leader?

A little bit of both. Leaders usually possess certain qualities (such as intelligence, compassion, enthusiasm, emotional stability, and optimism) which are inborn. But there is a great deal of training and learning that can help to refine leadership skills. I don’t believe that people are “born leaders” who intuitively know what to do to lead a group. Some role models and experience are necessary to shape the skills and actions of individuals for them to become effective leaders.

What do you think is crucial for someone to be able to feel fulfilled?

They should identify what makes them happy, and work to pursue that goal. Each of us has a journey, and we should follow our own unique path in life. Figuring out what your journey is all about is the true joy of life.

What kind of working environment can support the growth and potential of all employees?

One where people can feel free to bring their whole self to work. Giving people an opportunity to learn and grow and to try new things is important, and so is allowing people to have some “voice” or input into how the organization operates. But the crucial thing is treating people fairly. Appreciating the work and results of each and every person is a key reason why employees reach their potential.

What do you think is the most important thing for younger generations – how they choose their job and their employer? Are they less tolerant of hierarchy, do they need more space, more freedom?

This is a very individual question, as no two people are alike. I believe that as we get older maybe our priorities change. When we first start our working lives, we look for a lot of training and support from the company. We need to establish ourselves as professionals, and we look for mentors and others who can help guide us as we learn. As we become more skilled at the job, we may find that helping newcomers ourselves is fulfilling. But I really can’t easily answer this question as different people (no matter what their age) look for different things in their working lives.

What are your 5 key values? Do they change over time?

Hmm… my five key values are one, excellence in all I do; two, loyalty; three, responsibility – a sense of duty; four, honesty and integrity; and five, to be worthy of trust. I don’t think that these values have changed very much over time – I’ve felt these are important throughout my life.