Elena Bonfiglioli is Senior Director Health Industry in EMEA and one of the co-founders of the Women in Leadership Network. She also leads the network's Women Talent Pool Programme (WTP). In this interview she talks about her recent career transition at Microsoft and she shares her vision of the WTP.
You recently changed position, can you describe your current role?
I recently took the lead of Microsoft’s Health Industry business in Europe, Middle East and Africa. I began my career with Microsoft 9 years ago; this includes the role as Director of Community Affairs and CSR EMEA, Director of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs with a focus on supporting our business teams on Education, Skills & Employability, and over the past two years on the health industry. After 9 years at Microsoft as an ambassador around societal topics, the transition to a pure business development and industry strategy job looked like a real challenge. I was scared for a moment, but then I realized that my body and my brain needed a stretch goal to learn, unlearn and re-learn. I needed a new challenge to develop further.
When I look at the Health and Wellbeing sector, I see potential for innovation, sustained market growth and opportunity to deliver societal benefit through technology. In a way, health combines three of my passions: creativity, business and care. I could not pass this unique opportunity.
How did you manage the challenge of transitioning to a career in a completely different area?
What really made the difference for me was getting the support from an executive with an open mind. He was willing to take the risk of giving me a stretched assignment based on the potential and not strictly checking boxes for a complete track record of expertise in all competencies needed for the new role. I am and will be forever grateful that we have leaders who can reward talents and invest in the future of people. Seeing the long term potential of their leaders and nurturing talent is the way organizations become sustainable and innovative. In this case, it was a male leader with a bold vision that diversity in his team mattered.
What made you decide to spearhead the Women Talent Pool Programme?
We can make a bigger difference tomorrow if we harness the potential todays’ emerging leaders. Why is key to invest in talents earlier rather than later? For three reasons: first, the ability to identify and name “success” early on is key to accelerate talents’ development. Second, the ability to bring talents together will generate a virtuous learning circle whereby talents can learn from one another. Finally, the possibility to offer holistic development opportunities allows talents to push their knowledge comfort zone and learn new things, make new connections and break down silos of specialization. The WTP is set to identify, nurture and develop the pool of tomorrows’ talented women. It starts today with identifying emerging leaders around us.
In what ways are the Women Talent Pool participants going to benefit from the programme?
Women participating in the WTP (Women Talent Pool) will benefit through networking and sharing ideas with emerging like-minded leaders and talents. They will have an opportunity to learn from role models, thus engaging with senior women to discuss future career paths, work experiences, leadership issues, business topics, as well as talk about their aspirations and ambitions. Most importantly, participants will learn by sharing personal perspectives and discussing how to set the foundations for new models of leadership.
What are you referring to when you talk about New Models versus Role Models?
Senior members of WIL have carved their own models of leadership. Today they serve as role models to younger women. However, as we think of tomorrow, I encourage each participant to take these learnings as a building block to creating new models of leadership. These new models need to be shaped by adapting these models to the fast changing world we live in, in which balancing personal and professional life and ambitions becomes increasingly important. I personally hope that members of the Talent Pool will create a legacy for the new generation of women leaders to come, thereby crafting new models adapted to how leadership will be employed in the decades ahead. I see an opportunity for them to take the lead in defining the path of what success looks like in their personal and professional careers, what type of leadership is needed in society at an organizational level and individual level.
At times do we have to manage conflicting roles?
We sure do. By definition we have many different roles: we’re individuals, mothers, professionals, and contributors to the community, to the society... Happiness for me is about optimizing all these roles. Interestingly enough for me, that balance was developed through time; as I matured as a person I was able to take a step back and look at things in perspective. Several WiL members exemplify a fair balance in managing different roles embodying a holistic view of leadership. I do hope that the future generation embraces the versatility of roles and gives it new colors.
What piece of advice would you like to give to the Emerging Leaders?
Be sure that you are really happy with what you do. Surround yourself with people that exude inner satisfaction and deep inner happiness. These people emanate a state of radiance, peace, balance and most importantly a sense of Presence – for those of you who read Peter Senge’s book; a happy leader is somebody who can exercise great influence.
There is a great quote from a writer from a few centuries back: “In the pursuit of relevance we become relevant”. I believe that in the pursuit of happiness we become happier. What is important is to take the opportunities presented in our jobs, our daily lives, the way we interact and treat others, and most importantly it is to capitalize on the potential that is around us and our own potential. With a good amount of luck, we can shape the opportunities around us. I hope Emerging Leaders never forget, even when tough times come our way, that we are still the shapers of our career and our own development.