Meet the Chief: Gabi Helfenstein
Tell me about yourself
My name is Gabi Helfenstein, I’m German and I come from a small town on the German-Dutch border. As a teenager, I always felt trapped in this small community, so when I was 18 years old I spread my wings and started exploring the world…and never stopped doing so!
Following studies and work in Germany, France, the US and Singapore, I settled in the Netherlands, close to Amsterdam, which has been home for the past 20 years. I love the international vibe of the city, the endless possibilities available and the coast nearby. I am married to a nice Dutch guy and we have two kids. The four of us recently started learning to kitesurf and I have to admit that the kids do better than us!
When did you join ForChiefs? And what’s the story that led you there?
I have always worked in dynamic environments in (senior) management and C-level positions. As a leader, I work with mutual trust and open communication, which in my humble opinion is the only way to achieve goals.
When I moved to the Netherlands in the late 90’s I came from a very formal and organized environment in Germany and found it a real culture shock when I started working in fashion for a Dutch family business.
Since then I’ve worked for about 10 different industries and learned a lot about different company cultures and dynamics. I also travelled my own personal development journey to become a more and more authentic leader. One of my most formative experiences was an MT meeting, where we needed to decide on an investment. We had nice spreadsheets with positive figures but I spoke from my gut feeling, with no factual arguments, and expressed that we should not do it! There was a deafening silence amongst my colleagues, all-male… and then one by one they admitted that they had the same feeling. We decided not to invest. This experience strengthened my belief that humans have more wisdom than only rational thinking. During that time I started working on my personal development with the support of different types of coaches.
Following this realization, I trained to become a certified Master Coach, to pass on how I got to know myself during my personal journey. I believe that most individuals are not aware of their own power and strengths.
What is your main area of expertise? What do you do?
To be honest, I don’t consider myself an expert. What makes me unique is the combination of my broad experience as a leader combined with my coaching expertise, the journey I have gone through in my personal development and my international background. That being said, of course, I have a focal point: I am an intelligence increaser.
I love expanding my clients’ intelligence beyond their cognitive brain. This applies to individuals, as well as to groups or teams. By being aware of all the signals you get – not just from your brain – and by naming these, you are able to have more human interactions.
Who are the clients you work with?
I work with corporates as well as start-ups and scale-ups who have growing pains or want to transform radically. On an individual basis, I mainly work with C-level leaders, senior executives and some high-potentials. The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing the impact and results from teams who have started to spark and be energized. The same applies to individuals. I keep following their success from a distance.
What makes your approach different compared to other trainers/moderators/consultants?
I bring a decennium of experience and I have gone through similar struggles as many of my clients. This, combined with the tools I learnt as a Master Coach, means I can support teams and leaders in their specific journey or transformation.
With all the cognitive knowledge people accumulate during their life, they tend to ignore all the signals they get from their body. The majority of our educational system is focussed on the rational, while rational is only a small section within our brain. Often in management teams and boardrooms, heavy discussions look like they are focussed on content and rational thinking, while actually, they’re about (team) dynamics and the basic needs of individuals.
I support my clients in becoming aware of their potential when they reconnect with their body and their heart.
How do you work together with the other ForChiefs?
I work in different constellations with my colleagues, depending on what expertise is needed for each client. Recently, I’ve worked a lot with Hugo, Claudia and Ralph. All three of them have different expertise and experiences, and together we can support leaders on different levels.
We all share the passion to support our chiefs (clients) in making an impact. We work on conceptual, cognitive, emotional and intuitive levels, and support them in exploring and living from the energy of their personal strengths, drive and purpose.
Often we use a leadership framework with missions, visions, strategies and OKRs to make the approach tangible for the participants. This conceptual approach is just the basis for our work on energy, personal drivers and open human communication. For me, the most rewarding part of my work is when we facilitate courageous conversations. If leaders use this approach, they will make a lot of impact.
How did you become an expert in what you do?
On the one hand through my working experience: I constantly worked in different environments, with different energies and learnt a lot about using my whole body as a source of data/information. On the other hand, my coaching training provided courses on working in the moment and using all data/signs you have to your disposal.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give people?
Listen to the signs of your body. This sounds easy, but it’s not.
Everyone has a gut feeling, but most of us have forgotten to listen and act on it. Your decisions will be wiser if you take a moment to feel if your head is speaking the truth. A lot of times it’s not, because you tend to listen to your own convictions or to the expectations of others.
Which article, podcast, book, or video do you think everyone would benefit from reading/listening to?
I can highly recommend “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, and currently, I’m reading “Bring your whole self to Work” by Mike Robbins. Both authors work with top international corporates. These books are about vulnerability at work and making a real impact by using all the senses as a leader and showing up as a human.
I also read a lot of coaching books on this subject, but unfortunately, they are written in Dutch. If you can read Dutch then contact me!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned during your time with ForChiefs?
That’s a tough question, to be honest. At ForChiefs, we learn every day from each other. We share interesting articles, books, courses, insights, learnings from workshops and we hold and moderate workshops for ourselves. We also have courageous conversations with each other.
One of the most interesting things we did a while ago was crafting our purpose, both as ForChiefs and individually. From that moment I felt the endless energy of all individuals being funnelled towards our common purpose: Igniting passion and courage to create meaningful work. I can very much relate my own purpose towards our common purpose.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome professionally or personally, since joining ForChiefs?
I think designing my first workshop on my own for a group of C-levels was a challenge for me because I come “from the other side”, having been a c-level myself. So I was really nervous in the days before and also had back pain because of the tension. I know that my bar is always set high, but the moment I worked with the group I was confident that we would create an impact for the whole company. I was free and creative during that day and used being in the moment and the present energy of the participants to do the interventions that were necessary.
How do you think your work is changing or will change in the future?
I think – and I’ve observed – that people are more conscious of their whole intelligence (in their body). The whole mindfulness, wellness and sports movements create a bigger awareness of being more than just a thinking brain. I hope that within schools there will be more room for mediation and energy, creating a more profound way of interacting with each other.
How will you navigate and grow with these changes?
My role is to actively work in this area with leaders. I see myself surfing this wave of being a whole human being by letting leaders experience their whole spectrum of intelligence.
What is your purpose now and for the future?
My purpose is to humanize boardrooms. I know, it’s a big purpose. As I had a seat in different types of boardrooms, I saw the dynamics within these meetings. Mostly, there were lively discussions and sometimes accusations on content, whereas the underlying dynamics were felt by most of the participants, but not spoken about.
I sensed: fear to be vulnerable, not knowing, power games, not being seen, insecureness etc. Talking to some colleagues after these meetings confirmed that they felt the same energies as I did.
What would happen if board members could just be themselves with all their vulnerability and creativity? You would have meaningful conversations about real things. Ultimately they would be better leaders. Having better leaders with goals to serve society and the world would provide the employees of the company with a clear purpose and sense of belonging. These companies would build services and products that contribute to a better world.
It all starts with being fully yourself. Being yourself also frees you up, I know from experience.
Any final words?
I could talk for hours about our work, so if you want to know more, just contact me by using one of the channels mentioned below.
Linkedin: Gabi Helfenstein