Transforming a red dress. A true story in 4 acts

By Nili Goldfein

Act 1 - Jerusalem, 1991

I’m 28 years old, the youngest speaker in Israel’s annual Quality Management Conference, the only woman in an auditorium packed with middle aged male executives in suits, fully accomplished and full of themselves. I’m the only one wearing a dress, a red one at that.

I’ve been preparing myself for this distinguished event for weeks; polishing my presentation and rehearsing my speech repeatedly, but only minutes before I’m called to the stage does it hit me: this could literally make or break my career.

When the conference facilitator calls my name, my throat goes dry, my hands begin to shake involuntarily, and I find myself unable to hold my cue cards. Worst of all, I can’t remember a word I had memorized.

You’re having a panic attack; I say to myself. Breathe.

I leave the useless cue cards on my seat, walk on stage, and begin to speak. I have no idea what I’m saying, the audience looks like a gigantic Rorschach inkblot and the only thing I can hear is the roar of applause at the end of my presentation.

This defining event was my first encounter with work in a world of disruption — a term that was not yet born at the time but gradually developed into my career, my field of expertise and my middle name in the years to come.

Act 2 - Cambridge Massachusetts, 2000

I’m 37, standing in the faculty club at Harvard University, getting ready to deliver a leadership workshop to the all-male all-white distinguished university Deans. Once again, the only woman in the room, wearing the same little red dress, sensing the same dry throat and shaky hands, about to reveal my flawed English and strong Israeli accent. What on earth was I thinking?

Breathe, I remind myself.

I begin to speak; gradually my hands stop shaking and I realize I’m alright. As I dive deep into the workshop, the distinguished deans begin to reveal their vulnerability and express their feelings. I realize that regardless of wealth or seniority, we’re all human, we all have hopes and fears and we all want to be loved. From then on, teaching executives how to balance their minds and egos with emotions and spirit of the heart becomes my life’s mission.

Act 3 - Pune, India, 2001

At 38, was already an accomplished, successful executive partner in one of Israel’s largest global consulting firms. I was leading complex corporate change management programs all over the world and travelling the globe with a lifetime’s supply of frequent flyer points. Seemingly, I had it all.

But something was missing. Over time, I began to feel that the skills that I practiced and preached didn’t add up anymore. Gradually I stopped believing myself altogether and became frustrated, emotionally drenched, and miserable. In the spur of the moment and in desperate search for answers, I booked a flight to Osho’s Ashram in India.

Coming to India, I thought I knew all there is to know about leadership and change management. Little did I know that India would completely change my view on leadership and show me how much more I need to learn.

The first three days at the ashram were a total culture shock. I knew nothing about spiritual learning. I never meditated or practiced yoga in my life. The people around me that kept talking about their feelings looked like zombies to me. I was dazed and confused and couldn’t find my place.

During that overwhelming month, I took multiple classes on corporate relationships from a Buddhist perspective, heart management, and self-love. I meditated 5 times a day, cried myself to sleep every night and traded my little red dress for a loose red gown.

Only when I flew back home it finally began to sink in: that thing that was missing in all my leadership theories and practices: A higher truth, which generated a new leadership concept that I live and breathe to this day. I call it Round Leadership.

Act 4 - a synergy of dresses

This fascinating dance between ancient and modern leadership perspectives has since been intriguing me, empowering me and elevating my passion for organizations and people to new heights. In my work with global business leaders and corporates I combine Western management tools with the ancient knowledge that I acquired in India. Be it reading spiritual cards to an executive in a decision-making process or meditating with a nervous CEO before an important board meeting, these tools add value to my work, and have since re-defined me as a combo of a leadership consultant and white witch.

For years I hid these parts in my work, fearing that they would be perceived as esoteric and unacceptable. Today I feel comfortable to push the boundaries of ‘acceptable’, reveal my authentic truth, and help others open-up to new knowledge, acknowledge their vulnerability, flaws, and emotions. In time, my small red dress and loose gown have become unique and completing fashion pieces in my personal wardrobe, together and separately.

To date, I continue to hold interviews, workshops, lectures and talks in flawed English and a distinctive Israeli accent but have since learned to live in peace with my imperfections. I have come to realize that pure intentions and a smile and are enough to overcome language barriers and open hearts and minds to new knowledge. Most of the time I don’t have panic attacks or blackouts anymore, but when I do, I take a deep breath and remind myself that as long as I drive my life’s mission on the integrated road, everything will be all right.

Nili Goldfein — EVP Marketing & Business Development at NGG Global Consulting Solutions, an expert in Leadership and Management in a World of Disruption.

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Nili Goldfein

Nili Goldfein

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Nili Goldfein is EVP Business Development & Marketing for NGG Global Consulting. With over 30 years in the field she is creating and running global business.