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Erisma or how to juggle with emotions

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They gather together, a group of people, of different ages, different life experiences, different backgrounds - all united through a common goal: to control their emotions, meet and acknowledge the people they are within. CEOs, vice presidents, managers or entrepreneurs at the beginning of their career find out that getting to know themselves and face their fears will make them better team leaders within their companies. Erisma gives this opportunity to those who seek to rediscover themselves and fulfill their potential.
It might seem like a psychology program. And, to some extent, it is. But Erisma reveals itself to be more than that. It is a mixture of things which come under the name of creative leadership. The name intrigued us from the very beginning. “What is a creative leadership program, anyway?” This was the first question I asked one of its creators, Mihaela Gînju, founder and partner of Erudio, the company which developed Erisma. She first told me what Erisma is not: “This is not a ‘traditional’ leadership program. Erisma addresses the leaders, as they are the ones that make changes happen. It is the only program in Romania which puts all its efforts into the personal development of a leader, by valorizing his or her unique talents and capacities. The four modules of the Erisma program, which are Theater Skills, Creative Writing, Self-knowledge and Public Speaking, are centered on exploring the authenticity and the development of creativity, which are essential traits of a successful leader. The way of discovering what one has to discover about oneself is being done in a creative manner, through experience, but also through theater, by being on stage or by expressing oneself in creative writing. That’s why it is called creative leadership.”
The program was launched in 2005. It all started from a… conference that Mihaela Gînju attended. There, two IT leaders, decisionmakers and personalities in their field, were giving speeches. Or at least, they were supposed to. “To my surprise, I noticed they were... stuck and totally depending on a PowerPoint presentation. Then came a third person, a marketing manager in a multinational company, who was a Canadian expat and who spoke freely. He instantly animated the whole room. Until that moment, all the audience had been half asleep. The previous speakers only recited some concepts from the board, without even throwing a gaze to their audience. I thought, if these people, who are creators of an industry in Romania, find it difficult to expose themselves to people, who do we learn from? From the PR specialist, who recites a company’s poem? Man always shapes man. This always has to start from the top, from the leader,” explained the Erisma founder.
She believes Romanians are generally reluctant to share their story with an audience. And it all starts from the school years spent in an oppressive and restrictive society. “People of my generation experienced a learning environment in which our opinion never mattered. A personal style wasn’t encouraged and no one ever asked us who we were and what we wanted to do. Romanians are talkative, yes, but only among their circle of family and friends. In conferences, they are afraid to speak up. It is a not a situation they are used to. On the contrary, this has always been frowned upon. One can be an appreciated manager in a multinational company and be a good leader, make a lot of money, but always be afraid to stand up and talk to people, fearful that they would fail or feel uncomfortable in that situation. The problem is that people destined to lead should also do the talking. Because, as an employee, you don’t tend to follow the brand, you tend to follow the person, the manager, so the manager should inspire trust and be able to speak naturally and freely, not to read PowerPoint documents. For a manager to keep employees close and connected, one needs to inspire them and reveal the person one is within. We don’t show the person within enough in our Romanian culture.”
Managers’ reluctance to show themselves, to speak freely and connect with the employees is influenced by their capacity of managing emotions. “We show no emotional attachment when talking about concepts and abstract notions,” Gînju explained. “Abstract notions do not make us emotional at all. But, on the other hand, when we talk about ourselves, we connect to something which moves us: what do I believe in? How do I see the world? Where do I want to lead my team? These questions hold deep answers, as they are connected to our moral values. And values do touch us. When you reach this area, you feel overwhelmed with emotions. In the business world, if you are not trained to be at peace with your emotions while presenting yourself in front of the people, you, a genius maybe, find out that you are lacking something. These things are taught only on the stage. On the stage you learn to see yourself clearly and let the others see you as well. On the stage you realize how much emotion you need to use in order to reach to people and still feel comfortable with yourself.”
Mentality is a key ingredient in making a change within yourself, as a team leader, the Erisma creator told Business Arena. “Business leaders have gained experience in public speaking, they have done this a lot of times, they have participated to events and conferences, so there is no way they are clueless of what to say in front of a big audience. But many of them still don’t know how to do it, since they haven’t been exposed to the type of learning Erisma offers, which means bringing managers on a stage, subjecting them to creative writing, to creative games and psychology lessons. Many of them ask themselves: I have spoken in public 2000 times by now, why is it still so difficult for me? How can I be myself while doing this? So, on this program, through certain games and exercises coordinated by highly esteemed tutors, they can learn to deal with these situations easily. They can steadily develop confidence from within, which makes them feel comfortable in various situations and makes them be at peace with their own thoughts and stories.”
Even though opening up seems like a difficult step to take, Romanian business leaders have been receptive to Erisma from day one. All the available places were taken from the moment the program was launched, the founder told us. She admits that the ones who apply for this program are behind Erisma’s success. The program wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the openness and wisdom of Romanian managers, Gînju emphasizes. “I can’t convince anyone to be on a theater stage or to write anything,” she says. “For me it might be easy to do it. I have been on the stage all my life, ever since I was a child. It wasn’t a problem for me. But my problem was talking about myself. I knew I couldn’t talk about myself. I was a manager and I was wondering how I could talk about my own persona and tell my stories to anyone. I thought: ‘Is anyone really interested?’ Yes, of course, they are. This is necessary if you want to build a durable connection with the people at work, as it creates strong bonds and a trusting climate within a company.”
In the last 13 years, those who have attended Erisma’s programs received standing ovations after their public speeches, in Romania or abroad, says Mihaela Gînju. Many business people wrote back about the obstacles they managed to overcome and about the trust they managed to obtain from their partners and employees, even in times of pressure or stress. “It is a complete package we offer them. We make them understand the power, the capacity, the talents and the experiences they possess,” she explains. “When they give speeches, the whole community is invited to attend. It’s their partners, their business colleagues who come to see them. It was surprising for me to notice that instead of buying a new house or sending their kids to Harvard, they came to learn creative leadership. It proves that Romanian managers possess a great maturity and a special attitude towards life. They understood that they need to carry on, they need to get hold of their own capacity.”
The community created by Erudio counts over 500 applicants: top managers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Gînju remembers each and every one of them. “It’s been 13 years and 500 participants and I know all of them by name. It is not surprising at all, considering that I spend my time with them, we tell stories together, we share exercises together and I am always moved to tears by the beauty of the human soul, by the wonderful experiences they share, by their fight to open up, by their emotions and their willingness to express them. It is the highest form of human expression.”
In turn, the tutors have excellent academic credentials. They are warm with their students, charismatic and great personalities in their field of expertise. Horia-Roman Patapievici, Ioana Pârvulescu, Liviu Papadima, Adrian Titieni, Andrei Pleșu, Vintilă Mihăilescu and Mugur Ciumăgeanu teach on the Erudio programs. It is an interesting blend of two worlds and two categories of people who, apparently, have nothing in common. But it is true that top managers and entrepreneurs are learning from cultural personalities how to become authentic leaders. “People repay what we give them, by answering our call and coming to courses, no matter where these take place. Managers from all over the country come to our programs. These modules were created because I have been there, I have faced these obstacles, so I knew what to expect from such programs and the teachers knew how to apply the principles these programs are built on,” Mihaela Gînju explained.
Following the success of Erisma, four years ago a second program was launched. It is a program based on philosophical themes, targeting mostly top managers. Before applying, an interview is conducted by Erudio’s management team, only to identify the applicants’ expectations of the programs. The price of the first program is around 3,600 euro, while the second program costs 5,000 euro. “Of 500 applicants, over 150 are general managers, presidents or vice presidents, 120 are board directors and 170 are managers. Around 80 of them are entrepreneurs. We also offer scholarships for NGOs, who send their talents to us to shape and model. The age spectrum of our applicants is between 23 to 55 years old,” said Gînju.
Did Erudio experience any difficulties? The founder honestly replies that her company did see some hard times. It was in 2008, when all training budgets from companies were shut down. “We had 60 places available that year and we managed to sell only 20. I was cautious enough to save money from the first two years of activity within the company, so it went well in the end. We were hit hard the entire year of 2009. But in 2010, all 60 places were occupied and we experienced a surprising phenomenon: in almost all situations, the companies are the ones paying for the programs, as they are willing to train their people and invest in that climate of trust within the company in order to make employees grow and achieve performance. But, to our surprise, in 2010, more than 70 percent of the participants paid from their own pocket to attend our program, even if some of them were unemployed at that time,” recalled Gînju, herself a manager with an impressive activity in the business sector. She is an economist and obtained an EMBA from ASEBUSS in 2006. She has worked as a Logistic Assistant and Account Manager with Arexim, as a Business Development Manager at Mobilrom (Orange), as a Sales Manger with GTS Telecom and as a consultant for Ascendis. Within Erudio, she teaches two - three-day-courses for corporations, with communication being her expertise. “The Art of Storytelling in Leadership” and “Discovering how to connect by using theatrical techniques” are the names of the lectures she gives.
The Erisma program is her dream come true. She admits she has found a lifestyle that fits her like a glove and she wishes nothing more than things to go on in the same direction as they do now. Even though some days might be a bit tiring, Mihaela Gînju’s work at Erisma never lets her feel any dullness, as everything is dynamic, entertaining and constantly moving.
She is a refined soul, in love with art in any shape or form. “My mother introduced me to the world of art,” she confesses. “As a child I took singing, piano and violin lessons, and I am an avid guitar player. I sing carols and jazz at Christmas and I play Bach on the piano at Easter.”
An exuberant person, when she doesn’t teach the art of storytelling, she enjoys immersing herself into music, playing for her loved ones. She lives her life to the fullest on the stage as well as off it.

The interview is also available in our print edition of Business Arena.

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