This week our “Aspirers in the Spotlight” series gives a glimpse into the experience of our amazing alumna: Diana Pirciu, Volunteering Program Manager at UEFA Euro 2020. Diana joined the Aspire community in 2014, as part of the Aspire Academy program, and continued to be an active member by volunteering in the organising team and getting part in the Aspire Graduate Program.
Diana kindly recalls the impact that Aspire had: “I remember when I first met the Aspire community, I asked myself how I have ever gotten accepted alongside those amazing people. It was my first interaction with leadership, business approach and storytelling as well-defined concepts. Also, it was my first interaction with open-minded people with courageous dreams and clear life plans.” Since then, she has been reshaping the football world within Romania, by designing and implementing educational programs.
Admitting no major experience as a swimmer, she starts by describing herself swimming in an ocean full of challenges, people and projects. Within the beautiful sceneries of this marine life, she promotes an athlete mindset at each step, motivating over 1000 volunteers and transforming Bucharest into one of the UEFA Euro 2020 hosts. So, let’s have a look into her past experiences, lessons learnt and advice for future leaders.
1) If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in the sports industry, what would it be?
Before you start working in the sports industry, make sure you are an athlete yourself. This way, you will discover what it means to sacrifice, what working hard before getting your aspirations fulfilled requires and what the difference between a sprint and a marathon is. This athlete mindset will follow you in both your personal and professional life to create meaningful relationships and develop resilience against adversity. Ultimately, make sure that you are working for something bigger than yourself. Your name is always there, and it is not only you, but also your family, your country and your organisation that you represent.
2) What are your non-negotiables within your managerial role at UEFA Euro 2020?
Working with the UEFA board and Romanian volunteers, I found that the most prevailing barriers are the cultural differences in terms of work motivation, expectations and thinking. Therefore, my non-negotiable is by far adaptability to the environment, to people’s personalities and to unexpected challenges. I don’t work in patterns, everything needs to be tailored to my volunteers’ drive, event expectations and excellence delivery. Winning the UEFA board’s trust required working 200% harder than the other UEFA Euro 2020 hosts. Motivating the 1000 volunteers to match the expected deliverables calls for finding a common goal, building team spirit and forming that athlete mindset in each of them. Hence, making a bridge between the volunteers’ drive and the UEFA board’s expectations constantly requires tremendous adaptability.
3) What was the hardest decision you ever had to make?
One of the key points in my life was choosing between taking a job offer with a consistent salary and following a more complicated learning path. Initially, stability and financial security looked comforting. However, thinking long-term rather than short-term made me realise that going on a learning journey is what defines me.
4) Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up and what have you done instead of giving up?
I only felt giving up when I was the only one who saw the results of my work. But then, I remembered that the game only ends when you shake hands, similar to a tennis match. So, I changed and changed the tactics, worked much harder and understood that sometimes the lessons learnt were coming from myself without the need of being noticed by someone else. I learned that sometimes the reward comes from yourself rather than from someone else and feeling fulfilled does not depend on other people’s recognition necessarily.
Additionally, it is not only about growing, but also consolidating on what you have done up to that point. Choosing to go into breadth in a particular job rather than climbing to senior levels builds a strong base for further development, self-confidence and expertise.
5) What are the books that shaped your career path?
As a kid, my key for discovering new words was sport, and only a few years ago I discovered reading as such a passion for losing yourself in emotions, knowledge and curiosity. Few books accompanied me last year and some of them spent more time with me than my family. I am mentioning here some tremendous writings such as Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Aleksievici, Evil by Jan Guillou, Mihail Bulkakov – Heart of a dog. For leadership insights and inspiration, I would recommend Limitless: Leadership That Endures by Ajaz Ahmed.
On a final note, Aspire is a life-changing experience for each and every participant. However, Diana describes this experience as “expensive gift for leaders who needed inspiration, courage and room to express themselves”.
Celebrate the ones who walk with you.