Interview with Milena Paprok

First time Milena and I met was during the first Ladies Wine & Design meet. As we were talking about team management, leaders and what inspires people to push one project as far as possible, her honest approach to this whole topic made me interested and I asked her to spare some time and share her insights and experience with everyone, as I think these topics deserve the most attention especially when coming from someone so experienced, relaxed and honest such is Milena, Team Leader at Kantar Millward Brown.

It was very nice meeting you Milena at our first LWD event. Could tell us a bit more about your life-path, is your origin the only reason to choose Prague as your second ‘hometown’?  It was great to meet you and the others that evening as well! Despite having moved between Vancouver, Ostrava and Prague throughout my early life, I’ve actually lived in Prague the most and was always surrounded by expats. Many people are alarmed when they hear I returned to Prague from Montreal a few years ago. But even back at that time, I quite liked the idea of venturing on what seemed to so many as an impossible quest in finding a meaningful job here. I always found Prague as a place in-development, and I guess it was that exact quality which drew me back to it — the chance to contribute to something that’s in-progress, rather than something already well-established. My father actually did something similar after having fled Czechoslovakia in 1968; he came back to Prague from Canada in the early 90s right after the split and is still here today.
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Was your university choice an intuitive strike or simply you are one of those people who always knew what you’re aiming for? As cliché as it might sound, I sincerely wanted to break free from the family and get to know myself better in a place which was new to me. Those years at university in Montreal were the most formative years of my life. I had never been to French-Canada before with all it’s hockey, indie/electro-beats, and snow, but I knew it was going to be international which obviously drew me to it. So yes, I knew what I was aiming for, but I didn’t expect that the choice of university would have such a big, positive impact on me as a person.

When was the moment you realised you had a ‘leader’ in you? That you could actually be responsible not only for your own actions but for someone else’s. Hard to say, but as an only child, I remember that I was always acting like a ‘big sister’ to everyone around me as I didn’t have anyone I could lead or take care of at home.  I think these natural tendencies were even evident on the football field  back at school, or when I was helping out a friend with their project at an early age. However, as much as I enjoy taking charge and helping people accomplish their goals at work, I only really enjoy it when there is collaboration involved. 

How does your regular work day look like? I wish I could tell you it starts with sunrise yoga, but no it always starts with a coffee and breakfast at my desk, followed by a quick read on the news and sometimes a kitchen chat with some of my teammates. We are a very hard working, all-women’s team, so a lot of us like to come in early and get cracking quite quickly. We call ourselves Team Beyoncé.
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I sometimes have my own project-specific tasks, but for the most part of the day, I am more of a ‘consultant’ and troubleshooter who is in meetings, making sure my teammates are getting what they need to achieve their goals/targets, and on-boarding new processes & innovations in our company’s division.

What are or were the biggest issues to overcome standing in your position? In the beginning, I had a tendency to want to fix all the problems for my teammates. I always wanted to prevent disasters from happening, especially if I could already foresee them. But I quickly learned that it wasn’t sustainable for anyone, and that each person needs to be self-sufficient. Of course, if s*** hits the fence, I am there as a go-to person, but I shouldn’t be the first stop. Luckily, I see that my team is incredibly reliable and self-driven, but I still try to watch out for this tendency of mine.
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What are the biggest advantages, that you personally cherish being in this position? 
I think one of the biggest, most humbling advantages of being responsible for people, is that you learn so much from them.  As much as I am setting an example for others, I also find myself watching how my teammates deal with situations, and try to learn from both their successes and failures. And hey, they are probably doing the same thing with me! So yes as a TL, you learn and grow with your team. Another advantage of this position is that you see progress in people right before your very eyes. When someone from my team accomplishes a goal of theirs, it always makes my day. You see that they are proud, so you are proud.

When we were discussing the ‘approach’ to the people working in your team, I quite liked your angle and vision, would you care to share it with everyone else? I try to make sure each person on my team is an expert at something and that their expertise contributes to the bigger picture. But as much as it’s important that I know what’s required out of each team member, it’s even more important that they understand what is required of them, and is self-reflective on their own progress throughout the year. Setting measurable goals and articulating them clearly is something I try to do from the very beginning, but of course when checking-in  with the team, I try to keep the formal and informal interactions as balanced as possible.

You mentioned you like exploring other cities and the unfamiliar. Any cities you have in mind and you find challenging enough to move there and start something new? There are so many! But to mention a few, I’d love to live in Berlin or Amsterdam.

What would you advise to young people aspiring to become a team-leader? You are never too young to be a team leader (I’m currently the youngest out of all the TLs at work), so don’t let your age get in the way. It’s how you carry yourself and the way you approach people (even if they are older than you) that matters.  But another thing to remember is that teammates can easily sniff out when you don’t care or don’t want to invest in them, so when you do decide to take on such position make sure you do it genuinely. In other more self-centered positions you can easily fake your way through it, but not when there’s a team relying on you.
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Interview & Photos | Sanja Čežek
for Ladies Wine & Design project, Prague

Sanja Čežek

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