KRISTINA SKIERKA

Chief Executive Officer | Power For All

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOUR TEAM SUCCESSFUL?

Individual ownership for results together with mutual accountability towards our shared mission. In addition, there is a deep love and respect that we regularly express when we are one-on-one and when we are in a group setting.

We don’t want to let each other down. Unless we need a course correction – which we address directly, as a team – we emphasise positivity and celebration of our successes. We play to our strengths.

HOW DO YOU INCLUDE INNOVATION INTO YOUR STRATEGY AND FUTURE OUTLOOKS?

Because we work in such a dynamic and rapidly evolving marketplace around decentralised energy, we have to innovate and adapt daily. At Power for All, we have a diverse team representing a wide array of cultures and countries, which makes up a large portion of our innovative DNA. This openness and flexibility creates an environment where people can speak up, share new ideas, and suggest creative campaign approaches. What we don’t have enough of – due to limited amounts of unrestricted funding – is free time to brainstorm, imagine, and dream.

HOW WOULD YOU ADVISE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME?

Don’t get too comfortable! Challenge your assumptions, proactively expand your knowledge base and regularly seek out opinions different from your own. Work across teams to encourage diversity of opinions and experiences; creativity and innovation will grow organically from this kind of collaboration.

WHAT ARE YOUR TEAM’S GREATEST BLIND SPOTS?

In my view, a blind spot is an area where one continually fails to see things as they are. It is typical for any organisation to fail in clearly communicating expectations across the team and to wait too long for poor performance to improve. The truth is, our team is passionate and moving fast to build the energy access ecosystem needed to accelerate the end of energy poverty, so we often stumble in these areas. This reality is even more challenging given that the team is spread all over the world.

The best way to improve and address these limitations is to assess ourselves regularly and to look at the downsides of our strengths and reinforce the benefits of overcommunicating internally.

In my case, I have extremely high expectations – I have ‘founder’s disease’ like everyone else who has started an organisation. This is a blind spot as I’m willing to do just about anything for Power for All, but it isn’t reasonable to expect everyone on the team – say a researcher just out of college – to behave in the same way. Due to the level of trust we have in our team, it is easy to get feedback when I’m being unreasonable.

On a personal level, regular meditation and self-care makes all the difference in the world; it creates space to both notice blind spots and respond differently to triggers.

HOW WOULD YOU SHIFT THAT LEARNING TO ADVICE FOR OTHERS IN THIS INDUSTRY?

Solutions will be different for each person, but I think it’s important that all of us committed to energy access remain impatient with the slow pace of change and business-as-usual approaches that have left nearly one billion people in the dark. It’s part of the fire that motivates us.

However, that ‘fire of impatience’ doesn’t always translate well when trying to inspire others and build trust. If we hire people just like ourselves, we will only have mirrors of our behaviour, not windows to how we impact those around us. If we diversify our teams and bring people on board that are different from us, we have more perspective on every level that can help address technical as well as interpersonal blind spots.

HOW DO YOU SELECT WHO TO PARTNER WITH?

Organisations are made up of people: starting with relationships and connecting as human beings is the foundation to all good partnerships.

If you look at the example of our Utilities 2.0 consortium – bridging the divide between centralised and decentralised energy to drive connections, stimulate demand and improve performance – it was rooted in deep, high-touch up-front engagements between the humans involved in multiple businesses around a shared vision.

WHICH OF YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP?

The art of being vulnerable and human at work. I have learned to bring my whole self to my organisation – largely because I have been able, with my team, to create the kind of organisation where we all can do so. I have always done what I consider to be meaningful work, but earlier in my career, I did not always work with conscientious leaders who created holistic, transparent and supportive work environments.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

You will not get what you want unless you ask for it or create it for yourself.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?

Starting Power for All.

A close second? Selling everything I owned, buying a big truck and driving 25,000 miles to Patagonia (the southern-most region in South America) from the United States in my mid-twenties. What was I thinking?! [Laughs]

WHAT IS YOUR ‘SECRET SAUCE’ FOR FOCUSING ON THE GOAL AMONGST THE NOISE?

Setting intentions daily is my secret sauce for focus. In my role, a huge piece of the work is supporting others’ success. As our team is largely outside of the US, my workday usually starts at 6 a.m. with 3-5 hours of calls; some of these meetings allow me to set strategic direction, but many are about putting out fires and responding to needs of the team. With this kind of schedule, it can be easy to lose focus on the bigger strategic goals in favour of the crush of day-to-day tactical execution.

I’ve always said that one of the most important qualities I look for in team members is the ability to prioritise, which is the workplace equivalent of setting intentions. As part of my morning practices, I set intentions – how I want to ‘show up’ as well as the one thing I want to do in that day that will advance my personal and professional vision. I try to take ‘breath breaks’ regularly in the day to centre myself and to revisit these intentions. This is an amazing practice when I do it – and it is really noticeable to me and others when I don’t.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN THAT OTHERS DON’T?

I don’t think I hold a singular belief that is unique to me. That said, I do not operate from a place of limitations and scarcity unless I’m super stressed out. Therefore I would say that I believe in abundance, that we actually have everything we need to succeed – even if we can’t always see that in the moment.

WHAT TREND IN THE GLOBAL ENERGY SPACE DO YOU SEE BECOMING INTRINSIC TO THE OVERALL POWER NETWORK?

The integration of centralised and decentralised resources including mini-grids, rooftop systems, and storage.

WHAT INDUSTRY CHALLENGE KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?

How we, as a global energy sector, will find a way to ensure universal access before 2030. Energy is the great enabler to so many of the other Sustainable Development Goals that we must organise ourselves and prioritise achievement by 2025. With all of the ‘noise’ there are lots of distractions from this target.

While the UN has created SDG 7, I think it has stayed too top-level for too long. For example, I was just delivering a keynote at a conference of 200 US utility industry leaders; only one person in the audience knew what SDG 7 was. We need the whole energy industry engaged in this solution. We need to focus the global community at all levels on ending energy poverty, akin to the US Marshall Plan or GAVI, but for energy access.